Libby Lou

For those of you who do not know we have two dogs. At least that is what we refer to them as. “Look dear, the dogs have totally wrecked two days of work and are about to cost you another hundred and fifty bucks in materials. Aren’t they sweet?”

This is Libby and Meeko, Meeko is the one closest to you and Libby is the pretty girl on his right.  They look so innocent don't they?

This is Libby and Meeko, Meeko is the one closest to you and Libby is the pretty girl on his right.
They look so innocent don’t they?

The eldest of the two is known as Libby or Libby Lou by Connie. We won’t go into all the things I have called her; this is a family blog. I really have no room to complain about Libby; in point of fact, Connie had her before me so Libby has some claim to Squatter’s Rights.

Libby, the best we can tell, is part Lab and part Akita. This means she is a curious, intelligent animal who loves to play, understands exactly what you want her to do, and will sometimes even do it, if she chooses.

That is the genetics of the situation. Then there are the environmental issues. Connie got Libby when the dog was about four months old, and she had already been conditioned to something interesting behaviors and interpretation of human words and behaviors.

For instance, as Libby still understands it, “Come here Libby.” Means “let’s play a fun game of Tag and Go Hide” a hybrid of Tag and Hide and Go Seek where we, being it, approach Libby and just when we get close enough to “tag” her she runs away, hides somewhere and the game starts over.

This game has the potential to go on for hours and end only when Libby has had all the fun she can have. Luckily for us Libby is beginning to age somewhat and sessions are fewer and further between.

Another fun Libby game which got her banned from sleeping in the house except in really inclement weather is, “Lets Chew What Belongs to You”. This game, played by a normal chewing dog, involves finding a shoe, shirt, towel or whatever and destroying them completely. Libby’s version involves finding everything you own which is within reach, chewing a half to a dollar sized, almost perfectly round hole in it and moving on to the next item in line.

Libby is nothing if not creative.

The last of Libby’s little games she learned as a pup was probably re-enforced for her by Connie’s youngest son who used to play with her quite a lot. It is a form of dog/person rough housing in which Libby rises up on her hind feet and almost boxes with you. Of course she does not stand completely up. She only goes up high enough that, when she strikes out she will hit a man who is sixty-seven inches tall right in the groin.

Go ahead, ask me how I know?

Yes, she has her eccentric behaviors, does our friend Libby. What she intends to do with the buzzards she is constantly barking at were she ever able to catch one I have no idea. But when she sits and cocks that beautiful head looking up at you with those eyes it is a different story. When she goes berserk because the child is on the roof, or near the fire, in a frenzy of protectiveness, or when she rests up against your leg waiting for a pat and a smile you kind of forget all that.

After all, I have a few eccentricities of my own.

No Plan Survives Reality

A quick update: The rain has abated and the breakneck growth of everything bad, accompanied by the stunting of everything good seems to be tapering off. The corn is taller than me, which is no great feat for corn, but is an improvement. The rag weed has stopped growing just in time; the trees around it were beginning to show discernible signs of embarrassment.

I have been out and about on the place; doing this, that, and the other, which we can talk about later. I left you hanging on the last post concerning the piece of major equipment I bought. If you have not read my last post in Old Folks at Home Stead you can find it here.

I have never owned a “Lawn Tractor”. Every time I think about one, I picture a fat guy in checkered Bermuda shorts and a Grateful Dead Tee Shirt, wearing a hat with two Bud Lights in holders and straws leading down to his mouth. I know that is an unfair generalization, but you only have to see that sight once to scar you for life.

I always used a push mower. Anything more seemed to be just showing off to me. Then I bought The Homestead. Our yard is plus or minus an acre; I would guess plus. It is not an easy mow. We moved in last August and I think I mowed it four or five times before the end of the season.

