Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Appalachian Words -- EARBOBS

Fashion is important to everyone, including the people of Southern Appalachia. Fashion goes beyond the clothes you wear. Accessories have always been the items that turn a flour sack dress into your Sunday finest attire.

One of the most common accessories for mountain women was a pair of EARBOBS. Today, we refer to them as earrings.

EARBOBS were a woman's prized possession. Even though they probably came from the local Five and Dime, she treasured them as fine jewelry. There's just something about putting on those EARBOBS that made her feel special.

Screw-back earbob
Many years ago, most EARBOBS were fastened to the earlobe by a screw back. I've worn a few pairs myself and I can tell you they are generally not comfortable. If you don't tighten them enough, one might drop off and you would lose your prized possession. So, you tighten that screw until your earlobe turns red and throbs with pain. The cost of fashion.

Clip earbobs
Another type of EARBOB used a clip on the back like the decorative clips that could be used on shoes to fancy them up. Although not as painful as the screw-type backs, clips left an impression on your ear, too. They are still worn by women who don't have pierced ears -- and actors who portray women of the 50s. I know that from experience.

One of the highlights in my life was when I made the switch from screw-type and clip EARBOBS to posts or wire EARBOBS. The problem with the new type of EARBOBS was that wearing posts and wires required enduring the painful process of piercing your earlobes.

The memory of my piercing still lingers strongly in my mind.

I invited a couple of girlfriends over to my house who had experience in piercing. I wanted to make sure the holes were placed in the right spot, so I chose friends wisely.

We started with an ice cube. You wouldn't believe, unless you've done this yourself, how painful holding an ice cube to your earlobe is. I never expected it because I thought the ice would numb my ear, not make it hurt like crazy. Good thing my friend was holding the ice to my ear (with a wash rag) because I would have chickened out and thrown the ice away.

The needle and thread
Next came the needle. A huge needle. Threaded with white cotton thread. My friend, Linda, held me down and jabbed that needle right through my earlobe and tied off the thread before I could scream.

"Done!" She let me go. I tried to stand and check it in the mirror. My knees wobbled and the room spun. I thought I would pass out. I gazed into the mirror and saw the thread knotted front and back sticking out of the red hole.

The complication with piercing your ears is that when the first one is completed, you have to muster the courage to finish the job. Another session with the ice, followed by that same needle, and the knotting of the thread.

My earbob piercing
I survived my piercing! And the holes were evenly placed on both lobes.

Then came the healing process. I carried around a bottle of camphor oil for days and kept my lobes clean as I pulled the thread back and forth through the holes. If you don't move the thread often, the ear will heal around the thread and you'll have to rip it out or cut it out. Then you must go through the entire process again. I made sure I took extremely good care of those ears.

How we suffer for the sake of fashion.

Crazy piercings for earbobs
Nowadays, they shoot a hole through your earlobes - or any other body part - and inject an EARBOB directly into the hole. At least I have an interesting memory.

EARBOBS are still an integral part of any woman's wardrobe -- and many men's wardrobes as well. Maybe I'm too old, but I don't see the beauty behind covering your body in holes so you can insert EARBOBS. Especially in your nose and tongue! Yes, the idea of beauty has changed for many over the years.

Did you go through the ice, needle, and thread method of piercing? Have you added more piercings to your body since then? I'd love to hear your stories.


Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Appalachian Word of the Week -- WISH BOOK

The one thing I wished for almost as much as Christmas was the Christmas WISH BOOK.

When it arrived in the mail, I squealed with delight and hoped I could get my hands on it before my brother or my sister. I spent hours flipping through the pages. The pages of toys, that is. I drooled over the fabulous offerings of toys -- baby dolls, art supplies, jewelry, and household items to use in my playhouse.

Daddy built my playhouse out of leftover lumber from an old chicken house. He also installed a door and double windows. I spent every day it was warm enough in my house, dreaming of when I grew up.

The WISH BOOK often caused us kids to fight. Of course, Mom reminded us that Santa could see us being bad and it hushed us up for a little bit.

We didn't receive toys or treats very often during the rest of the year. Even on my birthday. Unfortunately, my birthday came so close to Christmas that one of my Christmas gifts was designated as my birthday present.

All gifts came from Santa
That didn't settle well with me. Not only because I felt cheated out of a gift, but because during those years of believing in Santa, all of my gifts came under the tree, unwrapped, from Santa. That meant that my birthday gift came from Santa, not my parents.

