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Filtering by Tag: storyvault

A Southern Treasure | An Essay

Ben Ashby

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    By: Shan Ashby    

My husband and I were traveling in July, through what I call, “my south”  when we stoppedto eat at a popular fast food spot.  We picked a table and sat next to a window looking across a steamyparking lot.  Both of us are people watchers.  I guess that's the school teacher that comes out in us.  It's a skill one develops after a lifetime in the classroom, that allows one to hear conversations and read body language of an entire room full of souls while appearing to be doing something entirely different.

There was an older man, probably in his late 80's or early 90's sitting across from us eating ata table with a much younger but look alike fellow, I surmised he was probably the gentleman's grandson.  He wore faded denim, bib overalls with galluses over an ironed blue and gray plaid shit.  He was clean, shiny clean and hiswhite hair with a speck of grey looked soft as it fell away from his hairline part.  The young man across the table was eating hurriedly, it was after all mid-day and they probably had errands to run. 


A family soon filled the table behind us - parents with three grade school aged children. They were modestly dressed – no name brand clothes, no cell phones, no walking and texting.  They were quiet as they pulled the chairs away from the table across the tile floor and seated themselves.  The father carried food on one tray and the mother carried the drinks on another. The oldest child had napkins and straws which she passed around.  

Our three families continued to dine in the midst of the noise from the soda machines and orders numbers being called – lunchtime patrons, coming and going.  I watched the elderly gentleman finish his sandwich and drink as he glanced often toward the familybehind me. And for that monumental moment I could read his thoughts. I've done it so many times with my own Grandfathers and Dad after they shared stories about their lives during the depression, as well as,  the stories they dared share about the horrors of war. 

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I knew as he looked at the family, the gentleman could see himself as a young father, The children, reminded him of his own and he thought about his wife, now gone, and how she had cared for their little ones in the prime of her young life.  

He remembered the struggles of his childhood and his responsibility as a Daddy to feed a hungry family. He had insight. He had a pleasant expression as he watched them enjoy their meal.  The young man who sat across the table from himfinished his meal and motioned for them to leave.  With   little conversation, the young man rose from the table and walked toward the trash and placed his tray in the appropriate place and then waited by the door.

The elder also stood, but much slower.  He scooted his chair under the table, picked up his tray and turned toward the young family.  Without hesitation he approached their table. He stood as tall as his frame would allow and he spoke directly to the father, 

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“ Would your family care for my fries?” There was a momentary silence between the two men as my husband and I listened and watched this noble act of southern kindness.

“I haven't touched them and I'mfull, I can't eat them, I don't want them to go to waste.” he spoke softly. 

In those brief seconds I felt my heart begin to pound and a lump tighten in my throat. I couldn't continue to eat.  I held my breath and hoped the tears in my eyes would not draw any attention in this moment – I leaned over my foodto avoid eye contact with my husband.  

We were in the presence of a private moment, a historical moment that only a people of our age in the south canunderstand and appreciate.  This was a hospitable southern offering from this elders generation but might likely bring giggles, smirks and laughter from some of the “ insensitive, self serving” youth of a more modern generation.  

Sadly, the time is quickly coming when this southern offering like so many other unselfish treasures of giving will no longer bemade by a generation of people.  I may never witness an act of this genuine kindness again in my lifetime.

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This was a gentile, southern man.  I'm sure his eyes had seen too much that he'd like to forget, his body marked by age but his generosity beyond reproach.  He was old enough to remember the “great depression”, to remember as a child, days with no food, to remember cold winter nights with nowarmth andshoes soles reinforced with cardboard, but he endured.  He was old enough to have served his country in World War II and perhaps seen starving children and adults through barbed concertina wire in the concentration camps in Germany or witnessed his comrades in arms die on the blood soaked battle fields of France or England, but he endured.    

He is a pattern of many many southern men whose ghosts grace sacred places of our world     in honor of freedom at Valley Forge, Vicksburg, Gettysburg, Normandy, Pearl Harbor, Germany, theSouth Pacific, Iwo Jima and Korea.  He is an American son, still a father for his countrymen who still remembers the pains of poverty, the sick and down trodden. And as long as he has an ounce of strength, he will volunteer on their behalf to insure their welfare.

