Hard Work, Sunsets and UFOs

Brother Mark reminded me – nagged me might be a better word – that we should go over to Kentucky Lake and do some work on Mother’s trailer. She hadn’t been over there this season after having a major plumbing overhaul done last fall, and we needed to see if the plumbing leaked (it did). Some soft spots had developed in the floor over the years, the worst one being by the door leading to the kitchen. It wasn’t dangerous for mother yet because she barely weighs her age (90 in October of this year), but not all of us are that light.

My adage is “Never look beneath the skin of an old structure. Nothing good is ever found there.” Mark, who must have been watching a lot of hospital movies, didn’t hesitate. He took the scalpel and made the first cut into the carpet. It didn’t look good. Not knowing how trailers are constructed, I was afraid we’d be replacing a big chunk of floor before we got to the good stuff.

As it turned out, it WASN’T that bad. I’m proud to say that the ancient piece of plywood I cut fit the hole on the first try. The best part is that there are no blood splatters on it. There were many summers that a trip to the emergency room was part of the entertainment.

Click on any frame to make it larger.

Plywood brought back bad memories

That plywood brought back some bad memories, though, of the summer I worked for Dad as a laborer.

One of the least favorite tasks was unloading truckloads of those 4×8-foot, 3/4″ plywood sheets that had been used as concrete forms. They had been sprayed with “form oil,” which was designed to keep the concrete from sticking to the plywood. It soaked into the wood and made it super heavy, not to mention awful to handle. Where the concrete HAD stuck to the wood, you had to take a wire brush and get it all off. After that, you used corks to fill the holes drilled into the wood to tie the forms together. The sheet was then drenched in form oil and stacked, usually onto shelving that was above my head.

Here’s what happened on a date night after a day of humping plywood forms.

When I looked at this piece of plywood, I wondered if I was the guy who had driven the corks that were still sticking in it.

Close call turns into firewood

Just before leaving, Mark and Mother talked with our neighbor who was chopping up a tree for firewood. It had narrowly missed hitting Mother’s trailer when one of the spring storms blew through.

Dead Skunk on Ky 121

By the time we got something to eat (we had planned on the Catfish Kitchen, but there was a 40-minute wait), it was getting dusk. As we were heading back across a nearly deserted Kentucky 121, I liked the way the road looked. I didn’t know the dark object on the fog line was a skunk until we got a whiff of it. I’ve shot some photos that were stinkers, but I’m pretty sure this one smells for real.

Sunset kept playing hide and seek

We were heading almost directly in a big, beautiful sunset, but every time I’d raise the camera, either we’d meet a car or a tree would block the shot. Finally, I fell back on my old saying, “Some days you make photographs; some days you settle for memories.” This one is somewhere in between.

Cairo at night

It had just turned Dark O’Clock when we crossed over the Ohio River into Illinois. I told my passengers that I had never photographed Cairo at night. (That’s not exactly correct. I DID shoot the riots there in July of 1967, but it’s not quite the same thing.)

Mother, of course, used her standard line, “Aren’t you afraid somebody is going to knock you over the head?”

“No, Mother, I’m not afraid someone is going to knock me over the head. Somebody has to BE here to knock you over the head. Do you see anyone standing around waiting for a van with a Florida photographer in it to pull up so they can knock him over the head?” There were so few people out that even the mosquitoes had died of starvation.

UFOs over downtown

The streets were dark except for patches of light from streetlights, so it was hard to tell what I was shooting. When I looked at the camera display after taking the photo, I noticed a staggered row of lights in the sky. My first thought was that they were on the Ohio River bridge. When I got home, I had the lights show up in various places in 15 frames. Interestingly enough, similar ghost lights showed up faintly when I turned 180 degrees to shoot north on the street.

I’m open to speculation, but I’m going to say what some folks would claim as unidentified flying objects were some kind of internal reflections in the camera lens elements brought about by the bright streetlights contrasting with the dark sky.

Cairo Elks Club

The only sign of life on the east side of the main drag was at the Cairo Elks Club. The neon Elks sign, the Flag and the streetlight made a nice combination. The moon up and to the right of the street light was an added bonus. I’d like to say I saw it, but I was so busy trying to get the right exposure and to wait for the wind to riffle the flag that I didn’t notice it.

P.S. Nobody got knocked over the head.

Catfish Kitchen in Draffenville

On my final leg back to Cape, I was starting to get hungry. I knew I’d get home later than Wife Lila and Mother would want to wait (not even taking into consideration that I’d pick up a tired bike tourist), so I started thinking about what I wanted. Since I was on I-24 in the vicinity of Paducah, I pulled up the GPS waypoint for the Catfish Kitchen, which is near Draffenville, which is near Benton, Ky, which isn’t near much of anything.

The actual address is 136 Teal Run, about a mile south of Draffenville, Ky., off US 641. Just follow the cars. They’re open Wednesday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Google the restaurant and there are plenty of maps showing you the location.

Be prepared to wait

Since the folks had a trailer on Kentucky lake not far away, I’ve eaten a lot of catfish, frog legs, white beans and hushpuppies there. The only catfish around Cape that comes close to it is at Sandy’s Place at the airport on Friday night.

