Correspondence from L.S. York – Part 2

Posted August 7, 2019 at 8:12 am

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“Based upon the sagacious singularity of life back in the days when ridge runners not only had no place to go, but nothing to do when they got there.”

Between January 1939 and December 1967, Allan Trout wrote a popular daily column in the Louisville Courier-Journal. “Greetings” focused on folklore, humor and “barnyard science” and attracted a loyal following and regular correspondence between Trout and his readers. For years, one such correspondent was L.S. York of Albany.

Leander Sylvester York was a merchant and postmaster before embarking in 1897 on a 35-year career as a school teacher in Clinton, McCreary and Wayne counties, and in South Georgia. He served as Superintendent of Clinton County schools from 1922 to 1929.

In Trout’s June 27, 1945 column, he wrote: “About 50 years ago people of Clinton County used wood for fuel. It was plentiful, with renters and day laborers willing to cut it for 25 to 30 cents a cord. A farmer on the Cumberland River hired a worker from another community to cut cord wood. The cutter came to work early one morning before breakfast. The farmer invited him to come in and have breakfast with him. After eating a while, the cutter inquired the distance to where his employer wanted the wood cut. ‘It’s about a mile up the ridge,’ replied the farmer. ‘If you don’t mind then,’ said the cutter, ‘I’ll just eat dinner while I’m here.’ ‘Eat on,’ said the farmer. A short time later, the cutter said he might as well eat supper before getting up from the table. ‘Go ahead,’ said the farmer. At last, the cutter arose from the table, only to say, ‘My father always told me never to work after supper, good day.’”

In the December 16, 1952 column he wrote, “I remember well my uncle Price Jackman. He had a prize fiddle that was handed down through several generations of his forefathers. He thought more of his fiddle than anything else on earth. One evening, Uncle Price accompanied two other men, and took his fiddle to a dance. A heavy rain started after they got there and lasted up until after midnight. Returning home, they found the creek out of its banks and the footlong washed away. His companions wanted him to turn back, but Uncle Price challenged them to follow him across. Uncle Price waded in holding the fiddle high above his head. The other two followed. The current washed both of them down in the middle of the stream. One clung to a drift and got out, but the other one drowned. Uncle Price, already across, spread the alarm. The next morning they found the drowned man half a mile down the creek. Somebody asked Uncle Price why he didn’t try to save the fellow from drowning. ‘By Ned, I didn’t want to get my fiddle wet,’ he replied.”

In that same December 16, 1952 issue, York wrote about an old African-American man he remembered from his boyhood days in Clinton County. “Old Uncle Bill Gibbons and his good wife lived not far from where we lived. My mother and I went over there one day. Just as we got to the yard, mother said ‘Stop and keep still, somebody’s talking.’ And then we saw her in the garden, old Uncle Bill’s wife on her knees, her face lifted toward Heaven, praying with all her heart. After a few minutes, she got up and came out to meet us. I don’t think I ever saw more happiness and joy than was reflected in her face.”

“When I was a small boy,” he wrote in the newspapers’ July 5, 1955 edition, “my aunt told me of a man who married one of her sisters. He’d go to Albany every county court day and drink too much booze. Liquor at that time was both plentiful and cheap. The U.S. government licensed people to sell it. After getting loaded up one day he started home and took his path through an old broom-sedge field. He came to a place where the grass was tall and thick. He climbed up on a stop and yelled ‘I’m a sea turkle an’ I’m a-goin’ to swim the sea!’ He spread out his arms, dived and landed kerflunk in the middle of the high sedge grass. There he went to sleep and kept his bed until about sun up. Then he roused up and went home. His wife asked him where he had spent the night. ‘Be God,’ he replied, ‘I was a sea turkle and spent the night on the high sea.’ After that the neighbors all called him Sea Turkle Jim.”

In the April 25, 1957 edition, he wrote “ I remember distinctly that, having reached the age of 16, I was impressed, along with all of the able-bodied men, to work on the public roads. We had to work at this six days a week but if conditions made it necessary we could be forced to work two days a week the year round. The public overseers were very strict, timing us from 8 to 4 o’clock, with 15 minutes out for dinner. One overseer I remember carried a small clock in his hand to keep time on us. My crowd had about three miles of roads to keep in repair for wagon and horseback travel. We had to keep the right-of-way cut back, and the washes filled with rock and dirt. For this work the county furnished three picks and shovels. Men who furnished their own tools got credit for one day’s work. The man who furnished his team and a turning plow got credit for three. Road workings generally occurred in the summer and early fall. It was a hot, dirty and dusty job.