The young father, replied with respect as to allow the older gentlemanhis dignity and sincerity.

“Thank you, Sir.  I think we are fine and have plenty.” 

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“I wanted to make sure your family hadenough food. You are welcome to my potatoes, I didn't touch them, really, I didn't touch them at all.”

The young father answered humbly, 

“I appreciate your offer, thank you Sir, we are fine.”  The elder walked away feeling better for his inquiry and concern butlifted the flap of the front pouch of his bibs and carefully tucked the paper sack of fries into the pocket. 

Life has shown me, that the older generation, the “generation who saved the world” is often ignored.  Our aging fathers and mothers have much wisdom to share.  They do not have face book accounts, send many text messages or surf the web.  Their knowledge came from the feet of their parents and grandparents instead of CNN.  Their life lessons and common sense have served our country well.

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You may be reluctant to speak to someone with white hair, stooped shoulders orbib overalls assuming they are not aware or they do not notice you, but don't fool yourself.  Their bodies maybe old and worn, but their spirits are still young enough to see more about you than you know about yourself. 

For they have seen our country beforein troubled times and made sacrifices so that we could have what many of ustake for granted. I can remember my mother often cautioning me, 

“be sav'in now, you never know when hard times are com'in.”  and I fear she is right.

They are our wisdom keepers, our historians and they should be cherished and revered.  For they endured and seldom questioned – but they endured.

So if your walking down the street sometime and someone looks at you with hollow ancient eyes and you fail to speak or respond, you have lost more than you may know.   As John Prine, the Kentucky born songwriter/singer sang, “Please don't just pass 'em by and stare, as if you don't care, say, hello in there ”  and smile with some down home southern respect – and a treasure will be opened to you, especially if you are somewhere in my south.

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Common Thread

Ben Ashby







Her hands work effortlessly as she turns a skein of yarn into an afghan her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will warm themselves with on countless occasions…a piece of crafted art, a piece of her, a blanket filled with love and memories of the selfless woman who gave her everything for her family. Whenever a loving couple commits to happily ever after, a birth is announced, or a home is new to cherish, she creates an afghan for that occasion, a keepsake that becomes an instant heirloom in our hearts and homes. It is the one gift we all look forward to receiving, and when she requests the colors of our desire, we choose with thoughtful consideration. A colorful spectrum of soft woolen fiber fills the homes of her descendents, linking us together by one common thread, her loving handiwork, her patterns...a compilation of comfort in every loop, knot and row.


The winter months are when I dust off my needles and sort through the bag of yarns, easing my fingers back into the practice of knitting. It’s a hobby which remains dormant in the sun-filled months, yet tends to warm my heart during the long dark chilled evenings of the crisper seasons. My grandmother taught me how to knit and crochet, both skills I hold dear; a family-tree connection that I am beginning to pass down to my little girl. Recalling the early days, when I was eager to learn and dreamed of being creative like my grandmother; patiently, she watched as my unskilled fingers tried over and over to grasp the yarn and produce an outcome beyond a tangled mess of string. Rhythmic movements of her hands in complete synchronicity, forming a pattern, creating a comforting gift, she could have done it all with her eyes closed. Now that I’m older, I believe I understand why she enjoys this method of crafting: One’s thoughts tend to wander in a peaceful state as the rhythm unfolds and the final outcome of the creative consistency is a practical gift filled with joy and love. Whether I’m practicing my own handwork or wrapped up in one of her gifted afghans, I am reminded of her – warm, loving and safe, an endearing way to carry her with me forever and always.



Ernest Alexander

Ben Ashby

After going to grad school and studying business for 3 years, Ernest Sabine found himself in the middle of the recession and the fashion district in New York City. The stock market had just recently crashed and for Ernie it seemed like the perfect time to build something from nothing. Having worked in fashion advertising for several years, Ernie learned the ins and outs of the fashion industry and with a childhood dream he set out to create the perfect men's messenger bag. "I always dreamed of having my own clothing line as a kid," he says, "I always wanted to have my own business."

When Ernie began Ernest Alexander he explored the fashion district for a workshop that was able to produce canvas messenger bags. He often carried one for business each day and always wished he could have one that perfectly matched his body in motion and at rest. After finding a workshop only two blocks from his office he started sourcing materials for his first collection of messengers. "I started with one style and three colors when I made my first messenger bag," he laughs.

