The Big Coal River’s 1916 flood washed out saw mills upstream from the homeplace. A bonanza of chestnut, oak, and hickory lumber was deposited in our bottom land and on the river bank. The near-majestic old barn was built from the free lumber. It has a fine cupola for ventilation and I remember a trap door that covered the steps to the loft and another where we pitched hay down to the horse and cow stalls. There is a corn crib in the back of the first floor and there were boxes for laying hens along the hallway that separated the horse stalls from the cow stalls. Truman and I played full-court basketball in the barn loft. The metal hoops are still nailed at the ends of our court.
Truman, a neighbor boy, and I experimented with masturbation in the barn loft. We discovered several other venues and made up bawdy songs about our sport. (Editor’s note: Without any prompting from me, Julian greatly reduced his description of this activity. Suffice it to say, I am conflicted about the brevity here. The longer version was quite enlightening.)
The first “colored people” I saw were in a family sitting on a porch overlooking Bull Creek. Truman and I passed them as we walked up the hollow on the way to pick huckleberries near Uncle Kin’s cabin. Kin’s outside toilet was one of our venues for our harmless sexual experiments. From that cabin, Kin walked to his work in the woods of cutting trees and splitting them into mine posts to sell to coal companies.
Our trust in great-Uncle Kin was well-placed. He never told on us when we charged Red Top tobacco to his bill at the tiny store across the river. We made a corncob pipe and hid out in the barn and tried unsuccessfully to light it. Truman sent me to the house for some kerosene to put in with the tobacco—we were lucky we didn’t burn that wonderful old barn down. We tried smoking corn silk and made an unsuccessful attempt at the harsh smoke from dry sycamore leaves. We were determined to imitate our role models and smoke something.
Our farmhouse was L-shaped with two massive stone chimneys and a cellar for storing potatoes, home-canned meat and vegetables, jams, jellies, apple butter and preserves. A dank potato smell enveloped me when the cellar door was opened. The house had the elegant touch of a front porch and balcony which were seldom used because they were on the south side facing the sun. The family gathered on the L-shaped side porch away from the sun to talk and do chores like stringing beans, making leather breeches, and peeling potatoes.
The bee gum was a two-foot tall section of tree sitting in the yard. The bee tree was cut down and the beehive section of the trunk sawed off and hauled to the yard where it rested on a stand with boards nailed together to form a roof. Truman and I did not go near that thing.
Millions of flies were drawn to the horse and cow droppings just outside the picket fence that separated the house from surrounding pasture. Screen doors with un-patched holes let hundreds of those millions of flies inside the house. Their swarming presence turned a table cloth black that had been white and that covered leftovers from the previous meal.
It is a wonder, that with flies as carriers, no one in our family caught polio.