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Education and Common Sense
Roller Coaster Ride: Part 1

By Stephen H. Rice

(Occasionally, one of my children writes a “guest column” for me when he or she has a special adventure. Last week, hundreds, if not thousands of friends of my son and our family have prayed as my son Steve underwent open heart surgery. Miraculously, he was able to come home three days after the operation. He dictated the following account to his sister Patti, who is in Alexandria, Va., helping assist and encourage him as he convalesces. I have insisted that he write “the rest of the story” while he is on a roll. He promises more in next week’s column.  June Rice)
Roller Coaster Ride: Part 1
Two years ago, my cardiologist, Dr. Reddy, looked up at me with piercing brown eyes and said,” Mr. Rice, IT IS NOT A MATTER OF IF YOU WILL NEED VALVE REPLACEMENT SURGERY; IT IS A MATTER OF WHEN.” That’s when I knew that I was facing the craziest roller coaster ride of my life. I had been diagnosed with a defective aortic heart valve about ten years ago, but my symptoms had been controlled  with the tiniest doses of drugs and some exercise. However, this past Christmas, while walking up and down hills with my daughter and my sisters, I experienced shortness of breath, fatigue, and pain in my chest that might have been going down my arm. Being in partial denial, I didn’t mention it to my family, but I realized that I really needed to go back to visit my friend, Dr. Reddy, again.
(If you are reading this and think you are too busy to go to the doctor, stop reading and make an appointment before continuing.)
When Dr. Reddy saw me two weeks later, she said,” Mr. Rice, it’s been almost two years since I’ve seen you, and I don’t see that you have had any tests during that time. Make an appointment for a week from now to see me again. Have an echocardiogram and a cat scan with dye contrast of your heart before then. After I see the results, we will decide when to plan your procedure.”
I was shocked. Two years ago she had said something would need to be done in the next ten years, but I was way too busy right now to think of heart surgery and the recovery that entails.
I completed my assignment and came back for the follow-up with my wife, Wendy Sue.  After looking at the results of my tests, Dr. Reddy insisted on a third procedure: a heart catheterization to be sure that my arteries were clear and to see if I would need a bypass along with the heart valve replacement. I realized I was standing in line to ride the heart surgery roller coaster.
One of the scariest parts of riding a roller coaster is standing in line, because you really don’t know what to expect. You know that you are going to climb a hill and go over the top, but, after that, you aren’t really sure what is going to happen. On an amusement park roller coaster, that little bit of fear heightens the experience, but in real life there was no need to have the fear heightened. At this point, Wendy Sue and I decided to share with friends and family that I was facing a life-threatening situation.
The diagnosis after the cardiac catheterization was severe aortic valve stenosis. Afterward, in the recovery room, I looked down the hall and saw a band parent that I had not seen for over a decade. She is a nurse practitioner in the cardiac unit at Alexandria Hospital. She, too, had seen the diagnosis. She wished me well and patted me on the hand, but looked Wendy Sue directly in the eye and said,” There is an appointment that Steve should take with the head of the cardiac surgery unit tomorrow at 2:30. You all should call in and get that appointment.”
At that moment, I was on drugs, and all I could think of was of all the performances and rehearsals that I had going on for the next few weeks. I tried to bargain to have the appointment changed, but Regina, the nurse, knowing how difficult those appointments are to get, gave Wendy Sue a look that communicated how vital it was to take that appointment.
Wendy Sue took out her phone and confirmed that we would be at the appointment the next day, I had gotten the fast pass to the front of the roller coaster line.
(Tune in next week to continue this adventure. JBR)