With the help of twelve very talented seamstresses, Ernie went to work perfecting his first design. "I would design prototypes and test them out for the day. I want my bags to look as fashionable and feel as comfortable and natural while walking and running through the city." With his first design perfected and with three colors available he sold his first 20 bag order, though the power of social media and e-commerce quickly changed that.

When Ernie first started his brand he wanted it to be something could feel proud of. He was tired of foreign manufacturing and unfair wages and living conditions for the foreign laborers. Finding the small garment district in New York City to manufacture his bags and accessories was his way of remedying that problem. With his growing popularity and demand for more products, Ernie has not only been able to support the twelve seamstresses who first helped in creating Ernest Alexander, but has also expanded that workshop and created jobs for new workers.

"I wanted to create a brand with heart and meaning, I wanted to know the people who were making products for me. I wanted to stay close to them and be able to visit any time so that I could stay involved in every step of the process." Today he works, manufactures, and sells his bags within a five mile radius, with his flagship store in Soho on Thompson Street only 20 blocks from his workshop. "Opening the store allowed me to not only get into a shopping area that I'd helping grow my brand, but also allowed me to meet my customers face-to-face." With a growing collection of items to offer including men's shirts, bags, accessories, and a small capsule of women's clothing Ernie is slowly growing his brand which started with one messenger bag into a full outfitter. "I want to be able to offer more to my customers and I think the next step will be denim, knits and sweaters, and tailored clothing and suiting," says Ernie.

Ernie says that the city has played the biggest role in inspiring him to create his clothing brand. "When I need inspiration I go straight to the streets of New York City," he explains. "With so many colors, textures, and personalities the people of New York have their own style, and it inspires me to find new and interesting fabrics and patterns when I source my materials." He also finds inspiration in antiques and often shops at a local antique store called Olde Good things for decor for his store and inspiration for his brand. "My brand focuses on a return to basics with a modern look at vintage fashion, so visiting antique stores helps me focus on those ideas of classic silhouettes and references to the past."

When asked what we could expect to see from Ernest Alexander for the holiday season, Ernie listed a few giftable items that will be out just in time for the holidays. Starting this winter he will offer an apron designed for cooks and blacksmiths alike. Inspired by the aprons of craftsmen, it will feature pockets for tools and is constructed of the same high-quality canvas he uses for his bags. Plaid will be a major focus for the brand this year with a line of weekenders, messengers, and other bags made of classic British woolen plaids and Ernie will also offer plaid neckwear to match.

With workman inspired clothing, a line of utilitarian bags that focus on functionality and style, and classic accessories Ernest Alexander is reviving the American fashion industry. Keeping his focus on the importance of domestic manufacturing and a respect for the history of fashion, Ernie has created a brand that is as classic as it is fresh and modern. "A respect for history and the past has always been important to me, I think it is what fuels this industry and I want to make sure that the people who have worked to keep manufacturing alive here in New York City are recognized."

Greeta's Geese

Ben Ashby

By: Linda Reid

"Aren’t those geese beautiful?”

The geese belonged to my grandparents, Herman and Lola Render of the Walton Creek area near Centertown, Ky. Summer arrived and with it came more time at our grandparents’ home. It also meant molting season for the geese. Since geese typically molt (lose some of their feathers) during the summer, Mammie took advantage of Mother Nature’s help in harvesting feathers for new pillows. Their feathers sure made neat pillows! 

My sister, Jo Carolyn Patton, and I, Greta Whitehead, lived in that neighborhood and were always at our grandparents’ home as much as possible. We had grown up around the geese but we were afraid of them. We knew that geese were sometimes used for security animals because they are so easily excited and alert you to impending danger by flapping their wings wildly and honking loudly to scare off suspected intruders. Still, we loved to find their big eggs! It was always special on Easter to have a big colored goose egg in our basket. 

We were daring kids...especially me. I would make one of the geese mad just so it would chase us. The only time we were pinched by one was when we helped our grandmother hold the big geese while she plucked the feathers for her pillows. She would turn one at a time upside down and hold it with her legs and start to work. Jo and I, as little girls, would try and hold their heads so they wouldn’t pinch her legs. We would get tired and let go a few times. Mammie would end up with black and blue legs but good, soft, fluffy pillows. 