I hate lawns. It is unnatural, unless chickens and goats are eating on it. That is from an Appalachian Mountain background. Bottom land was garden or pasture, side hill was pasture or orchard and the top of the mountain was woods. Lawns were for rich people and “flat land fereners.” Also I have a lazy bone but that is another post.

Be that as it may, because of the size of the yard and the age of the man, it was time to get some kind of lawn tractor. Not long after this decision, one Sunday after church I was discussing this with a friend who, as it turns out has a son-in-law who had just bought a new lawn mower. It was one of those 360 degree things, with a five feet cut and some such other stuff as is beyond my ken, and he had an old one for sale.

Sight unseen, I said I would take it. It was a little over a week until I could go see the lawn tractor. It was an older one, but I have no idea of the year model. It was a Bolen which actually is a brand name; research has shown me that the engine was made by Troy Bilt.

The machine had two problems, which Jeremy was quick to point out to me. One was an issue with the battery, which will not hold a charge. No real problem there as long as the engine kept charging. The other problem was that, from time to time, when you engaged the parking brake you have to reach back by the rear axle and release it. Neither of these were deal breakers.

We brought my new toy home, and that day I mowed with it the first time. It worked great! There is a learning curve involved in how to operate it, but I had downloaded the manual from the net and, seeing as I could drive an M1 Tank, an M113 Tracked Vehicle, and any normal road vehicle, up to a five ton truck, I did not think a riding lawn mower was going to buffalo me.

On my third time mowing the lawn I was really gaining some skill on the little beast when, coming around the northwest corner, I heard a pop and a thump then we stopped moving. I don’t know about all riding mowers, but it seems a lot of them run on a belt drive system. For instance, mine has three belts; one comes from the engine to the wheels, another from the engine to the mowing attachment, and the third from that one to the blades.

The short belt from the engine to the wheels had broken. I knew it was a broken belt because I found the mangled piece of it behind the mower. It is a good thing that lawn tractors are not heavy. I pushed it to my house garage and stored it there. Then I took the mangled belt with me to Jerry’s Automotive and Hardware on Main Street in Braymer. Total distance to drive one way: about 3/10 of a mile. I love small towns.

Coming in the door of Jerry’s establishment, I looked at him, held up the belt and ask, “Jerry, do you have a belt like this?”

He examined the belt I was holding up and said, “I hope not.” Did I mention the belt was pretty beat up? As it turned out Jerry did not have the belt for my mower in his place. On further inquiry, no one in Caldwell, or adjoining counties, had this particular belt. So I placed a call back to Jerry’s so he could order one for me. No more mowing for three days.

On the second day, I picked up the belt. I planned to fix my mower on the third day, so that I could mow on my day off. One thing you need to know: I had no idea how to replace this belt. So, being a modern kind of hillbilly, I looked it up first on Google, and then on YouTube. I firmly believe that if one wanted to build a time traveling 1947 Jeepster there would be a YouTube video about how to do it.

I know to a certainty, there is one on how to remove and replace the drive belt on a Bolen’s Lawn Tractor of my model. It is about 8 minutes long. I watched it twice and set about to do the job. Since the removing part had already been completed, all I really needed to do to put my new belt on was take off one big nut and slide this big pulley, beneath the nut, up so I can get the belt on it.

Since the guy in the video had used an adjustable wrench to loosen this nut so did I. A word to the wise, at least wiser than me: the guy in the video had loosened the nut before he made the video. He had also removed springs so that some things went easier. I was determined that I was going to loosen that nut with an adjustable wrench.

A little voice in my head asked, “Think you need to be wearing your buffalo hide work gloves Ed?” I ignored that voice and, hand deep in the bowels of a Bolen’s Lawn Tractor, I gave one more long, steady, hard, pull. Something gave, and my hand slipped all the way around, with my fingers striking a hard object out of my sight.

I pulled the offended hand out to examine it. It was beginning to smart a little, I tell you that. My middle finger of my right hand was bleeding a little from a scraped knuckle and I saw a line on my ring finger of my right hand. Probably a scrape; no big deal. Then I made a fist.