Downhomer
Tomato and chocolate gravy and vinegar dumplings

I remember those times when my brother Albert Lee Hall would call me to ask; “Sis, would you come over and make me some tomato gravy?” This so called tomato gravy was one of the favorites our mother used to make for my siblings and myself when we were children. It was like regular gravy, except that it didn’t start out with a rue made from flour stirred up in bacon drippings as you do for regular gravy. Instead, you make tomato gravy from a rue of cornmeal that likewise is browned in bacon drippings. Then instead of adding milk to a flour rue the way you do for traditional gravy, in the cornmeal one you add an ample quantity of tomato juice, (preferably home canned) or even a quart of whole tomatoes that are crushed up. In our family, Albert Lee and I seemed to have been the ones who most loved it. All these years since my brother has been gone, I have been glad for the times I answered the call, took time out to go make him this old childhood treat; myself sharing in the finished product, the cook enjoying the labor of her hands.
In addition to this tomato gravy, there is another kind which I personally have never eaten and don’t know how to make; this chocolate gravy a friend told me about.
“Chocolate Gravy! How do you eat it?’’ I asked. “Is it a dessert? Like candy, maybe.”
“Oh no!” my friend Bradelene Mollette told me.
“Actually,” she said. “We ate it for breakfast. Like syrup. We stirred butter into it and dipped our biscuits in it and it was delicious!
“How was it made?” I wanted to know.
“I don’t really know how she did it, but I do remember that when mommy made it, it was always a special treat. Maybe those times when her larder was getting low, she just wanted to fix us something different that she knew we liked.” “I can understand that!” I said. “Back when we were young, family vehicles were few and far between; ditto gas stations. So most of the time if you were not fortunate enough to have a car, or money enough to buy gas, it was usually necessary to walk to one of those small mom and pop grocery stores for whatever you might need that you did not already have.” “That is absolutely right.” Bradelene agreed. “But for the most part, our mothers were good at making do, could improvise, use whatever they had on hand to feed their children. Mommy could take a little of this or that, use almost nothing at all and put a full meal onto the table which was always good,” she summed up. “How wonderful!,” I said, “What’s more, I don’t think my mom made that tomato gravy because it was all she could come up with, though maybe possibly it was. No, I think she made it mostly because she knew we liked it, and that it was a special treat for us, like chocolate gravy was to your family.”
“Yes. We never bothered to wonder if it was all Mommy had. We were just glad for anytime she made the special gravy that we all loved. It was the same with the vinegar dumplings she also used to make.” Bradelene reminisced. “Vinegar dumplings! Now that’s a new one on me. Do you mean tell me your mother actually put vinegar into chicken and dumplings?” “Not chicken and dumplings. Just dumplings cooked in boiling water that has vinegar in it, and they were delicious!” Bradelene told me. “Well I never! Do you know how she made them?” I asked. “No I don’t. I just know that anytime she made them, they were always delicious!” Bradelene declared. Thinking about this conversation with a friend, I couldn’t help wondering if today’s mothers, if today’s young cooks could be as ingenious as mothers and grandmothers used to be. Probably not, although in similar circumstance like the depression years my age group lived through, I think they would come to it. I know that if I had it to do, I could make a great tasting meal from a little of this and that. In fact, a daughter-in-law once said of me: “When Eileen’s larder is the slimmest, she does her best cooking.” Maybe so. I don’t know if this is true or not, but if it is, it has to be something I picked up from my mother. It’s the same way many in this area developed their cooking habits, in an inevitable repetition from the good cooks that went before us, and we are blessed and thankful for it.
In closing, let me say that a meal made by hands that stirs love into the mixture, cannot be anything but wonderful.
So thank you Lord for all things; for shoes on my feet and a roof up above me, for soup beans and corn bread, fried potatoes, biscuits and gravy, and yes, Lord, for tomato and chocolate gravy, vinegar dumplings, and the hands that made them. Make us always be truly grateful. Most of all, Dear Lord, we thank you for yourself.


