Cornflower Blue

Most people would agree that there are things that will trigger memories—maybe it’s a perfume or a song—that transport us to a moment of time in an instant. But what about a color? Can a color do the same thing? Well, for me it can. There is one color that never fails to remind me of a few miracles that happened on a certain Saturday when I was around 10 years old.  And the color? Cornflower blue…

I have a younger sister, Karen. She’s the only sibling I have. I am a little over five years older than her. If you have ever read any articles on birth order and spacing, they often tell you that having children separated by five years or more is optimal for rearing well-adjusted children. For those of you who know us, you know we destroyed that theory!! The five-year gap presented challenges in that, when we were young, it was light years away in life experiences. When I was starting school, she was born. When I was on my way to middle school, she was starting elementary. Likewise, when I was in college, she was in middle school (and a great asset to me with Algebra 101!) For the most part when we were kids, we got along very well, probably because we didn’t have similar interests and stayed out of each other’s way. Luckily, for my parents’ sake, that meant we were seldom partners in crime so they never worried what kind of mischief we were into when we were together. Because of this, they never questioned the time we spent together that Saturday morning.

It was an ordinary Saturday. Although I don’t remember the exact date, I do remember it was warm enough for us to ride in the back of my dad’s “Sanford and Son-esque” pickup truck. The neighbor boys, who were in their mid-teens, helped dad load an air compressor in the truck to take to my uncle. The thing was so heavy that they barely had it in the truck bed. Dad had a hard time closing the gate.  Karen and I jumped into the back for the short ride to my uncle’s house.  My uncle lived back a road. To get to the house, you had to drive through a creek bed. That didn’t present a problem unless it had been raining. And it had been raining… Had dad not had the air compressor in the back, we would have just parked the truck and walked around the hill to get to the house but since the whole purpose in going was to deliver the compressor, we were going to drive across the creek.

My dad rarely saw obstacles as deterrents. That whole square peg/round hole thing was a challenge to be overcome. So, when the truck wheels stuck in the creek bed, the test began. Karen was sitting in the front corner behind dad and I was in the other front corner behind the passenger side of the truck. As I recall, it was kind of exciting. Dad would put the truck in reverse, give it gas, then slam it into drive. The mud and rock would fly but the truck wouldn’t budge. At this point and in defense of my dad I must say, he would never, ever knowingly place us in any type of dangerous situation. He may have been fearless where he was concerned but never with us. With that disclaimer being made, I continue… We were at a very slight downhill angle and I guess all the rocking with the truck caused the air compressor to slide. With his “never give up” attitude, he didn’t notice it moving and neither did I until it completely slid directly over Karen—pinning her in the truck bed.

I think between the impact behind him and me screaming, Dad knew something had happened. He jumped out of the truck and looked down to see Karen bleeding. I don’t know if you’ve ever read about adrenaline and how a rush of it can give you the strength to do something that otherwise would be impossible. Well, it’s true. I witnessed such a thing that day. I saw my dad reach over and move an air compressor off my sister that not even 15 minutes earlier had taken three people to lift. Thankfully, my uncle, who had heard the commotion of the struck truck, was on his way with his truck to pull us out. Dad had Karen in his arms and they immediately took off in his vehicle to our little local hospital. I went back to the house so my aunt could take me home and take my mom to the hospital.

My uncle was flying over country roads, while my dad was pressing his shirt against the side of Karen’s head, trying to stop the bleeding. The nozzle of the air compressor hit her head upon impact. I don’t know if it was the hit to the head, or the shock of what happened, but she was laying lifeless in his arms. At some point during the short drive, my dad reached down and grabbed Karen’s hand. At that point he said to my uncle, “Jimmy, you can slow down. It’s too late. Her fingernails are blue” but my uncle kept up the pace. Grandma Yelton was a housekeeper at the hospital and it just so happened that she was working that day. She said Dad and Uncle Jim were a mess when they arrived. There was blood everywhere and dad was crying and telling the doctor Karen was gone, that her nails were blue. The doctor took her back to the small ER while dad waited for mom to arrive so he could break the news.