Have you ever seen one of your knuckles? No I do not mean all that skin that lies on top of it. I mean having that skin roll back and show you the whole bony joint? I went upstairs and Connie put yarrow on it. OUCH! Then we put a bandage over it and I called our Doctor (who was twenty-five miles away in Hamilton, that day), to get three stitches and a work excuse for two days.

This is the damage that can be caused by an adjustable wrench and a hard head.

This is the damage that can be caused by an adjustable wrench and a hard head.

The next day, with the right tools, a stiff finger and invaluable help from Connie, we got the job done and the day after that I mowed the lawn with my newly fixed lawn tractor and that same stiff finger. Today, they took the stitches out of my hand. I will have a pretty spectacular scar to add to an already impressive collection. The doctor suggested I tell people I was bitten by a shark.

But if this story has any lesson beyond don’t use an adjustable wrench because they slip, and learn to listen to good advice; even if it’s from you, it would be no plan ever works out like we want it to. Those who appear so competent at anything only have practiced it so much they have learned to recover, before we even see the mistake.

Life Gets In The Way

When I was twenty-two it was my dream to homestead. I looked into free land and the where and how’s of that. I looked into equipment and all the falderal that would be necessary. As a former farm kid, sporadically raised on a side hill farm in Appalachia, I had some idea of what it would take to make a successful operation. Pretty much everything we did not have.

Anyway, this was my dream, and I would have done it too, but life got in the way.

Life being the outcome of all the decisions I had made to that time; the obligations I had made to people and organizations that I could not escape from, and, oh yes, a healthy dose of cowardice. It is kind of hard to admit, being a tough old Infantry Soldier, that I am afraid of anything, but let me assure of this: attempting to fulfill your dreams can be the scariest thing in the world. It begs the question; what does it mean about me if I fail?

About ten years later, I had another one of those epiphany moments when I realized I still had the ability to love and the ability to dream dreams about riding up the Outlaw Trail, and then walking down the Appalachian Trail; of starting a band and of getting the girl. It was all going to be great.

Anyway, that was my dream and I would have done it too, but life got in the way.

Life being, again, the outcome of all the decisions I had made to date; and real obligations I would have to meet, if I wanted to continue looking at myself in the mirror when I shaved; and, oh yes, a really healthy dose of cowardice. Fear of failure, agreement with that voice in my head that said I could not do it, and fear of harming innocence to which I owed so much.

So I stayed with the life I had chosen. The life of the defender, the protector, and the one who occupied that line between good and evil, a life in which you spent too much time looking into the eye of evil. “When you look into the abyss, be sure the abyss isn’t looking into you; and when you set out to fight monsters, be sure you do not become a monster.” Nietzsche said something to that effect. I may be the only living Christian who quotes both Nietzsche and Twain.

Yes, I am the short one.

Yes, I am the short one.

At the age of forty-eight I was fairly successful at my chosen profession, having completed one career already and working on a second. Then I followed another family tradition and became a drunk. I will not bore you with the details, but I pretty much blew off a decade trying to drink Plank Road Brewery and George Dickle Distillery dry. I failed.

That ended over six years ago. Here I am, forty-two years after the original dream, living that dream. No, I did not do it right, nor do I have all the equipment, and heaven forbid that I actually have a long drawn out plan. With the help of “the girl”, yes that would be the girl from over thirty years ago. It took some time, but I finally won that one, we are building a home on five acres and a dream.

It would have been easier had I done it when I was twenty-two. The joints worked better and the body was more resilient, if nothing else. I have lost a lot but I have gained some important things too. One good thing I have lost is the fear of failure. I have already seen what is the worst that could happen; everything from there on out is easy. One good thing I have won is the girl. That was worth the whole tangled mess.

I love you Connie Hall.

