The Star of Ernest

          Somebody or other asked of the denizens of alt.appalachian:
    My hubby wants to know the name of a decoration we've seen while driving the backroads.  The thing is usually brightly colored (red, green, blue, yellow, etc.), appears to be 12-sided, and from certain angles looks like a star of David.  Does anybody know what this thing is called?

          To which, for some reason or other, I responded:
          That would be the little-known star of Ernest, an Appalachian tradition almost forgotten in the manic commercialism of this era's modern holly daze.  The star of Ernest has its origin in the isolated cabin of one Ernest Ferguson, a lifelong and notoriously forgetful bachelor whose housekeeping left something to be desired.

Cleanliness, to be more specific.

The Ladies' Charity and Official Officious Meddling Society of the Fourth or Fifth Baptist Church (Official congregational motto: "Who can remember back that far?  But we're sure we were on the right side of the schism." Official congregational maxim: "Schism?  What schism?  Hush, who can remember back that far?") of Uppa Holler, TN brought Ernest a fully cooked Thanksgiving ham (with pineapple slices) one Thanksgiving eve.  Finding his cabin unlocked (Ernest never owned a key to either of his cabin doors) the good church women set the ham on Ernest's kitchen table and departed, in a hurry to get on with their next charitable delivery, to the home of the Widow Hodge.

(Polly Hodge was 26 years old, and upon the death of a much older husband was rumored to be spending a serious chunk of her insurance settlement on esoteric underwear and God only knew what all out of catalogues with four color illustrations and exotic postmarks.  The ladies of the Fourth or Fifth Baptist Church were middling hopeful that after they delivered a ham to Widow Hodge, God wouldn't be the only one in on certain secrets.)

The Ladies' Society had no way of knowing Ernest was off visiting his sister in Memphis, or that he'd pause on the way home to spend the better part of a week attending single elimination and tag team matches at the World Mud Wrestling Association's Twin Knobs Memorial Stadium outside Knoxville.  Ernest was especially partial to tag teams.

After twelve or fourteen days Ernest returned home, and that evening spent an hour and a half washing his feet, only to discover "that smell" wasn't emanating from between his toes after all.  Clyde Tolliver, arriving for their regular cribbage night just as Ernest dried his feet with a gray rag, pointed at the table where the ham had been sitting and ripening and observed, "Ol' buddy, whatever you brung home from the flatlands out yonder, it's sho' got a lot of color to it.  That there's got to be one of the greenest greens I ever seen.  And them's some interesting yellows and blues too."

Noticing the multihued lump on his kitchen table for the first time, the absentminded Ernest recognized it as  a) a ham that had seen far fresher days and  b) the aromatic source of what he had assumed to be a bad case of the foot-rot.

Parsimonious as he was forgetful, Ernest trimmed away some of the more colorful parts of the ham, hoping to salvage enough for a sandwich.  It was a useless gesture.  Though he wound up with a very oddly shaped ham, our man Ernest soon realized not even the bone was useful.

Sometime later he tossed it out the back door of his cabin, in time for a turkey buzzard to discover it en route to an evening roost.  The bird flew off with the Baptist ham, but somewhere over Ernest's cabin decided even buzzards have standards (albeit low ones) and dropped the malodorous pork, impaling it on a lightning rod a slick-talking Cincinnati salesman had convinced Ernest he needed, sometime in '59.

Being afraid of heights, there was no way Ernest was going to climb up to remove it, and the thing stayed on top of his cabin until way into the next spring.  So it was still there when, a week before Christmas a young couple, newly moved to Appalachia, happened to drive by.  Enthralled with all things traditional, the couple noticed the multicolored, weirdly shaped device atop Ernest's cabin and decided to make one of their own, which they did, though their star of Ernest was constructed of materials more durable than eleven pounds of pig.

The next year most Uppa Holler homes sported them, Ernest Ferguson's cabin being an exception.

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This page was tweaked Sunday, 6 February 2005