Education and Common Sense
We get lessons from Folk Tales

When I was in grade school, we had a marvelous succession of reading books that featured various folk tales that came from various countries. We started out with “The Tree Bears’, and at various times learned about the “Old Woman and Her Pig,” “The Three Sillies,” and the story about the man, his son and the donkey that taught the lesson that we can’t please everybody.
Last week my former student, Roger Dixon, who is a retired Superintendent of schools in Michigan, sent me a modern folk tale that I will share with you.
NOW YOU KNOW
Once upon a time there was a King who wanted to go fishing. He called his weather forecaster and inquired about the weather forecast for the next few hours.
The weatherman assured him that there was no chance of rain in the coming days.
So the King went fishing with his wife, the Queen.
On the way, he met a farmer on his donkey.
Upon seeing the King, the farmer said,” Your Majesty, you should return to the palace at once, because, in just a short time I expect a large amount of rain to fall in this area.”
The King was polite and considerate, but he replied,” I hold the palace meteorologist in high regard. He is an extensively educated and experienced professional, and I pay him very high wages.  He gave me a very different forecast. I trust him and I will continue on my way.”
So they did.
However, a short time later a torrential rain fell from the sky.
The King and Queen were totally soaked and their entourage chuckled upon seeing Their Majesties in such a bedraggled condition.
Furious, the King returned to the palace and gave the order to have the meteorologist’s head cut off at once!
Then he summoned the farmer and offered him the prestigious and high-paying role of Royal Forecaster.
The farmer said, “Your Majesty, I do not know a thing about weather forecasting. I obtain my information from my donkey. If I see my donkey’s ears drooping, it means that within the hour, most certainly it will rain.”
So, instead, the King hired the donkey on the spot.
And thus began the age-old practice of hiring ASSES to work in the government and occupy the highest and most influential positions.


The Soapbox

Soapbox: Romantic love is brief, true love forever

Next Tuesday is Valentine’s Day, and if Hallmark is to be believed, the biggest holiday next to Mother’s Day. Cheap chocolate and soppy cards are flying off the shelves and flower orders are surging as couples attempt to share an evening of romantic love.
Here’s the thing though, romantic love, although sweet as it is, is not permanent. Everyone remembers those first fleeting days of meeting someone they were seriously attracted to, the sweaty palms, the thumping of the heart - symptoms that mimic a heart attack for some. That fades into a pure joy of being in each other’s company – romantic love.
That kind of intense focus on each other cannot be maintained indefinitely however, soon the outside world intrudes and the focus switches from your beloved to other things. I have seen too many relationships phase through romantic love only to find out there is nothing left one that initial attention fades. My friends mistake attention for love and constantly drift from relationship to relationship looking for a Prince Charming that may have already passed them by.
This is nothing new. The Ancient Greeks summed it up best – the three types of love that humanity holds is agape, philia, and eros. Romantic love is eros. Friendship is philia, and agape is a charitable love for all human beings.
True love on the other hand is the love that passes through the fires of romantic love and leaves a low burning ember to power a relationship as time goes on. It is a combination of eros and philia, to have occasional burst of smouldering passion interspaced with treating each other with a fond consideration the rest of the time. It is the love you see on the faces of elderly couples, sweetly holding hands as they face the twilight of their lives.
True love sees you through all trials, where you can stand together as equals and face the world together. At the same time, it can also mean sticking by your significant other even when they are bouncing on your last nerve and you start looking around for a place to hide the body.
Sadly enough, this true love is also the source of strength to leave your significant other if they have problems with themselves that only they can face. Spouses of addicts know this love, to leave for their own good, no matter how badly it hurts.
Love is different for everyone, just as everyone’s relationships are. Just because one solution or consideration for each other works for you, does not mean they will work for others. My father-in-law shows his love for my mother-in-law by tending to the house, the cars, making knick knacks and other things for her delight, but rarely have I seen them hug, kiss or say, “I love you.” I tell my husband regularly that I love him, treat him to his favorite meals and let him have the television 90 percent of the time to watch whatever he wants.
So whatever your plans are for Valentine’s Day, take the time to let your spouse or significant other know that you still hold them in eros, yet stay with them in philia. That you appreciate them for who they are in a way that only they can appreciate. Me? Hubby and I are settling in over a glass of wine, a pan of brownies and some really cheesy movies that reflect our first date. Happy Valentine’s Day.