For years my heart broke when my parents gave other people beautifully wrapped gifts, but they never ever gave one to me. In my sensitive heart, I thought that meant they didn't love me. Much later, when I mentioned it to my mom, she was flabbergasted. She had never even thought about it.

I, on the other hand, made sure when my son was born that the best gifts were wrapped and bore a tag with his name and that they were from Mom and Dad. Santa only brought the little stuff.

Our WISH BOOK managed to go from pristine and new to torn and ragged by the time our WISH list had been sent to Santa. A lot of wishing happened on those pages.

Today, I do most of my WISH BOOK viewing on Google. It doesn't have the same effect. Of course, I'm much older now and don't dream for small gifts like I did in the pages of the WISH BOOK. Now I wish for things like improved health, enough money to pay the bills, and being content with what I have. Of course, this year I did think how nice it would be for Santa to bring me a new car. My expectations are much lower than when I was a child though.

Do you remember the old WISH BOOK of our youth? Was your favorite the Sears or Montgomery Ward?

Each year before Christmas, Dad drove us over to Middlesboro to visit the Montgomery Ward store on Main Street. I loved the lights, trees, and decorations in town and in the stores. Mom took care of her gift shopping while Dad took us to Woolworth for a treat at the food counter. I didn't realize until many years later that Mom sneaked our gifts from Santa into the trunk of our car while we had a triple-decker club sandwich and a milkshake at Woolworth's.

What do you remember about your WISH BOOK? What was your favorite gift?

I'd love to hear your stories.



Merry Christmas and may your grandest wishes come true.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Appalachian Dreamers

Appalachian people are survivors.

We have a history of challenging life circumstances, hardships, and struggle. But amidst that hardscrabble life, we learn important lessons. We learn to cope, to overcome, to look at the bright side. We learn not to merely survive but to thrive.

Some survive through endless hard work. Elbow grease, my dad called it. Some survive through artistic expression. I remember the days of watching men gather at the Courthouse in Harlan and sit on the stone wall whittling with their Case pocketknives. Many gathered to play their Appalachian musical instruments and sing. Others painted pictures of God's beauty of the mountains or of their dreams about where they'd like to be someday. Mountain folks are definitely a creative bunch.

And then there are those who shared their gift of words -- either in storytelling or writing them down for others to read. I remember reading the words and songs of John Jacob Niles, who visited our school when I was in fourth grade. What an inspiration to me.

Do you have a story to tell?
From the time I could read, I knew I was meant to write. I spent many a day swinging in the old front porch swing with my Mountain Feist dog, writing. Those stories allowed me to verbalize what I didn't dare say aloud. My poems praised God, the creator of those beautiful mountains. My dreams of what I hoped and dreamed about for my future were given flight right in that swing. I imagined a world completely different from my own -- a world where my place in it mattered.

One of my dreams was that someday I would do my mountain family and friends proud by becoming a published author. I wanted to share the blessings of growing up in the mountains. The hard stuff and the joys. The tough, determined people who overcame the painful things in life. The love and support offered freely by neighbors who were barely hanging on at times, too. A people who clung to their faith, unashamed of their calloused knees.

Years of excuses, a lot of years, passed before I decided I'd better get busy if I planned to live my dream before my passing. One day, a germ of an idea made it's way to the page and Coreen and Sarah's story bloomed.


On Friday, November 30, 2018, my first novel, set in the coalfields of eastern Kentucky, releases.

Above the Fog by Karen Lynn Nolan

Today, I'm taking a departure from my regular blog posts to tell you a bit about Above the Fog.

Several of my friends and family have their names as characters. That doesn't mean they are anything like the character the name was given to. So, if your name appears, I'm not writing about you, I'm writing in honor of our friendship and special relationship.

You may also recognize a few landmarks -- like Moo Cow Curve and a treck up Laden Trail on Pine Mountain. I also included Mrs. Boggs, the school nurse who gave us shots, the yeast rolls that tantalized me every morning at Loyall School, and Jack's Drive-In's doolies. Also, I had to include the monster flood of 1977 as a character. Even the destruction plays a role in Coreen and Sarah's journey.

The story is purely fictional, though, with a few truths sprinkled among the fiction. I never actually experienced the type of life my friends did in this story.