On re-reading this I realized I had not gotten to “the point” I think the story should have made it evident but in case it did not here it is. There are only two real things worth following in this life the first is the will of God Almighty and the second is your dream. If you aren’t doing that now is the time to start.


Rain Day

The wife and I were out looking at our budding (at least supposed to be budding) garden. I believe the tomatoes were doing the backstroke, while the corn and beans were engaged in a stirring game of Water Polo. Did I mention it has been raining a lot around here?

The prognosticators are saying we have the potential for a year as bad as the Flood of ’93. I was not here for the real flood of ’93. If the looks of the little creek is any sign I will not be here for this one. I will probably be considerably downstream, if it gets that bad.

Where was I? Oh yes, we were looking at the garden being slowly drowned; I turned to her and said, “Maybe we should have planted rice.”

I do know that the Good Lord has promised not to end the world by means of a flood again. However, He made no such promise concerning the state of Missouri did He? I am instructed by the Bible to be thankful in all things so I do thank the Lord for showing me where the low spots on our new homestead are exactly.

So being rained on in great splashing bushel baskets full of water leaves one with a lot of time on his hands. Hard to put up a fence when every time you try to sink a fence post you hit water. Anyway, I do not swim very well with a roll of fence wire on my shoulder.

So you decide to do all those inside things you have been putting off. The first thing you need to do is make a list. Brainstorm and put down every possible thing you can do from remodel the den to take a nap; then you need to prioritize said list by numbering the items you have and identifying the top ten; finally you need to put the list where it can be seen but will not be misplaced. Of course, you misplace the list.

That’s all right, I am a writer you know, I have started two novels, a couple of cowboy poems, a gospel song, a nonfiction semi-autobiographical piece, a couple of blog entries and a grocery list for the health food store.

Let me just start on something, “It was a dark and stormy night….”….. Did you know that Microsoft has some games on your computer? Two in particular are Hearts and Spider Solitaire., these are alternately referred to as Mental Crack and Intellectual Heroine.

Four hours later, I realize that I am hungry and go to find the wife to discuss the whos, whats and whens of lunch. She is busy playing Spider Solitaire and yes, it is still raining outside

Proving that any fool can make a grilled cheese sandwich and soup, I fix lunch. After grace, when we thank the Lord for our food and the day we are wasting, I ponder my missing list. Still have no idea where it went, but suddenly I do remember an important chore.

“Feel like a nap?” I ask my Love.

She smiles like the angel I often suspect she is, “I was just about to ask you the same thing.” She says.

Another rain day well spent.

Fifty-seven Cents Worth of Manhood

“Mary gave him a bran-new “Barlow” knife worth twelve and a half cents; and the convulsion of delight that swept his system shook him to his foundations. ” The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain
Winter on the homestead  The time to plan, prepare, and try to stay warm as winter rages outside. We stay warm in the house, locked up tight and dressed warmly, where we might play a little music on this or that. We might also do some crafts, fix things, tell the old stories, pass on family legends and hard earned wisdom. The things that remind us who we were, grounds us in who we are, and teaches us who we can be. Maybe something like this:

It was the summer of 1959, I was eight years old. I was out behind the four room clapboard cabin that was my home. That cabin was torn down for kindling over thirty years ago but in the center of my soul it still is home.


At the time I was up in the trees at one of my forts as Granny Brogden called them, and I was deeply involved in helping Davy Crocket battle somebody over something. Leave it to say, I was a kid who lived a lot in my own head and that was perfectly all right with me.

My father and mother had divorced many years before, and I was living with my Grandparents on the home place. Up the hill lived my Great-grandmother Granny Brogden. Those three were the foundations of my life.

Daddy was a hero far away doing hero things in an Air Force Blue uniform. He visited once a year or so to take me to places no one else could afford to go. It was all pretty cool; I won a lot of “my Daddy is” sessions with the other boys. Defending the world from Communism easily trumps selling hardware for a Dad occupation. But in actual fact, my father was as irrelevant to my daily life as that tall spare gentleman I saw playing golf on the TV: Eisenhower was his name. Like Daddy, he seemed nice enough.

