Nobody home

G. Sam Piatt

Columnist note to audience: When in doubt leave it out

During my 30 years working as a reporter for daily newspapers, I kept two reminders posted near my desk.

One said, “Assumption is the mother of all screw-ups.”

The other said, “When in doubt, leave it out.”

These were two rules I sought to govern myself by when writing news and feature stories.

It would be that I had remembered them when I wrote a Jan 6 column here titled “Famed grouse hunter settles for chicken.”

I wrote that I had a secret grouse hunting grounds where I always flushed birds. I said I could now divulge the secret spot, which was in a pine grove and overgrown hollow located behind South Portsmouth High School. The contractor who widened U.S. 23 to four lanes down to the approach to the Carl Perkins Memorial Bridge during the late 1980s had timbered the trees and filled the hollow in with dirt from the project, thus destroying the grouse habitat in my secret place.

That was all I needed to say on the matter, but I went on to add that a federal law, passed in 1990, “… can bring a prison term for anyone convicted of carrying a gun within 1,000 yards of a school.”

I thought I heard a bell go off when I wrote that, but with a deadline looming, I let it to.

The federal law said 1,000 feet, not yards.

And, as a reader, Harold T. Pack of Portsmouth, has pointed out, the law has been amended several times.

Also,” Pack writes, “that law allowed for states to supersede the federal law. And Kentucky has done so (See Kentucky Law 527.070 sections 3.a and 3.h.)”

I’m thankful for Harold writing to set things straight on this matter.

The sad part about making a mistake in print is that people may not see the correction that follows – leaving them to believe that what they read in the paper is gospel.

And that’s the worst part about my not adhering to my own rules.

Nobody home

I’m thankful this season for lots of blessings, especially for a warm hearth, some good books, a good electric light to read by, and bifocals.

And for my wife, Bonnie, recovering at home after seven nights in the hospital battling pneumonia.

Setting before the home hearth these days, having reached the age where recollection of the past seems better than speculation of the future, my mind sometimes travels back to the rabbit hunts we used to enjoy on farms down in Bath and Mason counties in Kentucky and Adams County in Ohio.

The landowners welcomed us to park in their barnyard, be careful of the cattle, and eliminate some of the crop-damaging, prolific-producing rabbits from the place.

Not long ago, after an absence of many years, I took a trip down into some of that farm country, just for nostalgia’s sake if nothing else. At one farm we used to hunt, one where the farmer had taken great pride in keeping the place neat and functional, I found the house empty, the roof sagging, and weeds growing up through broken window panes. A tractor and a hay baler sat rusting by a dilapidated barn. The tin roof had been rolled back by wind, boards were missing from its sides, and the whole structure seemed to lean a bit to the right.

The older generation had moved to Heaven; the younger generation to town.

As I stood and looked one last time at that forlorn farmhouse, I thought of a poem I had been reading as I sat at the hearth of my own home. “A House with Nobody in It” was written by Joyce Kilmer about a house he passed on a road through the countryside. Part of it reads:

“Whenever I walk to Suffern along the Erie track

I go by a poor old farmhouse with its shingles broken and black.

I suppose I’ve passed it a hundred times, but I always stop for a minute

And look at the house, the tragic house, the house with nobody in it.

“…a house that has done what a house should do, a house that has sheltered life,

That has put its loving wooden arms around a man and his wife,

A house that has echoed a baby’s laugh and held up his stumbling feet,

Is the saddest sight, when it’s left alone, that ever your eyes could meet.

“So whenever I go to Suffern along the Erie track

I never go by the empty house without stopping and looking back.

Yet it hurts me to look at the crumbling roof and the shutters fallen apart,

For I can’t help thinking the poor old house is a house with a broken heart.”

G. Sam Piatt

Reach G. Sam Piatt at [email protected] or (606) 932-3619

Reach G. Sam Piatt at [email protected] or (606) 932-3619