But see, there’s part of this story that Dad didn’t know at the time. Karen’s nails were just not blue, they were Cornflower Blue. I had just painted them that morning with the brand-new polish I had purchased the weekend before!!! In just a few minutes, the doctor came out and said Karen would be fine but she needed stitches and that her fingernails were blue because of nail polish and not from losing blood. Karen had a complete recovery with no lasting ill-effects but boy, she milked those stitches for all they were worth! Of course, I don’t blame her. What five-year-old wouldn’t?

So, now that you know the story behind the color, you may be wondering what were the miracles that day? The air compressor nozzle missed my sister’s temple by less than a quarter inch. The doctor told my parents that had it hit her temple, it would have killed her instantly. My dad moved that air compressor off her by himself. Adrenaline rush or miracle? I saw it and think it was miraculous. And finally, the bottle of Cornflower Blue nail polish disappeared as if by magic, never to be seen again.


A Born Entertainer

Way before I ever was a twinkle in someone’s eye, my Great Grandma Dunn saved money selling eggs. With this money, she purchased furniture and little knick knacks from traveling salesmen. One of her purchases was a little folk art bentwood log cabin smoking stand. It was about 30 inches tall and the neatest feature is that the roof lifted off of the log cabin. She never used it as a smoking stand. I imagine she bought it because it was whimsical and caught her fancy. I cannot imagine that she ever dreamed how much of a financial drain that stand would become for my uncles.

I know this might come as a bit of a shock to some people but I was a born entertainer. I don’t know how my family discovered this trait. Perhaps it was my proclivity to mimic like a myna? Or my propensity to make myself the center of attention? Whatever the reason, Grandma and Grandpa Yelton’s house was the perfect place to display my talents as there was usually a captive audience to be found around the kitchen table. When I began to speak clearly, which according to my mom was about at the age of one year, my great uncles started “rehearsing” me. In the early 1960’s, Tide released a commercial where they used the phrase “Intensified Tide.” Since I was born in 1964, that commercial was still running. My uncles coached me so that when I came through the door, I would shout out, “Intensified Tide!”

You can only get so far with one one-liner. I needed to expand my repertoire. They taught me more little songs, limericks, jokes, commercial tag-lines but in order to keep my attention, they began to bribe me with money. I don’t know exactly when they began putting the money under the lift-off roof of the smoking stand but it didn’t take me long to catch on. I would run into the house, sing or recite a joke or commercial, and then run to lift the roof off the stand to see what coins would be there. Mostly, there would be a couple of pennies or a nickel but on the rare occasion, there would be a quarter! I know a lot of people wouldn’t even stoop to pick up a quarter nowadays but in the late 60’s, a quarter would buy a heck of a lot of candy!

Sometimes they would forget to put money in the log cabin. Grandma told me that after my “performance” when I went to collect my pay, if the cabin was empty, the next time I came to the house, I wouldn’t open my mouth until I checked to see if my “fee” was under that roof. I must have been fairly entertaining because I cannot recall there ever not being some kind of change under there for me.

I briefly tried a side gig. My Uncle Buck was the Virtuoso of the Veg-O-Matic. With his calloused fingertip, he would pluck the blades of that thing and make them “ping.” I guess I figured that if I added an instrument to my act, my pay would increase. After begging and pleading with him, Uncle Buck began teaching me the nuances of the Veg-O-Matic. You had to carefully flick your finger at the appropriate angle to get a “ping” out of the blade otherwise, you might slice and dice your fingertip. After a bit of coaching, I was ready to make Ron Popeil and Uncle Buck proud. As the story goes, I began to play… “Ping!” “Ping!” “Ping!” “Ouch!” The tears flowed and sadly, my Veg-O-Matic playing days were over.

Grandma Yelton gave me the smoking stand years ago when I got married. Even now, I occasionally lift the roof. I don’t know what I’m looking for since I no longer give command performances but old habits die hard. But what fun it would be to run through that kitchen door just one more time to see their faces and hear them laugh. I might even try to revive the lost art of Veg-O-Matic playing!