Downhomer
Ahh Spring

It is a fact that a certain forsythia plant that grows behind my house has bloomed all winter. Even on the coldest days, it happens. No leaves on the bush, but here and there on those spindly branches small yellow flowers peek through to tell their own story. The bush may be dormant, but every small warm spell tricks it into setting a few, very premature out of season blossoms.
Like the forsythia, I am eager for spring. As with all of nature, I pant for the next season to come lest I faint from the weariness of cold days and a barren landscape. I am not a winter person, and wonder how I could have taken such pleasure from the snows and cold and long winter days those years I lived in Michigan. Being older now might determine my seasonal preferences, but I doubt it. The fact is I am a country woman by choice; nourished by being part of the natural world that surrounds us. So I’d just as soon see Kentucky’s winter pass quickly, that the flowering of the earth could begin.
Actually, there are signs that spring is waiting just over the horizon. Even now, clouds of daffodil are appearing in yards and fields about the area. I seem to remember that in Michigan, this never happened till late March, early April, and I will gladly take Kentucky’s spring agendas. Thus, what with the daffodil, with those premature blossoms on my forsythia, and that faint swelling of the branches on the redbud, it begins. I love it, wait for what comes next, and that not always patiently. Along that line, I remind myself to look for wild pussy willows like the ones that used to grow along every creek bank in our area. I’ve always loved to see those furry little catkins pop out in the spring along the branches of these water-loving bushes.
I remember some willows that used to live along the creek in front of Junior Wells’ old home. I loved those bushes with their cottony make believe blossoms. Every year in times past I always made it a point to pick myself a bouquet from those willows that grew on the property that once belonged to Junior, but which now belongs to my daughter Deb. I am glad for her that this is so, but old memories still persists. And what memories will this next season bring? Though I might think February is dragging its feet, we have only to look at the days on our calendar to see how fast those 28 days are passing, actually fast enough to soothe any winter weary heart. Though we would not want to wish time away, I myself do rejoice for winter’s passing.
Soon now, usually by the 14th, farmers and home gardeners will be planting those early spring crops; lettuce and green onions, early cabbages, and a few new potatoes. I remember that last February, gardens were covered with a blanket of snow and ice that lingered much too long. Then the spring rains came. Consequently, last years gardens were at first too cold to plant and then too water logged to be ready at the usual time, and some of those early crops weren’t planted at all. It seemed last year that all our gardens were playing catch-up, with early crops becoming late crops. We can only hope it won’t be the same this spring, that winter does not linger, but leaves us and that soon. So far, I haven’t let myself even begin to think of morel or fiddleheads, ramps and poke. What with the toil time takes on our feeble frames, I know I’ll not get to climb the hills to look for any of these delectable freebies of spring. I do look forward to be able to pick for myself a mess of poke this season. This is possible because poke grows everywhere and is so easily available that even an old granny like me could find and pick it.
As for those other things, I do know where in the spring Morels frequently appear, know where a big patch of ramps grow, and I can identify those fiddleheads which grow in the deep woods. I know though that except for the poke, if I have even a few of these other things, I will need to buy them on line, or better still, when and if one of my kids bring me an offering that they might have gathered.
You may think I am rushing my fences as it pertains to the coming of spring. In defense of my state of mind I tell you I was January born, and have always believed my mom marked me. I have been told how she yearned for spring that year, and every late winter it happens to me that same way. So almost involuntarily, I yearn for the winter to be over, and spring to come. Invariably then, I find myself expressing my state of mind in these pages that I write. So be patient with me, and mark my yearly fixation with these subjects as just one of my mother’s gifts to me. Regardless, I have to be glad that I have no control over such things, for I would surely mess it up if I did. So thank you, dear Lord, that it is You who sends us all things; every single thing in its appointed time and season. He has told us that as long as time endures, winter, spring, summer, and fall, seedtime and harvest will come in their order, and all subsequent things according to and by His command….



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