Shameless plug for my dad’s new book

cover-kindle.pngSince he retired from teaching almost 20 years ago, my dad’s embarked on a second career as a writer. He followed my into journalism and began writing a column in our hometown newspaper that was eventually syndicated to a handful of other weekly papers in Eastern Kentucky.

Then, he started writing books. His latest came out this week. It’s called The Overnight City: The Life and Times of Van Lear, Kentucky 1908-1947.

Van Lear was a coal-company town, and if the name rings a bell, it’s probably because you’re a fan of the country singer Loretta Lynn. She sings about Van Lear in her song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”

“My daddy worked all night in the Van Lear coal mines….”

Van Lear was founded in 1908 by Consolidation Coal Co. and fell into decline when Consolidation Coal sold its holdings in 1947. The town itself survived, but with a dwindling population and only a handful of businesses, the city government was dissolved in the 1960s. Van Lear is an unincorporated community now.

In its heyday, though, it was something else.  It had stores and churches and schools and a movie theater and a coal-fired power plant that provided electricity to a big part of the Big Sandy Valley. There were murders and fights and moonshiners, but there were also baseball games and 8th-grade graduations and “society news,” which was really just a list of who visited whom.

Dad went through 40 years’ wrote of old newspapers to find everything he could about the life and times of Van Lear, and when you read these hundreds of clips in chronological order, you get a real sense of what it must have been like to live there in the first half of the 20th century.

Anyway, that’s my shameless plug. The book’s at Amazon and in the Kindle store. If you’re from that part of the country, you might enjoy it. If you’re from someplace else, well, we won’t hold it against you.


Santa is kind of like FedEx

Thing 2 (who’s 7 now) is having doubts and asked me the other day whether Santa Claus is real.

I asked him what he thought, and he said he wasn’t sure but that he didn’t see any way that one man on one sleigh could deliver all those toys to every kid on the planet in just one night.

I said that’s not how it works.

I explained that Santa used to deliver all those toys personally. back in the old days, when the population was a lot smaller, but that he uses a lot of helpers these days.

Santa is kind of like FedEx, I said. One truck couldn’t possibly deliver all those packages to all those homes and businesses in all those countries in one 24-hour period, I said, but a fleet of trucks and planes certainly could.

I said Santa runs the operation. He’s like the CEO. The toys are made by the toy companies, not elves. These days, the elves run the warehouse and oversee distribution.

The toys are delivered first to Santa’s headquarters at the North Pole and then, on Christmas Eve, they’re flown on big cargo planes from the central warehouse to regional distribution centers all over the world and then to local distribution centers, where the toys are placed on trucks and driven to people’s homes.

That’s a lot easier and a lot more efficient than trying to pile all those toys on just one sleigh, I said. The delivery truck drivers drink the milk and cookies and send any leftovers to the North Pole, where Santa shares them with the elves.

Thing 2 thought about it for a moment or two. “I don’t get it,” he said.

That’s OK, I said.

In this 1927 photo, Santa Claus (left) receives his pilot’s license from William P. MacCracken (seated) and Clarence M. Young of the U.S. Department of Commerce. PHOTO: Library of Congress

Play a game of Monopoly in just 30 minutes? Where’s the fun in that?

Concerned, apparently, that the generation raised on smartphones and YouTube lacks the attention span to play regular Monopoly, Hasbro is coming out with a version called Monopoly Empire that’s supposed to last 30 minutes, start to finish.

I understand what Hasbro’s going for here. When I was a kid, I wasn’t a fan of the game because it took forever. I’d bail after a couple of hours, and I was never around when it ended.

But, then, a few Christmases ago, Thing 1 got a Monopoly game for Christmas. It came in a wooden box, and everything except the logo in the center of the board is retro. It was nice, as Monopoly sets go.

My wife had to work over Christmas break, so I stayed home and decided to give the game a second chance.

Thing 1 set up the board on the dining room table. We played a couple of hours that first day. We bought and developed property, went to jail and collected $200 when we passed go.

I thought we must be missing something, because neither of us were going broke, so sometime on Day 2, we checked the rules, and it wasn’t my imagination.

When you play it the right way, the winner is simply “the last player remaining in the game,” whenever that might be.

Our game lasted a week and ended in a tie, when Thing 1 went back to school and I went to work. I had a little more money than my daughter did, but neither of us had anything close to a Monopoly, which was OK.

Sometimes, the point isn’t to win. Sometimes, the point is just to play.