Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- POLECAT

Do you know what a POLECAT is? If you look in the Merrriam-Webster dictionary it says,

Definition of POLECAT

 1. ANY OF SEVERAL CARNIVOROUS MAMMALS (AS OF THE GENERA Mustela or Vormela) of the weasel family; especially: a brown to black European mammal (M. putorius) from which the domesticated ferret is derived.


Back home in Harlan, KY, the old-timers referred to a skunk as a POLECAT. I don't think we ever saw a ferret in the mountains. At least, nobody ever talked about it.

POLECATS have two major characteristics that make them stand out among all other creatures that roam the mountains of Appalachia.

First, they are black and white striped with bushy tails.

Second, under that bushy tail is a scent gland that, if they are agitated or feel threatened, can provide a spray of noxious stink that will make your eyes and respiratory system burn so bad that you cough up phlegm and cry until snot flows out of your nostrils. The odor is similar to liquid tar, only worse. Much worse.
POLECAT with a tail that means business

Dogs and children are especially drawn to the cute little critters -- until they get too close and it's too late to retreat. Some say tomato juice can remove the stench of a POLECAT spray. Others claim borscht will do the trick. Thankfully, I've never had to put either to the test.

Unfortunately, POLECATS aren't very smart. They tend to attempt to cross the road without looking both ways first. You always know if there's a flattened POLECAT nearby as you drive. That scent can travel for what seems like miles on a foggy morning. In the summer heat and humidity, the stink seems to intensify even more.

Many a time I have traveled a mountain road when everyone in the car breaks into a rendition of, "Oh there's a dead skunk in the middle of the road..." and yes, a POLECAT definitely stinks to high heaven.

Now that I live further south, I don't smell too many POLECATS as I drive. Here we have an occasional raccoon or possum, but rarely a POLECAT. The most often seen critter here is the armadillo. No matter which critter it is, none of them has mastered the trick to crossing a road without becoming roadkill. Thankfully, most of them only stink after they've been lying there squashed for a couple of days.

POLECAT is a strange name for a skunk. It didn't come from a cat on a pole. At least we didn't call it the same thing my college roommate from Lakehurst, NJ called them -- WOODS PUSSY!

So, what did you call a POLECAT where you grew up? Have any funny or disgusting stories about them? I'd love to hear your story.


Appalachian Word of the Week -- POLECAT (Click to tweet)

POLECATS stink to high heaven (Click to tweet)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- CUT A SHINE

How many of you know how to CUT A SHINE? Do you know what it means?

My mom loved to CUT A SHINE. Unfortunately, my dad did not. She often told me stories of when she was younger, before she met my dad, and she and her girlfriends spent the weekend going to parties so they could CUT A SHINE.

There are all kinds of dances. My mom favored the jitterbug. I recall the days of The Twist and The Mashed Potato. I've lost touch with how the younger set CUTS A SHINE these days. Most of them look like all they need to do to CUT A SHINE is to gyrate to loud noise in between drinking and texting on their cell phones.

Fortunately, you don't have to have a partner to CUT A SHINE. Unless, of course, you're square dancing or doing one of the classic dances, such as the Tango. It takes two to Tango, you remember.


I'm not able to CUT A SHINE these days with my arthritis. I miss it. There are times when I would love nothing more than to do a happy dance. I have figured out how to CUT A SHINE by doing a happy dance in my office chair. I can spin and flail my arms happily without falling on my face or having to call my chiropractor. There's always something to do a happy dance about if you look hard enough.

When my mom moved into her own apartment after my dad went into a nursing home, she had several opportunities to CUT A SHINE at events sponsored by her senior center. She loved it. It brought life back into her days.

Mom's last earthly chance to CUT A SHINE
She even CUT A SHINE a couple of weeks before her death. I'm glad she went happy.

I can see her in heaven getting to CUT A SHINE around the throne of Jesus. I'm sure she has found a few hairy-faced young men in the group to be her partner, too. 

Do you CUT A SHINE? What's your favorite dance?


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- HAINTS

If you grew up in the mountains, you've heard a lot about HAINTS. I remember stories my parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents told about the HAINTS they swore they had seen.

They had me so scared of HAINTS (ghosts), I didn't want to go anywhere by myself after dark. Heck, I didn't want to be alone during the day either. That included the bathroom and definitely included the outhouse at Granny's house. Of course, it didn't help that Mom loved watching scary movies on TV.

My mom told me about a HAINTED house she lived in with her aunt Mamie when she got her first job. What scared me most about her tales was when we went to visit Great Aunt Mamie and I was left to wander around that old house. The main floor wasn't too bad, but I couldn't bring myself to climb the winding staircase to the upper floors. Even when my cousins were with me. Mom's stories would come back to me about what my relatives had seen and experienced on the stairs. I would take a couple of those steps and start to tremble with fear. I just knew there was a HAINT waiting for me on the next step. Each step I took made my heart race more. I felt cold all over and just knew the HAINT had its hand on me making me cold. I'd finally take all I could stand and fly down those stairs and back into the kitchen where the adults gathered.

Stories of HAINTS weren't limited to family, though. When we first moved to Loyall, Kentucky, my dad met a lady on his Greyhound bus (he worked as operator) who told him about a HAINTED house in Loyall. She told him all kinds of scary stories. When the bus rolled past our house, she pointed to it and said, "That's it. That's the one that's so HAINTED!" Dad laughed it off, but I think he wondered about those stories.

