Number Pul-leeze

by Curt Kovener

(This is an encore column from the Curt Comments archives.)
For some this may be a walk down memory lane, for others it could be considered a local history lesson. For the youngest of our readers this could be a “You’ve got to be kidding” column.
Back before cell phones, back before 411, 911, online whitepages, Google, and the old school plethora of thick multi-county telephone directories; back when a Crothersville phone number wasn’t 793- but SWift 3, the phone book was quite small and covered only one county.
It didn’t need to be big, there was only one phone line per family, that is, if your family had a phone.
In a box of unsold stuff at a recent local auction, I uncovered a 1960 Indiana Telephone Corporation phone book for Jackson County.
This 6-inch by 9 inch local bit of history has about 70 pages of listings and about an equal number of Yellow Pages of business listings and ads. However, the white and yellow pages have faded to about the same hue with the passage of time.
In it, I find dealers for DeSotos, Edsels, Ramblers and Hoosier made Studebakers. (For you youngsters, those were automobile brands.)
Ladies in Crothersville could have their hair properly coiffured at LaBelle Femme Beauty Salon or Style Mode Beauty Shop.
A phone listing for The Peoples Bank cannot be found. In 1960 it was known as the Brownstown Loan & Trust Co. Since 1960, many banks have changed names or merged.
Today’s families might be amused (or aghast) to know that even though there are dozens of pizza alternatives, in 1960 all of Jackson County had just a single pizza place.
It is interesting to see the ads for towing and hauling featuring the pictures of 1950-ish trucks. And gas stations touted their “fast, friendly service” where they came out to your vehicle, pumped your gas, checked your oil and cleaned your windshield and you paid around 39¢ a gallon.
In 1960 there were about a dozen places to have your TV repaired. Today, they are disposable. If it breaks it will cost more to fix it than to buy a new one…if you can find any electronics repair shop.
The residential phone listings were separated by community exchange. Back when this directory was new you could call all of the people in Crothersville you wanted for a local no-charge call. But to call another community would result in a long distance toll charge. Imagine calling someone in Uniontown (on the Seymour exchange) by dialing “0” because it was a long distance call.
Then after dialing “0” and waiting your turn, the operator would ask “Number please?” and after giving the number you wanted to reach you would be asked for your number. (That’s how you got the long distance charge on your phone bill.) Eventually, you got connected to your intended caller unless they were on a party line. More on this in a moment.
And long distant calls were not cheap by today’s standards. According to the phone book in 1960 it cost ‘only’ $1.40 for three minutes to talk to someone in New York City from Crothersville. Most contemporary long distant calling plans have that per minute fee beat. (2019 aside: and who would sit still for any long distance charges today?)
Many Crothersville and rural Jackson County phone customers were on a “party line” which grouped several homes together forcing everyone to share line usage. Woe to the teenager who talked too long. Party lines were also sources of community information…sometimes much of which the two callers preferred not to be aired publicly.
And in 1960 you didn’t carry your phone around in your pocket, purse or belt clip. There were no push buttons, touch screens, portable or stylish phones. There were two models: it set on a desk or it hung on the wall, And they came in one stylish color: black. And you could roam about the house in 1960 as you liked as long as you didn’t exceed the three-foot length of cord connecting the phone to the receiver.

A Season Without A Drink

by Curt Kovener

Farmers have had it tough this growing season. Cool wet spring, rains that came as a deluge (there was 8.35 inches that fell in the wilderness this spring), and then the faucet turned off and it got #$%^& hot for the summer.
But crop producers are not the only ones showing signs of stress…financial and otherwise
Leaves have been changing colors and falling since the second week of September here in the wilderness. An indication of an early fall?
It could be an early sign of autumn. Or it could be caused by a fungus called anthraxnose that was brought on by the heavy rains in May or the drought that followed in the summer, according to John Seifert, state forester for Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
“Anthraxnose can cause lots of discoloration and drought can push things along quicker,” he said.
Rosie Lerner, an extension consumer horticulture specialist at Purdue University, agreed that the shortage of rain and the period of high heat this summer is probably the reason some trees and shrubs are turning, rather than being some sort of harbinger of an early autumn.
“Sometimes all of these factors have a cumulative effect on forests,” said Seifert.
Though Jackson & Scott Counties set records for rainfall in May, the summer months— June, July and August— ended up with well below normal precipitation, said Chris Roller, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Autumn official began last Monday, Sept. 23. For the remainder of autumn, predictions are calling for a slightly better chance for higher-than-normal temperatures, said Roller.
Stress, disease, drought will probably subdue the annual fall colors. And, even with precipitation in the winter and spring, it comes at a time when trees are dormant, not growing and absorbing moisture. The summer of drought will manifest itself for some years to come as weaker, older, diseased trees fail to recover from a season without a drink.
Don’t be surprised—but be disappointed—if fall colors are subdued and leaves just fall while green or brown. Get out your yard rake.

