Kentucky Kin

In Bell County, Kentucky (near Cumberland Gap), Partins are as common as Smiths and Jones in most communities! William Partin (about 1760-1834) and his seven sons moved to a very remote valley about 1810. DNA tests have verified that William was connected to Dolly Patron’s ancestors. (Ignore the spelling. Many of my kin used the “Parton” spelling in the early days. Most could not read or write before the Civil War.) William Partin’s descendants intermarried with Masons, Gibsons, Turners, and Lees, with few leaving the area before World War II. I’ve spent 50 years researching the Partin family genealogy, and will share more about that later.

Several times in the 1950s, we made the long trip to Bell County on the old two-lane U.S. Route 25 (winding through Dayton, Cincinnati, Lexington, and every other town in between). We visited many relatives on these trips. My grandmother’s sisters Mary and Grace lived together in a small house a half mile up an unpaved log road. Early on, we had to leave our car at the paved road and walk up the lane, crossing a creek on a couple large planks. They were lined up parallel, so Uncle Dewy could drive his log truck across them.

Mary and Grace would rise early to fire up their cast iron wood stove. They retrieved water in pails from a spring up behind their cabin, and would spend a couple hours creating a genuine country breakfast from scratch: biscuits and gravy, eggs, bacon or ham, potatoes, ice tea, and coffee.

When I was about nine years old, I recall entering the kitchen to be welcomed by this vast spread and inquiring, “Do you have any Post Toasties?” Dumb, I know! I later gained a tremendous appreciation for these fabulous country breakfasts.

An Aside

Almost my entire life has been spent on U.S. Route 25 (a.k.a. “Dixie Hwy.”), which ran from Miami to Detroit. I was born in Lima, attended BGSU, taught in Toledo, returned to Bowling Green for 25 years, then moved to Hendersonville, NC. Route 25 was the main street through every one of those communities. It was a major migration artery throughout the 20th Century. Kalida was a few miles off.

On a later Kentucky trip, we visited a small coal mine still in operation (see attached photos). A cousin still worked in one of
those small non-union mines. He showed me a video he took in the mine. He spent his shift lying on his back in a 27” high shaft, driving bolts into the ceiling to prevent cave ins. They still happened though.

He reported most of the miners eventually suffer from black lung disease, as it is so hot in the mines most of the guys don’t wear their safety gear. It’s a rough way to make a living.

My grandfather Partin was killed in a coal mine accident in 1929, when a coffin-sized slab of slate crushed him. His widow was given $300 and a month to vacate their mining camp cabin. It is a tragic story, and I plan to share more about Dad’s challenging childhood later. Fortunately, my grandmother would never let Troy go into the mines.

Strip mining has taken the place of deep shaft mining in this region, as it is more economical. The massive damage strip mining has inflicted on these beautiful mountains is deplorable and sad. The water issues are devastating and will affect generations to come.Coal_Tipple Coal_Mine_car


Family Vacations

Our family vacations were always to visit relatives or friends. We never stayed in motels, nor did they when they visited us. It was just the culture in our family. Our hosts always found room for us.

This was a challenge when we visited one of Dad’s childhood friends, Larry Money and his family in Michigan. They had ten kids (though one tragically died young), and they always lived in a farmhouse. With so many kids and a farm to roam, Don and I always looked forward to these trips. 

Usually there were multiple kids in every bed, and an array of cots, couches, and pallets. That was half the fun. No one ever complained. I do remember one winter visit when I slept alone in a tiny room that had a small windowpane missing. It got very cold in the middle of the night. I put on my coat and gathered every other cloth item I could find and piled them on top of me.

On another trip I ended up sleeping with my Dad. The next morning he said I “flopped like a fish all night long.” Only time I remember ever sleeping with him!

Several times our parents allowed Don and I to stay a week or so with the Moneys. These were always very memorable visits. Sometimes we had chores, like picking weeds in the field, but the day was filled with laughter.

They had an old hand-cranked corn shucker/sheller machine, corn_shuckerwhich fascinated me. Once I spent much of the afternoon cranking a full bushel of shelled corn. Larry was so impressed that he reached into his pocket and gave me 13 pennies! I really wasn’t expecting anything, but I found the amount amusing. Keep the day job!

One year we arrived to find Larry and his kids were busy digging a basement under their house. They needed more room. Imagine that! He had dug an entrance under one side of the house and completed a 10-foot wide trench down the middle. It was deep enough we could stand in it.