Our HAINTED house in Loyall, Kentucky
I think sometimes that our parents told us those scary stories to get us to behave at night and not run around making mischief. Worked for me.

Appalachian folk love their scary stories. Almost everybody you ask can come up with a few that will make you spend the next few days looking over your shoulder, expecting a HAINT to be right there to get you.

Old Lynch Hospital in Harlan County
A few years ago, I spent a couple of weeks in Lynch, Kentucky at the old hospital. I came there to do some research for my book (which will be published in late 2018). I rented a room from the missionaries who use the building now for volunteers who come into Harlan County to do service projects. Because of the time of year, I was the only person in the building most of the time. Believe me, those hallways were dark, even when the lights were on. It didn't help that the guy who had shown me to my room when I arrived told me not to worry about the noises at night. He pointed out that it had nothing to do with the fact that my room was the old morgue.

After I came home, I saw an article on Facebook about a group of ghosthunters who did an investigation at the old hospital. Glad I didn't know that while I was there.

Do you have any stories of HAINTS in your hometown? Have any personal experiences that made your hair stand on end? I'd love to hear your story.


Appalachian Word of the Week -- HAINTS (Click here to tweet)

Appalachian folk love their scary stories (Click here to tweet)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- HIDEY-HO'

A HIDEY-HO' (hiding hole) provided a peaceful place of escape for me as a child. Whether I hid away in the closet, a home-made fort made from blankets and chairs, or in a cluster of bushes and trees in the woods behind the house, I found my HIDEY-HO' to be an escape from the frustrations of life. I spent my time there creating stories, playing with my dolls or stuffed animals, or pretending I was hiding from an evil villain.

A favorite childhood HIDEY-HO' was the playhouse my dad built for me out of used lumber from an old chicken coop. It was set up like a little kitchen. I guess they thought it would encourage me to become domestic. It didn't work. But, I loved secreting myself in my own little HIDEY-HO' in the back yard to live in my own created world where everything was perfect.

My playhouse HIDEY-HO'
As I grew older and a HIDEY-HO' in the woods no longer enticed me or I wouldn't fit into a cabinet or closet anymore, I created a HIDEY-HO' in my bedroom. I spent many hours there reading a book or writing poetry. I practiced all my speeches for competitions and parts for plays by performing to my stuffed animals. I wrote in my diary and cried about all the pain and miseries in my life. I grieved when the boy I thought was perfect for me rebuffed me. I complained because my sister drove me crazy. I griped when my parents didn't understand me.

When my son was born, much later, I enjoyed his desire to search out his own HIDEY-HO'. I even found him in the bottom of my curio cabinet a few times. As he grew, his need for a larger HIDEY-HO' grew with him. He hid in the kitchen cabinets, the pantry, and the bathroom. Later, like me, his HIDEY-HO' of choice became his room.

We all seem to need a peaceful, private, quiet HIDEY-HO' from time to time. When life gets overwhelming and the people noise of our lives drives us to anguish, the HIDEY-HO' offers a place of respite and recharging.

In college, my favorite HIDEY-HO' was a former janitor's closet transformed into a prayer closet. I could go inside, lock the door, and read the Bible, pray, cry, write in a journal, or whatever I needed to regain focus. I've always thought I need to set up one of those HIDEY-HO' prayer closets in my house. Hmmm. Perhaps I should consider it again.

Do you need a quiet place?
Do you have a HIDEY-HO' where you can recharge your batteries? Do you need to hide away for a bit and regain your focus or pour out your heart to God? Then, consider how you can set up a HIDEY-HO' for yourself.

Tell me about your dream HIDEY-HO' in the comments.


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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- TETCHED

I heard this word a lot when I was growing up in Harlan County. My parents often looked at each other and said, "He's TETCHED in the head."

I soon learned TETCHED could be used to describe anyone who behaved differently from how you were brought up to behave. That included how you ate your food (with your mouth open), what you ate (raw fish or escargot), what you wore, or how you behaved in public.

Driving a decorated car must mean you're TETCHED
If somebody walked down the road and talked to themselves, they were TETCHED. If they wore a coat in the summer, they were TETCHED. If somebody wanted to do things in a different way than you were taught to do them, yep, they were TETCHED.

And especially if they wore several layers of clothing and pushed a buggy they snatched from A&P and filled to the top with layers of the Harlan Daily Enterprise (yellowed with age) up and down the streets of Harlan while singing songs like "Pop Goes the Weasel" in the sun, rain, or snow, she was a lot TETCHED. She was TETCHED in spite of the fact that when she died, they found over $100,000 hidden among those weathered newspapers. At least that's the story that went around. Made me wish I was a bit more TETCHED if I could have that kind of money.

There are some truly crazy things people do that would make me think they must be TETCHED to even attempt them. Here are some examples.

TETCHED and potentially armless

Can you imagine the pain if he misses?

I'm hyperventilating just thinking about climbing so high

There have been times in my life that I'm sure my parents looked at me and decided I was TETCHED, too. They never understood why I decided to move to New York City to be an actress and singer. My mom couldn't understand why I wanted to be a writer, either. She thought every mean or naughty character I wrote about was HER.

Yep, I guess I am a bit TETCHED. But then, that's what makes life more fun.

So, join me today in doing something worthy of making people say, "He/she is a bit TETCHED in the head."

Dress up and make people notice you

Put on a show for people you meet
Or just be yourself

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