Essays on Childhood: “Staying” | by Anne Clinard Barnhill

Anne Clinard Barnhill

Anne Clinard Barnhill grew up in West Virginia and graduated from Alderson-Broaddus College in Philippi.  Her debut novel, At the Mercy of the Queen, was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2012. Her second novel, Queen Elizabeth’s Daughter, is forthcoming in 2014. She is working on a third and as-yet-untitled novel, set in West Virginia.

She is also author of At Home in the Land of Oz: Autism, My Sister and Me, a memoir about growing up in West Virginia in a time before anyone had heard the word ’autism.’ What You Long For is a short story collection published in 2009 that also contains stories set in the mountains.  Books are available from Amazon, www.jkp.comwww.mainstreetrag.com or, if you’d like a signed copy, from the author directly at acbarnhill@yahoo.com. Her first chapbook of poetry, Coal, Babyis available from Finishing Line Press.

Read Anne’s 2011 essay, “Winter Solstice,” and her 2012 essay, “Melungeons and Mystery.”

Anne’s essay is inspired by her early experiences camping in West Virginia. Editor’s note: Anne allowed me to title this essay. My choice reflects my favorite element of this piece, the patient but firm and final voice of a loving father.

Staying | by Anne Clinard Barnhill

When I was seven years old, my father took the family camping for the first time. We had no equipment that I can recall. There’s a snapshot of my mother, my sister and me all looking groggy as we stretch from sleep in the back of a 1960 station wagon. The wagon had been Dad’s idea. Since the back seat folded down, he figured my mother and he could sleep back there, I could sleep at their feet and my two-year-old sister, Becky, could sprawl out on the front seat.

His plan didn’t work quite the way he’d hoped. It took about two minutes for my little sister to crawl back with the rest of us; then, I wormed my way between my parents soon after.  No wonder my mother looks exhausted in the photo — her black hair is all messy and my sister looks like a wild child. I’m not exactly the picture of perfection either.

In spite of that inauspicious start, however, our whole family fell in love with camping. Over time we acquired a camp stove, a lantern, sleeping bags and one of those tents that attached to the back of the open station wagon. That covered area became the ‘bathroom’ for my sister who was in the process of potty training.  It was also my ‘dressing room’, providing more space than the crowded tent.

We bought camping dishes and silverware, pots and pans, a coffee pot (the kind you had to brew over an open fire) and many other outdoor accessories.  My dad built an enormous black box with drawers and shelves in which to store said items. This behemoth, which could have housed my sister and me, rode on top of the station wagon.  My father, standing at 5 feet 6 inches, somehow heaved the black monstrosity onto the car and secured it in its place. He must have been incredibly strong to be able to lift that box.  We never had any problems with it moving or falling off. The black box stayed with us, useful as ever, for at least a decade. It retired to ‘Pop’s Place’, a camp my dad bought at the Middle Fork River where he later put a trailer. The black box took its place on the deck, holding all the supplies needed for a picnic.

I often felt sorry for my dad, the lone male among us three girls. He had to do the hard work mostly by himself. Such things as setting up the tent, hoisting the black box, starting and tending the campfire — these were his chores. He also had to put up with our feminine desires about where to set up camp. Since we usually camped in West Virginia state parks or national forests, there were campgrounds set up with bath houses, playgrounds, picnic tables and sometimes, even a pool. My mother invariably wanted to locate nearest the bathroom.  I, on the other hand, wanted a woodsy view with atmosphere; my sister always desired a place close to the pool.  Around and around the campground we’d drive, looking at each available spot, sometimes lamenting that someone else had beaten us to the absolute best area.  Poor Dad would circle and circle until finally, we came up with a place to please everyone.

When we’d graduated from tent to trailer, this search for the perfect spot finally drove my dad to lose his patience. Dad had planned the trip of a lifetime — two weeks at the Outer Banks in North Carolina, then up to DC where we would see all our nation’s capital had to offer. After that, we’d head to New York City for a couple of days. The pinnacle of the trip would be onward to Montreal, Canada, to the World’s Fair where we would spend a whole week. He’d planned this six-week trip with great precision and care.

