Even though I wasn’t raised in the heart of Appalachia, my father and his brothers were. They were originally from Hazard, Kentucky. Because of my father’s raising, my own childhood was replete with Appalachian ways.
I remember that for all family picnics, generally on Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day, my mother and her sisters-in-law would prepare fried chicken, potato salad and other home made goodies. These women could cook!
The brothers would load up their cars with wives, children, food and coolers of beer and caravan to a place called The Rock Crusher. This was a very small quarry located on Big Indian Creek. It isn’t far north of the Ohio River near Pt. Pleasant.
The grown ups would spread the feast on a blanket on the ground while we children would explore and wade in the creek. I loved fossils; I still do in fact. My main job in walking the creek was to find fossils.
I strongly remember one of these excursions. I was wading barefoot in the shallow creek. The water was running strongly, crystal clear, and it was very cold – so this must have been Memorial Day.
I watched with some detachment as a leaf flowed from upstream down to land on my foot. I bent down to pick the leaf off and realized, to my horror, it was not a leaf, but a leech – and it was stuck, STUCK, to my toes!
My parents quickly became aware of my wailing and stomping (I was trying to dislodge the leech without touching it, you see).
Even though it was generally my mother’s job to tend to problematic children (more of that Appalachian conditioning and behavior), my anguish was so great and urgent that my father came running to the rescue.
He had some difficulty stopping my frantic dance as I was quite unwilling to stand still with this nasty, slimy bloodsucker attached to the top of my toes.
However, my father’s experience with leeches went back probably to 1943; this was nuttin’ but a thang.
He simply took the lit cigarette from his mouth and touched the hot cherry to the leech. The leech leggo, right now.
Instantaneous and overwhelming relief and gratitude ensued for me and likely for the leech as well.
After the picnic, we’d generally pack up and pay a visit to The Honey Man. This was a guy who lived in a rustic shack on a dirt road not far from The Rock Crusher. He sold honey with the comb, and it was packed in big mason jars.
Dad would always drive up and call out his open window, “You got some honey, Honey?”
We kids would roll around in the backseat, thinking it the funniest thing we’d ever heard. Our gruff, manly father calling The Honey Man, ‘honey’.
After a big day like this, we kids would be asleep in the back seat as our parents headed for home. I’m sure my parents were grateful for the quiet time.