This is the little bentwood smoking stand that honed my performance skills.0204171401-1

Candy Making 101

I was never allowed in the kitchen when I was growing up. Primarily, my mom did not like us traipsing through and nosing around while she was fixing a meal. And the other reason, I had a few kitchen disasters while growing up.

The one that brings the most laughter, now at least, was my foray into candy making. When I was in high school, you had the option of taking Home Economics as an elective credit. This class wasn’t “just for girls.” Savvy guys took this class because they were surrounded by females and food, two things that are probably most dear to a teenage boy’s heart. I enjoyed this class. Among other things, we learned about nutrition, food safety and how to cook and bake a few things—lessons that are still worthwhile, especially in this age of fast food and microwaves. It was fun to walk into a large room filled with all the necessary equipment to put our lessons into action because I never got to practice at home! Until one Christmas…

During the holidays, Home Ec classes focused on desserts and candy making. If it had lots of sugar, chances are, we made it. Cakes, cookies, lollipops, fudge, hand-pulled taffy… Oh the taffy! How that fascinated me. It took skill and precision to make taffy. The sugar had to be boiled to the “hard-ball/soft-crack” stage—between 260 and 280 degrees. Now I know, for people who have never made candy or messed with boiling sugar, that term might make you chuckle but there is quite a bit of science behind it. If the taffy was undercooked, it was fudge and if it was overcooked, well, then you had a lollipop. When properly cooked, the sugar was poured onto a sheet pan, allowed to cool and then “hand-pulled” until it had the opaque, matte finish of what you find in the candy shops of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. It was then cut into pieces and wrapped in waxed paper.

I have to say, my parents were rather impressed with the samples I brought home from class. I begged my mom to let me make batch over Christmas break. Looking back, I have no idea what in the world possessed her to allow me to boil sugar in her kitchen (which is akin to making liquid fire) when I barely knew how to boil water but whatever the thought process, or lack thereof, I was allowed to make taffy.

One important distinction needs to be made about Home Ec class recipes and regular “home” recipes—the recipes made in class were in quarter amounts of the full recipe. Cakes would have never baked and taffy would have never been pulled had we made a “full batch” recipe. Our real world experience would have been limited to just reading and tasting so we made quarter batches in class and took home instructions for full batch recipes.

Now the day we made taffy in class, in preparation for pouring the cooked sugar into the sheet pan, we placed another pan underneath filled with crushed ice. This allowed the sugar to cool quicker so that it could be pulled. The quarter batch of sugar poured over the iced pan cooled pretty fast and we had to begin pulling almost immediately to avoid it becoming grainy and inedible. I added all this information so you would have the back story as to how I made my critical error of judgment.

So I am at home on the first day of Christmas break. I’ve got my sheet pan buttered and nested into another pan of ice, my full batch of sugar cooking and my mom, just steps away, watching me work my magic. The sugar finally reached the hard-ball/soft-crack stage (I say finally because it takes quite a while for boiling sugar to reach those temperatures) and I poured it into the iced sheet pan. Without further thought and just going on my quarter batch experience in class, I immediately plunged my fingertips into the liquid sugar. I vaguely recall Mom hollering at me when she saw what was happening. 270 degrees registered pretty quickly on my pain meter but not before the damage was done. I spent the next two and a half weeks with blistered fingertips, eating shiny, grainy taffy.

I took away two life lessons from that experience: as much as it pains me now (and more so, then), math matters, especially in cooking. One quarter is not equal to a whole! And there has be to an easier, less painful way to permanently alter your fingerprints!


This is a photo of my mom’s kitchen and the scene of my taffy debacle.moms-kitchen

Salt Water Taffy

I found this recipe in my recipe organizer. I don’t know if this is the same recipe we made in Home Ec but if not, it’s very similar. Please pay particular attention to NUMBER 6 in the directions, cut your waxed paper squares ahead of time and pay attention to the cooking stage of the sugar. Undercook it and you will have fudge. Overcook it and it will be impossible to chew.