Herman Render and Lola Bennett Render, beloved Christian grandparents of our 13 brothers and sisters were near 80 when our family moved on in to Centertown. I have many good memories of Walton Creek people and the good life we had there.Though saddened by our move to town, many new adventures and memories awaited us there. 

My dad, the local barber, felt it necessary to move to town so he could be close to his barbershop. Sometime in the 40’s, Dad bought an old Greyhound bus. He converted the old bus into a nice café that sat on Main St. It was quite beautiful, inside and out, with a fireplace, juke box, booth and stools at the counter. The “Blue Bus Café” became the hangout for teens...a safe place that was supervised by good honest folks who believed in their community and its future. Our parents, Raymond “Dick” Render and his loving wife, Lou, ran the café until they moved to Jeffersonville to work in the shipyards.

Times were hard and work was scarce so many families of our hometown had to move where they could find steady work. The Blue Bus closed but the stories of good times there live to this day. Other small cafés have come and gone in Centertown. Each one had its regular customers who would enjoy a good cup of coffee and the stories shared around the table. More often than not, someone would bring up the Blue Bus Café and fond memories began to flow. Although we missed our days at our grandparents’ farm, the Blue Bus Café occupied our time and life moved forward. Lessons and values learned on that farm and in the Blue Bus Café never left us.

Whenever I see geese I recall the fun we had helping Mammie make pillows. In reflection I can see that we were learning work and care for the family, but we just thought we were having fun. As I drive down Main St. in Centertown, my mind’s eye still sees that old Greyhound Bus that transformed to a wonderful hangout known affectionately as The Blue Bus Café...a safe place for youngsters to spend supervised time together knowing that Daddy and Momma kept a keen eye on each and every one of us.

Inside Leyden Glen Sheep Farm

Ben Ashby

 Kristin Nicholas came out from her charming farmhouse to greet us and I was first introduced to the incredible woman who calls this place home. Kristin is a true and talented artist best known for her knitting and stitching patterns. But it doesn’t stop there, her tremendous talents include knitting, crochet, embroidery, dyeing, painting, decorative and interior painting and pottery. She lives in this picturesque 1751 Antique Cape Cod farmhouse with her husband Mark and their darling daughter, Julia. Together they run their Leyden Glen Sheep Farm which now consists of over 300 sheep, 20 chickens, 10 cats, 3 border collies who work the sheep, 1 Great Pyrenees Guard Dog, a Guard Donkey and a Guard Llama.

A look inside her home.... By: Rikki Snyder

Leyden Glen Sheep Farm

Ben Ashby

Tucked away in the rolling hills of western Massachusetts is a place so unique and beautiful that it seems like it was pulled straight from a fairytale. I remember the very first time I drove down the windy and desolate dirt roads leading up to the Leyden Glen Sheep Farm.  Spring was in full bloom and my good friend Sarah was behind the wheel. I kept thinking to myself, where is she taking me? Talk about the middle of nowhere! 


When we finally pulled up to the farmhouse we were greeted by eager sheep dogs, so full of energy and ready to play. Sarah had told me how beautiful this place was and as soon as I got out of the car I fell in love with everything. The wooden swing tied to a tree in the front yard, tufts of wool covering the ground in certain spots, grass greener than any I’d seen before and sheep by the hundreds feeding on it with enormous, tree covered hills as their backdrop. 

    Kristin Nicholas came out from her charming farmhouse to greet us and I was first introduced to the incredible woman who calls this place home. Kristin is a true and talented artist best known for her knitting and stitching patterns. But it doesn’t stop there, her tremendous talents include knitting, crochet, embroidery, dyeing, painting, decorative and interior painting and pottery. She lives in this picturesque 1751 Antique Cape Cod farmhouse with her husband Mark and their darling daughter, Julia. Together they run their Leyden Glen Sheep Farm which now consists of over 300 sheep, 20 chickens, 10 cats, 3 border collies who work the sheep, 1 Great Pyrenees Guard Dog, a Guard Donkey and a Guard Llama. Kristin explains how when you live on a real working farm, the farm becomes your life. The animals are in need of constant attention, food, water and are always being moved around from field to field. “I talk to animals more than I talk to people!” she says.