September In The Morning

by Curt Kovener

September is a glorious month in the wilderness…all except for the fall pollen that periodically sends my sinuses alternatively switching from plugged up to running like the water in the creek below the dam.
While this year the month has been warmer than memory recalls, the September cooler nighttime makes for sleeping with the window open a treat. We are lulled to sleep by all the night sounds (not including the occasional snoring by all of us). Crickets, tree frogs, the occasional bullfrog, whippoorwill and, on rare occasions barred, barn, and the eerie sounding screech owls join the nocturnal chorus.
Then in the morning, after I and the sun get up for the day, songbirds flitter and twitter about (not the social media kind) looking for a breakfast of seeds and insects.
As I sit on the front porch overlooking thee lake and sip my morning coffee, the slowly awakening sky reflects hues of pink and blue on fluffy clouds that this particular morning look like a fresh plowed field of marshmallow.
The phoebes, Carolina wrens, chickadees and nuthatches flutter from the tree to the ground dining on what’s available. As the sun gets higher, they join in another symphony of praise for making it to another day.
A soft, hollow tappity-tappity-tap comes from a nearby sassafras tree as a downy woodpecker sends out a Morse code message that he, too, is seeking a morning meal of insects these hidden under the bark of the dead sassafras limb.
Too much work, not enough energy and the summer heat resulted in much of the wilderness pasture not getting mowed this season. That bit of lazy is now paying off as flocks of wild turkeys meander about the field and dam dining on the ripening grass & weed seeds. If I sit very still they pay me no mind. But if so much as I scratch my itchy nose, it puts them on alert and the slowly disappear back into the forest.
Some of the leaves of the wilderness have already fallen while others are beginning to change their masks of green to their true hues of red, yellow, and orange. When they fall they will be mulched and vacuumed into a pile to compost into future seasons’ flower and vegetable plantings.
The coming autumn brings seasonal work of more than usual mowing and weed trimming, maintenance on the tractor and mowers, and cleaning out the always cluttered barn and basement.
But for now I fetch another cup of coffee and return to the front porch vista. Work can wait while I relish the palate of nature in September.

There’s A Coming Winter Conflict

by Curt Kovener

There is a kerfuffle in the coming seasonal air and it has to do with what kind of winter we are going to have.
According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac (and we all know a number of old farmers, don’t we?), the Midwest and the entire North American continent is in for a “Polar Coaster”.
Of course this comes as no surprise to our friends in Canada who are also a part of the North American Continent (for those who are geographically challenged)…they always have #$%^ cold winters.
The almanac claims the operative words for the coming winter are freezing, frigid and frosty.
Here in Indiana the almanac claims we are in store for a frozen, snowy winter starting in January. Higher amounts of precipitation and sub-zero temperatures are heading our way in the first weeks of 2020, according to the Almanac.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac bases their prediction on established years of past weather in the country.
But does climate change, melting ice caps, ocean levels rising play into their past observances for future predictions?
There is another— and just as accurate(?)— predicter of the coming winter now seen across southern Indiana: the wooly worm. More precisely it is the wooly bear caterpillar of the Isabella Tiger Moth.
Folklore has it that if the woolly worm is all black, we are in for a severe winter. If the caterpillar is brown on the front and rear and black in the middle then a cold winter is sandwiched between a milder beginning and end. And if the wooly worm is all brown then we are in store for a mild winter.
The wooly worms I have seen crossing the highways on my travels in Jackson and Scott County are all light tan and some are bi-colored in their hues. Thus there is dissention amongst the wooly worm ranks of what kind of winter we southern Hoosiers with have. On second thought, perhaps the tan wooly worms have plans on wintering in Florida.
The accuracy of the predictions of the woolybear caterpillar is verified by the National Association of Wolly Worm Winter Weather Watchers otherwise known as NAWWWWW.
A third predictor of winter has yet to make its prognostication. Split persimmon seeds will show a spoon, knife or fork shape epicotyl (the part that becomes the first leaves and stem). According to folklore 1) a spoon indicates a lot of snow to shovel, 2) a fork meaning a mild winter, 3) or knife indicating coming cutting cold.
But the persimmons seeds aren’t talking yet as the fruit remains hard, green and puckery in the Hoosier wilderness. As soon a cooler weather prompts ripening and dropping of the tasty fruit, another predictor of the coming winter will enter the fray.
But we southern Hoosiers can all be assured that the year’s weather prediction can be summed up in a springtime warming spell, followed by a seasonal hot spell, followed by a cooling trend, following by a cold spell all lasting about 3-4 months…give or take.