My mother was the most beautiful woman in the world. That is not arguable. However, she seemed to be a very busy person, cocktail waitressing in Daytona Beach Florida, where she met lots of celebrities. I have signed pictures of Fire Ball Roberts and Junior Johnson, they are from Carolina too, you know.

I mostly lived with Grandpa and Grandma. From the perspective of adulthood, I know I was supposed to be deeply scared by this abandonment and perhaps I was. If so the wounds were quick, deep, and almost completely painless. Why?

With Mom, I lived in an apartment in Florida, with the occasional trip to a beach, which was kind of fun, or the park with trees and such. At Grandma and Grandpa’s, I got to live within walking distance of the Great Smoky Mountain National park, in a cabin with outdoor plumbing, and a mountain spring whose water was always cold on the hottest day.

At the farm, I got to take off up the side of Little Mountain, and run its spine over toward the pass to which, once crossed, led up through the Balsam Gap near Eagle’s Nest Mountain. Nineteen fifty-eight was the era of Fess Parker’s Davy Crockett. I lived on a side hill farm in the same mountains. “On please Mom, don’t throw me in the briar patch.”


Or perhaps the reason I was not overly bothered by being “sent home” might have had more to do with Grandma’s biscuits and molasses being better than light bread and pimento cheese, or that waking up safe in that little room hearing that old man snoring just across the way was some comfort, but I will stick to the Crockett story.

That morning, I was well away from prying adult eyes, helping Davy save America when I heard Grandpa’s truck horn blow. There were various signals for me to come home. The truck horn was the sign that we were going somewhere. Davy would have to get by on his own for awhile. I set off down the mountain at a full run and was in the yard shortly. Grandpa waited across the spring branch at his truck, and Grandma was at the back door.

“Give me that thing and put on these shoes.” She said, that “thing” as she called it was an old corduroy shirt that had belonged to my Uncle Charles. It hung to my knees and was my “hunting shirt” just like Davy’s. After I was fit for town Grandma hugged me and told me to be good.

Wearing my town shoes, I thumped across the spring branch on the two board bridge, ran around the truck and crawled up in the seat of a 1954 Chevy pickup truck. It was green like Army trucks, and huge. It clanked, rattled and roared but it never quit and it never refused to go anywhere Grandpa pointed it.

Once in the truck, I learned that we were headed for Mrs. Alley’s store at the head of Hyatt Creek. I was overjoyed. Mrs. Alley’s store was better than anything in town, except the Western Auto. The only reason Western Auto could beat her out was that the Western Auto had real guns. Nothing trumps real guns.

Mrs. Alley had everything else, because Mrs. Alley’s Hyatt Creek Grocery was a general store. Mrs. Alley dealt in barter or credit and cash, for the precious few that had any. She sold about everything a body could want, she even sold stuff other folks brought in for a part of the price.

Mrs. Alley also sold homemade “Who Hit John?” from behind the counter, and had some form of game going on in her backroom. These two revelations came with adulthood, I had no interest in why men went into the back room or what was in those Mason Jars.

My concerns were those seven and a half inch Coca Colas: the short Coke was always better than the tall one, we referred to them as “Dopes”, and the display of knives. In a case by the counter where Mrs. Alley stood guard behind her register, was a display of knives. Some were skinners or hunting knives, but most were pocket knives. With the suppressed passion, only a boy could muster, I coveted one of those pocket knives. I, Davy Crockett’s unsung side kick, did not have a knife.

Grandpa had a knife; he had a few of them. In his tool box was a single bladed, oiled, wood handled folding knife made by Camilus, in his tackle box there was a three bladed knife made by Case, in his gun cabinet,a hunting knife, hand made from a file, and, of course, there was the Seneca bone handled, two bladed knife that rested every day in his right hip pocket.