At night he would insert sticks of dynamite into the side, light it, and chunks of earth would be loosened. We would spend the next day loading the dirt into wheelbarrows and hauling it out. Great story to tell the first day of school when asked, “What did you do this summer?”

The End of a Dunking Career

By the end of my first year of college, I weighed 160 pounds — thanks to the “freshman 15”. I weighted the same three years later, the day I got married. About six months after our wedding, we were visiting my family. I pulled my shirt up and mentioned to my mother, that I couldn’t figure out what was causing the scars along my waist. She burst out laughing, asserting, “Those are stretch marks!”

I had never heard the term before. But that explains why I never dunked a basketball again! My wife insists it was her great cooking. It didn’t help that teaching and attending night classes, pretty well eliminated my daily basketball games. I did play basketball occasionally while teaching at Ottawa Hills High School, and served as the freshman basketball coach for three years.

Some of most exhilarating moments of my life during the university career were spent “runnin’ the hoops” at the student Rec Center. From November through May, I played at least two or three times every week. It was a genuine natural high for me — truly blissful hours. Nothing elevated my spirits more than a sweeping skyhook over a taller player or my patented Wilt Chamberlain finger roll. As age slowed my game, I had to rely more on finesse and deception than on strength and speed. More and more, I was trotting down the court calling, “Trailer! Trailer!” But I was out there!

Eventually, my body began to take longer and longer to recover after each basketball session. Of course, part of the problem was I couldn’t just go out and run a couple games, shower, and leave. Rules of pick-up basketball dictate that winners keep playing, taking on the set of challengers. Loose and you leave the court. Calling out the familiar “I got game” to get in rotation to challenge the winners. No, I had keep playing until my team was defeated — occasionally up to two hours. And I didn’t settle for just playing the old guys or the hackers. I took on the big boys, occasionally including varsity players — including a few who went on to play pro ball here and overseas.

I developed many lasting friendships playing the hoops. Jack Taylor was one of my fondest teammates. Jack was taller and a better player than I but we enjoyed playing together — probably because we were both quite a bit older than most of the students we found on court. The students at the rec center nicknamed me “Big Man.” Many were surprised to find out I was a professor and frequently students passing me on campus would call out, “What’s up, big man!” Many of the students went on to successful careers as school superintendents, principals, teachers, coaches, even a state legislator (Randy Gardner).

Jan and I had an unwritten understanding: I received no sympathy for basketball injuries. And there were a more than a few: sprained ankles, cuts, bruises, gashes, jammed fingers. Usually the worst were ankle sprains. They meant no ball for 3-4 weeks. Though they hurt and occasionally I had to hobble around on crutches, the most disconcerting thing was not being able to run the courts.

Once, during an outdoor summer pick-up game, a Charles Barkley wannabe came charging in for a rebound, popping the crown of my skull with an elbow. Blood gushed, streaming down me face, soaking my shirt. It must have been quite a scary sight. One player dashed over to a dorm and called 911. Sirens blaring and red lights flashing, the rescue squad responded in a couple minutes. I knew I wasn’t seriously hurt, but those head cuts are hard to stop bleeding. The medical personnel helped clean me up a bit and stopped the bleeding. Worst part was I got stuck with about a $50 bill for the emergency run.

Giving up basketball was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. It took $4000 worth of dental surgery (and 25 years of my wife saying “You’re too old for this”) to convince me it was time. The last few years I played, I always wore ankle braces and a mouth guard. Well, almost always. I had accidentally left my mouth guard in my gym shorts. After the clothes dryer melted my guard into a blob, I promptly bought a new one. But before I molded the guard to fit my mouth I played one game — my last. In a contest for a rebound my chin met the back of a guy’s head. Ouch! I immediately knew I was going to be paying the “Stupid Tax”! One of my upper front teeth was cracked, requiring its removal, plus a bridge that necessitated the destruction of two other perfectly good teeth to support the bridge. That ended my basketball career.


Athletic Development

I was a rather skinny, uncoordinated kid. My father’s difficult Depression Era childhood Ron basketball 1948didn’t include athletics. I had few role models to teach the skills of basketball, baseball, or football. I did play on an elementary school level Pop Warner football team. I think I was a tackle and recall making one tackle in a game. I’d play some pick-up ball games with friends, but don’t remember it being particularly rewarding.