Man, Am I Old!?!

by Curt Kovener

“What was your favorite fast food when you were growing up?” a middle school aged youngster asked me.
“We didn’t have fast food when I was growing up,” I informed him. “All the food was slow.”
“C’mon, seriously? Where did you eat?”
“It was a place called ‘at home’,” I explained.
“My Mom cooked everyday and when Dad got home from work, we sat down together at the kitchen table, and if I didn’t like what she put on my plate I was allowed to sit there until I did.”
I didn’t tell him the part about how I had to ask permission to leave the table. Or if I didn’t eat what she prepared, it would be on my breakfast plate the next morning.
But there are some other things I would have told him about my childhood if I figured his mind could handle it.
Some parents never owned their own house, wore blue jeans, set foot on a golf course, traveled outside the country or had a credit card. And debit cards weren’t even invented yet. In their later years they had something called a revolving charge card. The card was only good are Sears & Roebuck. But then Roebuck must have died because it became just Sears. And now Sears is dead. And Penney’s, the other revolving charge card provider, isn’t too healthy either.
My parents never drove me to soccer practice. This was primarily because we never heard of soccer. I got to my Little League practice by using a bicycle. I had a bicycle that weighed probably 50 pounds and had only one speed…as fast as I wanted to pedal.
We did have a television in our house. It was a square black and white model that sat on a table. We were able to receive three channels, two out of Louisville and Channel 4 out of Bloomington/Indianapolis. Channel 4 had the best cartoons, Popeye & Janie, Cowboy Bob, and later as I got older I got to watch scary movies hosted by Sammy Terry.
Of course the very best show was the weekend TV rasslin’ matches with Dick the Bruiser, Bobo Brazil, and Cowboy Bob…a different one from the cartoon show host.
I remember when I tasted my first pizza, though then it was called ‘pizza pie.’ There wasn’t a pizza joint on nearly every corner. The best pizza back then came from the old Tony’s & Pauly’s restaurant & pub in Scottsburg. When I bit into it, I burned the roof of my mouth. Then the cheese slid off, swung down and plastered itself against my chin and burned that, too.
And unless Dad brought one home, pizzas were not delivered to our home. But milk was. All newspapers were delivered by boys and nearly every boy at some time delivered newspapers.
I never had a phone in my room. The only phone in the house was on a stand in the hallway and it was a party line. Before you could dial—a rotary dial not a push button— you had to listen and make sure other people weren’t already using the phone. And if they were we were not to listen in but quietly hangup quickly. Though sometimes Mom didn’t.
If you grew up in a generation before there was fast food (though, admittedly, even the places today that claim to be fast food are not anymore), you may want to share some of these historical narratives with the grandchildren or the neighbor’s kids if your grandkids won’t pay attention to you. Someone needs to hear this stuff.
But don’t be surprised if they break out laughing and simply don’t believe the memories you share.
Growing up isn’t what it used to be.

Wisdom of One-Liners

by Curt Kovener

This is an encore column from the Curt Comments archives.
•Conscience is what huts when everything else feels good.
•Talk is cheap because supply exceeds demand.
•Stupidity got us into this mess—what can’t it get us out?
•Love is grand; divorce is a hundred grand.
•Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there.
•Legislators and diapers have one thing in common. They should be changed regularly and for the same reason.
•An optimist thinks that this is the best possible world. A pessimist fears that is true.
•There is always death and taxes; however death doesn’t get worse every year.
•People will accept your ideas much more readily if you tell them that Benjamin Franklin said it first.
•I don’t mind going anywhere as long as it’s an interesting path.
•Anything free is worth what you pay for it.
•Sometimes it hurts to be on the cutting edge.
•If it ain’t broke, fix it until it is.
•I don’t get even, I get odder.
•I always wanted to be a procrastinator; I just never got around to it.
•I am not obese; I am a nutritional overachiever.
•My inferiority complex is not as good as yours.
•I am having an out-of-money experience.
•I am in shape. Round is a shape.
•If marriage were outlawed, only outlaws would have in-laws.
•I am not a perfectionist. My parents were, though.
•You’re getting old when you get the same sensation from a rocking chair that you once got from a roller coaster.
•Another of life’s mysteries is how a two-pound box of candy can make you gain five pounds.
•The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right time, but also to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.
•Time may be a great healer, but it’ a lousy beautician.
•Age doesn’t always bring wisdom. For some people, sometimes age comes alone.
•Life not only begins at 40, it begins to show.
And perhaps the whole purpose of this week’s column…
•You don’t stop laughing because you grow old; you grow old because you stopped laughing.