When I needed a knife for a project, or while hunting or fishing Grandpa would always provide it. Once, while camping with the Royal Ambassadors from the Green Valley Church, he had loaned me his hunting knife which I wore strapped to my waist just like Davy himself..

As some dream of riches, some of love ,and others of power I dreamed of a Barlow two-bladed knife. Barlow knives date back to the late seventeenth century, coming out of Sheffield England to take the frontier Americas by storm. It is said that George Washington himself carried a Barlow style knife.

I knew none of that at the time, nor would it have mattered to me, I dreamed of Barlow’s legendary toughness and its price not its pedigree. A Barlow knife out of Mrs. Alley’s display cost fifty-seven cents. Its closest competitor for price was a Cutler knife for ninety-nine cents. Fifty-seven cents was more than I could pay while ninety-nine cents was more than I could conceive of.

Had I a Barlow knife of my own, then I would be a man. With such a knife, I could make or procure everything needed for my family to survive and, on top of that, sit next to Grandpa on the porch and whittle sticks into points for no reason on Sunday afternoons.


So, while Grandpa did his business and his “politicking” as he called it, I stared at the knife display, admiring the teardrop shape, the shine of metal and the skilled cutting and placement of the bone handles on the Barlow knives. Grandpa walked up behind me there at the counter and laid his purchases out for Mrs. Alley then turned to me and said, “Go over and get you and me a Dope son.”

I turned on my heel, trotted to the big chest drink box, opened it with some effort, found us two Coca Colas, popped them open with the opener attached to the drink box and brought them back; one for me and one for Grandpa. He grinned down at me and took a sip. Turning back, he picked up his poke and we headed out the door.

Back in the truck and on the way home Grandpa announced, “I could eat a mess of fish, couldn’t you?”

“Yes sir, I allows I could.”

“Want to ride over to the lake and catch a mess of crappie in the morning?” Would I like to go fishing? Would a man in the desert care for a glass of water? But a man must show restraint. “Yep, I recon I would.”

“Well, boy, I want to tell you that I am some concerned with you always foolin’ with my knives, so you might want to stay outta the tackle box messin’ around with that wore out old knife. You hear me?”

I was crushed. How had it come to this? He never seemed to be much concerned with my using his knife, after he had taught me to cut away from myself and take care with it. But there was only one answer. “Yes sir.” Says I as I slumped down there in the seat.

His big old brown calloused right hand came over in a fist and laid there on my knee. Slowly the fist opened, “Anyway you are likely gonna want to be usin this one.” In his hand was a brand new Barlow knife.

Slowly I reached for the Barlow, as if I feared it would disappear or he might close his hand and laugh at me. Neither happened. With reverence, I lifted the knife in my hand then I just sat there and looked at it.

Many years later, while looking through a Lehman’s catalog, I found that they were selling Barlow style knives. I told Connie this story, and what having that knife had meant to me.

I would lose Grandpa in less than two years from the time he gave me the Barlow, and I would lose the Barlow somewhere in the moving that followed, along with so much else. But I would never lose what it meant to me.

There is an old southern saying, “A man is not a man until his father tells him he is.” My father, for reasons that date back to his childhood, never had the authority to make that pronouncement in my life. But Grandpa did it with a cheap knife.

After I told Connie the story, I had pretty much let it all sink back into my past. The next Christmas I found a small package. Inside it was a Barlow style pocket knife. It is in my right hip pocket as I write this. You just gotta love a woman like that. barlow2 Author’s Notes: First apologies for the lateness of this post. I wrote this and in transferring it to outside storage lost it, and several other pieces of my writing. It took a couple days of searching to admit I had blown it, and a couple days of beating my head against the wall before I could sit down and re-write it. I hope it is worth the effort.

The picture of the cabin is not the one we lived in. I doubt any existence of that old place.