Truth is, I felt I was a real klutz, totally uncoordinated with long limbs hindering more than helping. This was reinforced by a knack for spilling things. (My wife would probably suggest that fault hasn’t been totally cured.) When I was about 11, there was a long stretch when I couldn’t avoid spilling something on the table, at least once a week.

The worst disaster occurred the first and only time Dad took Don and I to a drive-in movie. It was Pork Chop Hill, about the Korean War. Dad bought us all Cokes. In my defense, it was a ridiculously huge one. By today’s standards it probably would only be a “medium.” But within the first five minutes, I spilled the entire drink into the floorboard of Dad’s car. I don’t recall the exact expletives he uttered, but he could cuss with the best when upset.

My only youthful prowess was jumping, a benefit of having long legs. I showed off my skills by leaping over various obstacles, chairs, tables, and fences. There was a fence between our lot and the Cottrell’s. About the time I entered junior high, I found it easier to leap over the fence, sprinter-style than to walk around it. I was leaping confidently until one day while returning from Bud’s at full sprint, I left the ground with wonderful form, but clipped the top of the fence with my toe, sending me spread eagle onto our asphalt driveway. The souvenirs of my blunder included an array of scabs and scratches on my arms and knees and a useless pulverized wristwatch.

When we moved to Kalida my sophomore year, I volunteered to be the basketball team manager. I enjoyed it, since most of my best friends were on the team. I got to ride on the bus to all the games and even sit with the cheerleaders!

In Kalida, basketball is king, and the year-round focus of the entire community. Kids begin shooting hoops, as soon as they can walk. It was a year round activity, even when snow has to be shoveled from the driveway. Winning the league championship is celebrated, and making it to the state finals gives that team an aura of celebrity that lasts for decades.

I began playing in pick-up games and increasingly loved the game. I did try out my junior year Ron basketball 1964and was “admitted” to the team. Mostly I sat the bench, unless we had a significant lead. I didn’t mind, but hoped to get better. In the summer, we played pick-up games almost every day, even when it required shoveling snow off the driveway.

Dunking a basketball earned status among the b-ball crowd. I could jump some, but the problem was my hands are too small to palm a basketball. Throughout my senior year, I was satisfied with dunking volleyballs. The week after our senior season ended, I walked onto the basketball court and dunked a basketball for the first time — with two hands!

My first week at the university, I met several guys from Putnam County, including Bob
VonLehmden, who became my roommate the last two years there. Being a guy from Putnam County pretty well meant you played basketball. These Putnam County guys began calling me “Kalida” on and off the court. Other boys heard them call me that, and the next time the new guys saw me, they would typically call me “Clyde.” I gave up and answered to either. Please, don’t call me “Clyde!”

I took much advantage of those wonderful facilities, throughout my student days and later when I returned as a professor. I also coached the freshman basketball team at Ottawa Hills High School. The academic atmosphere provides a unique opportunity to develop one’s body as well the mind.

I was one of those odd guys, whose athletic prowess peaked late. I played several times a week throughout my college years. I actually developed a pretty decent hook shot (rarely seen these days). I dunked a basketball with only one hand once! To do that I had to wedge the ball between my fingers and inner forearm, requiring a jump almost to the elbow above the hoop.

(Note the similarity of the poses in the two photos. I peaked to early!)

Off to College

I had never visited a college campus until the day I traveled to Bowling Green State University for registration in the summer of 1964. Being the first in my family to graduate from high school, let alone go to college, I was fairly naïve about the whole process. A Ron_Partin_1964gradcouple years earlier, I’d taken an interest inventory and railroad locomotive engineer scored as one of my top career options. There was nothing close to that in the college catalogue I had received.

So, I had to think a bit when the registration official said, “What will be your major?” Truth is than in my world, I had only interacted with two kinds of college graduates: doctors and teachers. No way was doctor on the table. That was obviously for very smart, rich kids. I liked school. Most of the teachers I had experienced through high school seemed pretty happy and fairly well-adjusted. How hard can that be?

“Okay, put me down for that teacher thing. Let me give that a shot.”

“What area of education do you want to concentrate on?” the counselor replied.

“Hmm. Hadn’t thought about that a whole lot. I do love reading about history and famous people. Yeah, put me down for history. I’ll be a history teacher!”

After I returned home from the visit and announced to the family that I was going to be a history teacher, my father suggested, “If you are going to spend all that time and money going to college, “Why not be something like a doctor or lawyer, so you can make some real money?”

Well, he just didn’t get. He didn’t understand the smart, rich kid qualification!