This is the description from the back cover:

Growing up in a coal mining camp is difficult enough. But, when Coreen Shell’s abusive father makes a promise for her thirteenth birthday that could destroy what’s left of her life, she resorts a desperate prayer to a God she’s not sure exists. The next day, a flood washes through the coal camp, like a backhanded answer to her prayer. Coreen, her mother, and her crippled grandmother next door must climb the mountain to find refuge in a nearby church. Then, news of a murder changes everything, in a way Coreen never imagined.


Now the real question is: Will Coreen and her damaged, dysfunctional family conquer all the lies, secrets, hardship, and hatred … or be destroyed by them?


In case you would like to know more about me, I included a photo of me and my bio.

Karen Lynn Nolan Bio

In case you ever wondered why I started this blog -- it's because my non-Appalachian friends didn't understand our dialect and way of life. Through Diamonds in My Coal Bucket, non-Appalachians can be ready for Above the Fog. And we mountain people can look back and remember the good days.

If you decide you would like to read my book, there's a link to it in the right column, at the very top. Just click on the photo of Above the Fog. 

If you do decide to read it, I would appreciate a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. Word of mouth is a fabulous way to share the news, so sharing this post would also be appreciated.


Never give up on your dreams -- no matter what

Do you have a book, a song, or another artistic idea inside you that yearns to take flight? Don't give up on your dreams. I waited a lot of years to fulfill my dream. It's never too late.

What's your dream?




Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Mountain Memories -- Thanksgiving Dinner

Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends, family, and acquaintances.


Every year as I prepare for Turkey Day (as my mom called it), I take time to ponder all the things I have to be thankful for. I decided to share them with you this year.

Thanksgiving dinner -- the mid-day meal in Appalachia -- always drew the family together. Even though Mom didn't enjoy cooking and got out of it as often as possible by letting someone else do it for her, she let out all the stops for Thanksgiving.

We had the exact same menu every year. I suppose she relied on what she knew would work. Perhaps she chose only the foods she liked herself. Either way, it was truly a feast.

The only meat we ever had was turkey, baked with salt, pepper, and butter only. Daddy grabbed the giblets and put them in the pressure cooker as soon as they were extricated from the turkey's hidden cavities. They were a delicacy only in his eyes.  No one else touched them.

A massive mound of mashed potatoes was topped with a can of heated peas, placed in a shoveled-out crevice at the top of the mound. We called it a "bird's nest."

Shuck beans
A pot of shuck beans, also known as shucky beans, cooked with onion and fatback, filled the air and attempted to hide the nasty odor of the giblets as the jiggler danced on the pressure cooker.

Mom also made a few salads. Her pea salad, which I hated, had peas (of course), chopped American cheese, raw onion, and Miracle Whip. Her fruit salad was glorious. She diced up red and golden delicious apples, added fruit cocktail, raisins that had soaked in warm water, Miracle Whip, and crushed peanuts (the secret ingredient).

Freshly-baked dinner rolls waited their turn in the oven. Not homemade, store-bought.

The one thing on the table I refused to even taste? The sliced cranberry sauce jelly roll. Anything that retains the rings on the inside of the can after removing it makes me think it must be toxic. I still cannot force myself to take a bite of that toxic jelly roll. Until her death, Mom tried to force me to give it a try. This was one battle she never won.

Our family never had desserts. That would mean Mom had to cook before Thanksgiving Day. One day was all she was willing to do. Of course, if we had visiting family, they usually brought something sweet to add to the meal. Granny baked her glorious sage dressing and brought it, too.

The memory that stands out is my dad's routine at the end of the meal. As we sat around with our stomachs bloated, Dad went to the kitchen and retrieved the turkey neck. We moaned as he sat down and commenced to sucking the meat off the neck bones. It nearly drove Mom crazy. The rest of us tried to ignore him. Hard to do in a small house and with his strong sucking ability. Now I miss that tradition.

I am thankful for my memories. I'm also thankful for the memories I keep alive with my son. Our Thanksgiving Dinner is a meal for two now that Mom and Dad are gone. With my mobility issues, I only cook a few dishes we both love. Leftovers carry us through the entire weekend.

The spirit of family is the most important part of Thanksgiving. I feel blessed.

Above the Fog is available on Amazon
It's been an amazing year for me. My first book, Above the Fog, releases a week after Thanksgiving. A childhood dream is coming true. If you're interested in getting a copy, click on the photo to the right of this blog. Pre-orders (anything before November 30th) is at a discount.

I hope you have heaps of blessings to be thankful for this year. I'd love to hear your list.