    The reality of Kristin and Mark’s unique lifestyle as sheep farmers is this: long days and intense labor. The lambing begins in January and lasts through March. During this time lamb upon lamb is born and in need of constant care. March is the mud season which Kristin describes as pretty awful! “No one is happy- humans or lambs.” The grass starts to grow in April and weaning lambs starts when the pastures are dry and ready. When May rolls around different flocks of sheep are moved to different pastures and are continually moved throughout the grazing season. Sometimes the sheep are moved by truck but sometimes Kristin and Mark move them many miles by foot depending on the location and traffic on the roads. Harvesting hay soon begins in June and lasts until October when the grass stops growing. Mark cuts and bales all of the hay that their sheep eat during the winter. In November, after the harvest, the sheep are ready to be moved back to their winter quarters where they are kept in a couple barns for cover. And starts all over again.

    Kristin and Mark sell their lamb meat all year long at local Famers Markets as well as the vegetables from Kristin’s garden in the summertime. The sheep’s wool also proves to be invaluable as Kristin uses it to make yarn. She learned how to hand spin wool at a night class during her time in college at the Oregon State University where her and Mark first met. They both grew up on the east coast, Kristin being from the suburbs of New Jersey and Mark, ironically enough, grew up on a dairy farm only 5 miles from where they now live. They bought their first 4 Romney sheep in 1980 before they were married. As Kristin’s mom said, “Some people get engaged; Mark and Kristin bought sheep!”. 

    Just before their daughter Julia was born, they found their current farmhouse. It was love at first sight; they gave a full price offer and it was accepted in a matter of 5 hours! Kristin started telecommuting instead of going into her job at the time, as the Creative Director of Classic Elite Yarns. “It was a chance for us to build our farm and our family,” she says. In 1998, their daughter Julia was born with a life threatening condition, hydrocephalus. Kristin became the primary caretaker and in her words she, “..decided to ditch the full time gig and go freelance.” She started writing knitting books, then stitching books and was even asked to illustrate a couple of knitting books. She used gouache, a technique of painting with opaque watercolors and soon realized that she could draw or paint anything. 

    Since then, Kristin has taken her art to a new level. Her home is a blank canvas that she has transformed into a work of art with her numerous free-form wall murals that she hand paints. The mural in the dining room is dressed with chickens, birds, flowers, leaves, guinea hens and peacocks. A second one can be found in their TV room that Kristin created by cutting shapes out of FedEx boxes, layering these shapes on top of each other and hand painting each one. Her beautiful oil paintings can be found hung throughout the house as well as other handmade items such as her colorful pillows that are displayed on the window bed between the kitchen and living room. 

    “I think every art or craft I learn adds to the others I know,” Kristin says, “They all ‘inform’ each other. The common thread of my work has always been color. I love color! Working with color, mixing color together when I paint or dye, and then combining colors in a canvas or on a piece of fabric or in a knit wear design is such fun and joyful.” Kristin has also taken inspiration from her grandmother who was from Germany. She was always making something with her hands which fascinated Kristin and when she was 9, her grandmother taught her how to crochet. After that, she never looked back. Ten books later, Kristin is still going strong with her artwork and is constantly creating. She also writes a blog called “Getting Stitched on the Farm”, which is a way for her to communicate and connect with the outside world. It allows her readers to enter into her crazy yet captivating lifestyle that is always satisfying and never boring and shows a little slice of what it’s like living on a working sheep farm. 

    It’s been two years since that first day I stumbled upon the Leyden Glen Sheep Farm and after many visits back, through each season, I have fallen in love with this place even more. The beauty of it all continues to amaze me as does Kristin’s artwork. Never have I found such inspiration with color and pattern as I do when I’m in Kristin’s home. I’ve had the pleasure of sitting down with her for lunch on those colorful chairs with her paper lanterns swaying above our heads and the view of the pastures outside the windows where subtle baa’s can be heard from the grazing sheep. They’ve become some of my most memorable days and I always look forward to my next trip back where I travel off the map and step into their unique world once more. 

Leyden Glen Website

Kristin’s Blog

Kristin’s Website