Because it is popular, long waits are common. That’s not such a bad thing, though. Behind the restaurant is a small lake full of fish, turtles and waterfowl. Kids and adults alike love to toss bread and hushpuppies into the water and see the size of the fish that snatch them up.

Ducks, turtles, fish and bugs

I found photos going back to 2002 without much searching. These ducks were floating around in October of that year.

Comfortable waiting room

If the weather’s not conducive to hanging around the lake or wandering outside looking at antique farm equipment, there’s a comfortable waiting room. There are plenty of toys and games to keep the kids from getting too squirmy. If they get too much out of hand, you can always feed them to the bear.

Meet Uncle Ezra

The service is fast and the servers are great about checking to see if you want refills of the unlimited white beans, hushpuppies, slaw and drinks. Mother and I took Wife Lila’s brother, John Perry over there once. They must have had to harvest another field of beans to handle his requests for refills. (I made sure to take him a half-pint of them when I left the other night.)

The inside of the restaurant is decorated with a whimsy. There’s plenty to look at while you’re waiting. The first time I saw Uncle Ezra, I thought he was real.

Antique farm machinery

You can wander around scoping out the antique farm machinery dotting the road. They have a PA system loud enough to hear your party being called, so don’t worry about losing your place in line.

Photo gallery of Catfish Kitchen

Here’s a collection of photos I’ve taken of the Catfish Kitchen over the years. Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the gallery.

Thinking of Dad

Sometimes I KNOW I’ve taken a photo; I just can’t find it. It’s been a long time since I went wading through the boxes of prints and negatives that are stored in Wife Lila’s domain in the dining room buffet. She’s the custodian of “family” photos. Most of my pictures are of strangers.

My search came up empty, but I did find this envelope of color negatives taken in the special summer of 1976.

Looks like Son Matt was about a year old. Brother David and Diane got married. We went to Kentucky Lake and down to Dutchtown where Steinhoff & Kirkwood kept their construction equipment. You can click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the gallery.

I’m jumping the gun a little on the formal holiday, but every day is Father’s Day when the memories wash over you.

Riding the mailbox

Matt’s not sure he likes the idea of riding the mailbox in front of the house on Kingsway.

Ears make convenient handles

Matt’s trying to figure out what those funny things are sticking out of the side of Dad’s head.

Dutchtown “garden”

Part of the land at Dutchtown was set aside for a garden and small orchard. The floods have gradually wiped out all of the fruit trees.

Not your normal Tonka toy

One of the cool things about about having a dad in the construction business was getting to play on the real version of what other kids had in plastic. OSHA would probably take a dim view of this, but we thought it was normal play. You have to admit that not many grandmothers get a chance to do this, either.

An appreciation for different vantages

As you can see, if you were in our family, you learned an appreciation for different vantage points.

Were we really that young?

Where have the years gone? Wife Lila and I are twice as old as we were when these photos were taken. One minute you’re holding a toddler; the next you’re cashing your Social Security check. (Which that toddler is contributing to.)

Not quite ready to drive yet

You wonder if a child this young has any real memories of this or if they’re based on photographs and family stories.

Not sure about hay bales

This shed was used to store lumber and bales of hay. Matt doesn’t look like he cares much for sitting on stickery hay bales. Or, he might be trying to figure out if you’re supposed to eat the straw.

Good pepper crop

The pepper crop looks pretty good, but Matt is more interested in an apple.

Trailer on Kentucky Lake

Dad and Mother had a trailer over at Kentucky Lake. There was a bass boat for Dad to use for fishing and a ski boat for hauling Brothers Mark and David around. I skied a few times, but decided that wasn’t my idea of a fun afternoon.

Dad is introducing Matt to the finer points of cane pole fishing.

Duck feeding is more his speed

Matt seems to hope that Pringles will be sufficient to keep hungry ducks at bay.

This, my grandson, is a fish

This sequence maybe gives a clue to why Matt doesn’t eat seafood to this day.

What’s this thing taste like?

Am I supposed to put it in my mouth?

OK, I’m done with fish

It don’t take me long to look at a fish. I’m done.

Dressed for the wedding

Dad always wore clean and pressed work clothes, even when he was headed to a dirty job on a construction site. He looked good in a suit, too. I don’t, however,  recall seeing him dressed like this many times. The occasion was Brother David’s wedding.

A pensive look

Those sideburns are creeping down pretty far. I guess it was the influence of Mark, whose hair was so long that I gave him a bumper sticker that said, “I’m a Boy.”

Mother and Dad together

They made quite the couple.

Mark, when he had hair

I’m glad he enjoyed it while he had a chance to.

David and Diane

Sister-in-Law Diane looks just like she did as a bride. David, fortunately, DOESN’T look like he did on his wedding day.

Bittersweet memories

A year later, I learned a hard lesson: better pile up all the memories you can when you have the chance.

We had planned to go back to Cape in July of 1977, but my new job as director of photography at The Palm Beach Post got in the way. I had to postpone our vacation a couple of weeks to get the next year’s operating budget out of the way.

Dad was going to use the extra time to build a sandbox for Matt at Kentucky Lake. He must have been carrying a sandbag when he had a massive heart attack. He was 60.

I’m sorry that he didn’t have a chance to see how his grandsons turned out. He’d have been proud of them.

Sorry for indulging in a little more family history than I had intended.