What did you love to eat for Thanksgiving when you were a kid? What is your favorite now?

Happy Thanksgiving!



Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Appalachian Word of the Week -- BACON GREASE


We had very little in the way of spices in our mountain home. Salt and pepper comprised the entire list for daily additives for our food.

In an effort to add a bit of pizzazz to the flavor of foods, we sometimes added onion or butter. However, to make food more than merely palatable, we added a secret ingredient that I doubt even Colonel Sanders added to his secret recipe -- BACON GREASE.

Pigs were common in the mountains. They took up less space than cattle and didn't have to forage for food. I remember several pig farmers visiting the school cafeteria after lunch to get all the food dumped into the trash cans. Slop.

At least some creature on earth wanted to eat it. I rarely ate the lunches at school. Saying I was a picky eater is an understatement.

Thankfully, the pig farmers fed all the slop to the pigs, who grew up to become my favorite food -- BACON. And the bacon added its glorious seasoning to some less-than-favorite foods to make them tolerable.

Bacon Grease container
Available at As Time Goes By on Etsy
Almost every mother used BACON GREASE. We didn't have to cook bacon for each meal. Instead, the BACON GREASE from breakfast -- or whenever -- was poured into a container for use later.

Some families had enough money to purchase a fancy BACON GREASE container. Yes, there is such a thing even today. In my house, we used an old discarded coffee can to hold the BACON GREASE. It sat on the stove always, easily available for the next meal.

As Mom cooked her potatoes or green beans, she'd dip into the coffee can of BACON GREASE and add some to the food. If you've never tried it, you don't know what you're missing.

Of course, some foods don't lend themselves to BACON GREASE. I know, a shock. Sweets and bread required lard, Crisco, or butter instead.

Today's BACON GREASE containers include a strainer to remove any crumbles and bits of meat.

Did your Mom and Grandma use BACON GREASE in their cooking? Do you use it in your cooking still today? What's the best thing you've eaten with BACON GREASE as the seasoning?

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Mountain Memories -- Trick-or-Treat


Blustery winds lift fallen leaves from the ground and swirl them around like haints let loose. Screams and squeals of delight mingle as hoards of children race from door-to-door to claim the best selection of candy from each willing neighborhood resident. Painted faces, costumes ranging from simple to gaudy, barely block the chill of a late autumn night.

Tonight the goal is to fill a poke or pillowcase with enough sugary treats to provide a high for days -- or send some running to the toilet as their bodies revolt from the over-indulgence of treats. Red-cheeked children ring doorbells or bang on the doors. When the door opens, a chorus of "TRICK-OR-TREAT" begs for the treat.

Trick-or-Treat soap
But beware -- for there are some ghosts and ghoulies who carry a bar of soap in their pocket.

If the treat is not forth-coming or doesn't meet expectations, that bar of soap may be used to mark the windows of the house with disappointed graffiti.

Oh, the days of TRICK-OR-TREAT.

I remember well the days when my friends and I dressed in whatever costume we could pull together from our parents' or siblings' closets on Halloween. Some fortunate kids had a mother who lived to create a costume that gave the appearance of being more thought out and creative. If you couldn't afford the appropriate fabric, though, there was always crepe paper.

My mother made several costumes for my TRICK-OR-TREAT jaunts out of crepe paper. She sewed it into a costume -- usually a witch. Crepe paper was cheap and sewable. It was also a bit stiff and made rustling noises as I ran. My hope was that it would last through the night without disintegrating.

I prayed it wouldn't rain because then I would come home with a disappearing costume (I always wore something underneath, just in case). Also, the rain caused the dye in the paper to run. My body would be streaked with dye that took some scrubbing to get off.

I think my mother made my costume so she could also make one for herself and join my brother and me in TRICK-OR-TREATING. She was only five feet tall and shorter than some of my friends. Everyone thought she was a kid, too. I swear she got more candy than the rest of us.

My favorite candy corn
Candy. How we all loved it. My favorite candy was candy corn. Half the fun was switching candy with a friend -- or Mom. She didn't like candy corn and I didn't like chocolate as a child.

Halloween wasn't just about TRICK-OR-TREAT though. It was fall parties at school (more candy), decorating with Indian corn and corn stalks, pumpkins carved and mangled into distorted faces and lit with a wax candle. I still recall the smell of a pumpkin's innards as I scooped out the seeds and pulp. Not necessarily a pleasant odor, but distinct.