Here’s a link about my first taffy making experience at home. Candy Making 101


2 cups sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 cup water

2 teaspoons butter

A few drops of food coloring

1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon extract, of your choice


1. Combine sugar, corn syrup, salt and water in a 2 quart pan.

2. Cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Be careful not to splash the sides with the sugar mixture.

3. Heat mixture, without stirring, until it reaches a hard-ball stage.260*

4. Remove from heat and mix in remaining ingredients.

5. Pour onto a lightly buttered baking sheet. 

6. Cool until just able to handle.

7. Butter hands and gather taffy into a ball and pull.

8. Continue to pull until light in color and hard to pull. This works best if you have someone to help you. 

9. Divide into fourths.

10. Pull each fourth into a 1/2″ thick rope

11. Cut into 1″ pieces using buttered scissors

12. Wrap individually in waxed paper or it will stick together.


My dad was born and raised in the Appalachian Mountains of Breathitt County, Kentucky. He would always say that he was so far back in the mountains that he would barely catch a glimpse of sunlight most days. Seeking better job opportunities, he moved north to the metropolis of Newport, Kentucky. But as the old saying goes, you may be able to take the man out of the mountains but it’s almost impossible to take the mountains out of the man. That’s why I talk the way I do.

Appalachian English is a “thing.” It is recognized as a distinctive American dialect and is studied by linguists and college students alike. Hey, it even got a mention in the Yale Grammatical Diversity Project. Purists recognize distinctive differences in dialect dependent upon the region of Appalachia you inhabited. For instance, in Virginia when referring to either a single person or group, the word “you-ins” is used but in Kentucky, it’s “y’all.” My primary language is Appy-City English—a mix of eastern Kentucky Appalachian with a bit of northern Kentucky/Cincinnati thrown in to keep it interesting.

I know my pronunciation of words can cause confusion. Over the years, I’ve had to repeat myself, often finding synonyms of the words I’m saying in order to be understood. For instance, when we were living in Virginia, our electric was out and I called a friend to see if they were affected as well. I asked, “Do you have power?” except it came out sounding “Do you have par?” After several exchanges of “What?” and me repeating myself, I finally said, “Lights? Electricity?” And then I got, “Oh pow-er… I had no idea what you meant!”

I also have “Aints.” Not as in, I “ain’t” gonna do this or that. My “Aints” are my dad’s sisters or the women married to my uncles—Aint Mag, Aint Polly, Aint Rose, etc… (I have read where this particular pronunciation and also pronouncing the word “cannot” as “caint” is regionally distinctive to eastern Kentucky.) You may get tired, I get “tarred.” I use a match to start a “far” with the “farwood” in my “farplace.” If you get a job, you were “hard.” I like to listen to the “reddio” in my car. And speaking of cars, I get the “ol” changed in my car every 3000 miles. In my defense, I do not “worsh” my hands in the “zink.” That is not to say I don’t “wash” my hands, I do—often and with soap. But for as many words as I slaughter, how I ever got those two words right is beyond me!!

The Double Negative in Appalachian English is not positive but negative as in, “I don’t know no better” which would imply that “I know better” but in Appy-English, I really don’t! And the “A”-Prefixing which is adding “a” to a verb so you would have something like “She’s a-going to the store” or “I’ve been a-meaning to get that ‘ol’ changed in the car” is distinctive as well.

For your edification, I’m including a few more terms. While I may not use them much now, I heard them quite a bit growing up.

Poke—A brown paper bag. Grandma would give us a poke filled with goodies for the car ride home.

Spell—To rest. When my dad would mow, he would ask us to “spell” him so he could take a break.

Ill—Bad tempered. While it might come as a surprise, I’m sure I’ve been a little “ill” at times.

Pop—A carbonated drink. Now I’ve switched to Coke, which is another word for any carbonated drink.

Blinked—Something that’s soured. Is that milk blinked? (Or blinky?)

And so for now, I’ll be a-finishing this piece because I don’t know no more to add!