And I remember the stile blocks at country churches for young ladies to alight from horses and mules in the utmost of decorum. For the young men were always standing around, ready to lead her steed off to a hitching post while she removed her riding skirt and got ready to go inside. After the service, it was customary for some young man to bring her mat back to the stile block, see her safely on and headed for home. Those were the days of long sermons and shouts and praises to God, and more invitations to go home with somebody for dinner than you could shake a stick at.”

“It’s sassafras tea time again,” reported L.S. York of Albany in the March 8, 1958 edition of the newspaper. “Along in February in the old days, my mother used to say to us boys: ‘Go and dig some roots and wash them good and clean, then saw them crosswise about a quarter of an inch thick and we will make some red tea.’ And she was as good as her word. Some folks say to make it out of bark but she always used the bark and wood together. Some say not to boil the water, only let it simmer, but mother boiled it. She made her red tea good and strong, but then a little sugar added made it so good in the spring of the year. But now where are the sassafras trees since modern farming machinery took over? They are not along the old crooked rail fences nor in waste spaces like they used to be. Another growth has about joined the limbo of former days. That is the wild grape vine. I have not seen wild grapes for several years. The bulldozers have put them to sleep.”

June 25, 1956 — At hand is a leisurely report from L.S. York. “Many years ago,” begins Mr. York, Uncle Jim York lived in a remote section of Clinton County known as Willis Creek. Honey bees and the old weekly Louisville Courier-Journal were his interests in life. He kept 25 or 30 hives of bees around his yard and could handle them better than most men, without getting stung. He’d find bee trees in the wooded hills, take the honey, then take the bees home and make hives for them. He made his hives, or bee gums as they were called then, by nailing cross sticks inside sections sawed from hollow trees. He sowed clover and buckwheat for his bees, and had honey for sale the year around. Some years, Uncle Jim would fill cans with honey, put them in sacks and load the sacks on two mules. He’d then go up the ridge to Forest Cottage and sell his stock to uncle Crawford Holsapple, the merchant there who sold whiskey and apple brandy, as well as general merchandise. In those days, the best grade of honey sold for 10 to 12 and a half cents a pound. Uncle Jim subscribed to the weekly Courier-Journal and he believed in what Henry Watterson wrote. He’d go or send to the little post office on the ridge, by the name of Aaron, on the day the Courier-Journal was due to arrive. Back home, he’d sit on his porch and read it for hours and hours. But he could tell you what was going on in world affairs. My father said the Courier-Journal was Uncle Jim’s bible. He took and read the paper as long as he lived.”

Dec. 3, 1954 — “Having subscribed to the Courier-Journal for several years, I will tell you how I peruse it. I start at page one and read such as interests me, then go through pages two, three and so on. I read some editorials and the Point of View, if it is to my liking. A skim through the second section to Greetings and Let’s Explore Your Mind. I read Nancy, and I’m through. Then, I sit and ponder some of the things I have read, while whittling on a piece of red cedar as I gather a few thoughts. I still sharpen lead pencils with a pocket knife. I can take a sharp knife and a good pencil and make a very nice job of it.”

May 9, 1957 — “At hand is a valued report from John W. Albertson, Albany, upon basic conditions in his neck of the woods 39 years ago. “As I travel back down memory’s lane,” he begins, “I come to 1919 when I attended Willen School, near Shipley, in Clinton County. Our benches that year were made from chestnut logs about 10 feet long and 10 inches in diameter. They were split through the middle with the flat side turned up for seats. These log seats rested on legs angled out to about 30 degrees. We boys solved the issue of tired backs by sitting parallel to the seats, back to back. The common practice of cleaning slates was to spit on them, then rub with the cuff of the shirt sleeve. The dread of all was to be compelled to sit on the dunce’s seat with a dunce cap on. One afternoon, L.S. York, the county superintendent, visited our school at about 1:15 o’clock. The boys had been mean and noisy that morning, but when he came in we settled to the meekness of mice. When he came to the end of his speech. Mr. York turned to our teacher and said thus: ‘Madam teacher, these students have been so nice and attentive that I promise you will have new desks next year.’ Needless to say, we got the desks, as promised. Incidentally, Mr. York was the first to coin the phrase, ‘teachers are the shock troops of civilization.’ He still lives near Clear Fork, at Albany.”

Leander and his wife, Cordelia “Cordie” Adams York, lived in the Clear Fork community. He died at Clinton County War Memorial Hospital on August 11, 1962, at the age of 87. He and his wife are buried at Albany Cemetery.

Note: They were the parents of the late Ruby Nell Pierce, wife of Kendrick, aka “Jamup” and the great-grandparents of Jackie Pierce.

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