Passing by a graveyard while trick-or-treating
Some parts of TRICK-OR-TREAT raised the goosebumps. Passing the funeral home made us run faster. But going by a graveyard terrified us. I don't know why we considered them scarier on that one night than any other, but that night seemed to make us all believe in our innocent child hearts that evil just might exist. Unfortunately, as adults, we now believe in evil is evident every day of the year.

One of my favorite TRICK-OR-TREAT seasonal treats was the orange wax whistles.

Almost every schoolkid used his or her allowance to purchase one at the little store across the street from the school. I'm sure the teachers were more than ready for wax whistle season to end.

We all started out playing "songs" on our whistles, attempting to play the loudest, longest, and most unique tunes. After we tired of blowing, we bit into the tasty orange wax chambers, now filled with slobber, and chewed them like gum. I loved the flavor.

TRICK-OR-TREAT has changed today. Most children don store-bought costumes that represent movie or cartoon characters. No creativity is allowed. You must have the pre-conceived representation of an imaginary character in someone else's imagination -- and pay them money for the privilege to wear that costume.

Pokes and pillowcases have been replaced with molded plastic buckets or plastic bags.

Even the racing from house to house is frowned upon -- for safety reasons. Most children are packed into the family SUV and taken to a TRUNK-OR-TREAT instead of a TRICK-OR-TREAT.

I miss the old days. I miss the excitement of being on the hunt, out in nature, on my own -- except for the company of my friends -- and Mom, of course. But on that night, she wasn't Mom. She was a fellow witch, ghoulie, or clown racing from house to house and yelling, "TRICK-OR-TREAT!"

Do you remember the days of simple TRICK-OR-TREAT? Do you miss it? I'd love to hear your stories of TRICK-OR-TREAT.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Mountain Memories -- Mountain Sandbox

A lot of folks who didn't grow up in the mountains of eastern Kentucky and the surrounding areas during my era, don't realize how creative we had to be to provide fun activities for the children.

One thing I looked forward to each summer was a trip into the mountains of Harlan County to find sandstone. The hills are rich with all kinds of rocks and minerals. Coal, shale, granite, limestone, and sandstone -- among others.

Some may find it strange that we have sandstone in our mountains, so far from an ocean. However, we have often been told our mountains were once underwater. I tend to believe them -- since I gathered pockets full of sea creature fossils from the tops of those mountains. One of my favorite places to collect fossils was at the airport. I remember one of my classes from school went up to the airport for the day and several of us spent most of our time climbing around the cleared mountaintop searching for rocks, minerals, and fossils.

#fossils in Appalachia
Unfortunately, I lost my fossil collection in the flood of 1977.

But back to the sandstone. Each late spring or early summer, Dad loaded the back of the car with empty boxes and we took a drive up Laden Trail onto Pine Mountain, near where he grew up. He knew exactly where to find the best deposits of sandstone.

Sandstone, after weathering, crumbles into a massive pit of sand. If the supply of sand had dwindled, the consistency of the stone allowed us to scrape new sand with the blade of a pick-ax. I enjoyed scraping new sand even if there was plenty to choose from. Remember how I told you about our search for creative outlets in the mountains?

Dad parked the car in a pull-off and we unloaded the boxes. The walk wasn't far. With boxes ready and Dad with a shovel, we began the task of gathering sand into the boxes. When they were as full as Daddy could carry, he put down the shovel and lugged the boxes of sand to the back of the car.

While he worked on shoveling and carrying the sand, I played in the piles left behind.

Quartz pebbles in the sand
I especially loved the sand at this particular sandstone location. It was mixed with thousands of tiny quartz pebbles. My love of sparkly rocks had already become well-established, so quartz pebbles made the sand even more special for me.

With the trunk loaded down with sand, Daddy maneuvered our rear-heavy car around the hairpin graveled curves of Laden Trail and back home. He immediately began the arduous task of unloading the boxes of sand and emptying them into the home-made sandbox he had built.

I spent many joyful hours playing in the sand. My dog, Caspy, a mountain feist, enjoyed playing with me. She rolled around in the sand and dug holes as I built sandcastles lined with quartz pebbles. Of course, I didn't have plastic shovels and buckets to form the sand. I used margarine cups, spoons, and jelly glasses.

I miss those days of simple pleasures.

Did you ever go into the mountains to gather sand? How did you wile away your summer days of leisure? I'd love to hear your stories.