Somewhere in Canada, we found a rustic campground. As was our custom, we drove all around to find our little niche. We finally located a good site but there was one small problem. Dad had to back the trailer between two large trees to arrive at the designated trailer position. He did so with extreme caution. Once things were settled, Mother and I got out of the car and roamed around. We decided we didn’t like this spot. We told Dad we’d have to move. He mentioned that it had been hard to get in, but we were convinced this would not be a good space. So, he very reluctantly and carefully pulled back out and around the camp we went again. We tried another area but didn’t like it as well as the first.  Dad took the wheel yet again and we returned to our original lot. Those two trees were still there and Dad gingerly maneuvered the trailer back into place. Mother and I were still not satisfied.  We complained and begged and were convinced there was a better location.  After much pleading from the three of us, Dad once again agreed to drive between those trees in search of the perfect lodging. He twisted in his seat to look back, put the car in reverse and gently stepped on the gas.

A terrible crunching sound.  Dad hopped out of the driver’s seat and ran to the trailer.  The doorknob was on the ground.  He didn’t say a word, but backed the trailer into its original space.  He began to repair the door as the other three of us got out of the car.

“We are staying right here,” he said in a low voice.

And we did.

In a Man’s Voice: Daddy Used to Whistle by Steve Alberts

Steve writes faith-based stories about “God’s grace throughout (his) life.” He dabbles with song lyric writing, is attempting to write a novel, and enjoys acting, photography, hunting, fishing, and woodworking.

Born in Charleston, West Virginia, raised and educated in Spencer, and having Bachelor and Master Degrees from WVU Steve says, “I now live in Tennessee and love it here, but West Virginia is my forever home…until I get to the other side.” Visit his blog, On Steve’s Mountain.

Daddy Used to Whistle | by Steve Alberts 

I love wakin’ up in the mornings!

It’s just starting to break dawn, but I‘ve already been up here for an hour or so… I was way up on top of tHis mountain before I ever woke up this morning…could hardly wait to visit the past…up on my mountain.

Lookin’ down on the little community of Speed…near Spencer…Roane County…West Virginia.

Moved there in ’47.  I was just barely two years old at the time.

We lived there until we moved to town in ’56.

It hasn’t changed much since we lived there in the late forties and early fifties.  O.O. “Double O” Casto’s horse show arena and barns are gone from the field beside Charleston Road, but our old house still stands on up the hollow… it’s the next to last house.

My bedroom was on the left just at the top of the stairs.

When I was real little I didn’t sleep there often ‘cause most nights I had dreams that would awaken me. Most nights I would slip out of bed, sneak down the hall and into the bedroom that Auntie and, my sister, Roylene shared…slip to the sanctuary of Auntie.

Never did figure out why Roylene got to share a bedroom with Auntie and I had to have my own bedroom.  After all, I was the one who woke up every night imagining the bears and wolves from Grandpa’s stories coming to hunt me down. Even the Roy Rogers bedspread with its six shooters and lariats woven into the fabric wasn’t the sanctuary that Auntie provided.  But, that’s another story.

When I was perhaps 5 or 6 years old … and sleeping in my own bed more frequently, early summer mornings I would often awaken … bedroom windows open…the humid summer air barely stirring…and just listen to the sounds.

…songbirds

…the grey fox barking up near the barn in the hill meadow

…the rooster crowing

…the feed buckets clanging

…the barn cats meowing for their breakfast

…and, daddy whistlin’.

It was comforting to hear the sounds of those routines being repeated.  It meant my world was safe and solid.

I could tell when daddy had just fed and milked the old Jersey ‘cause I knew the sound of the stall door opening and the gentle lowing from her little bull calf as he was “turned back in” to nurse the last of her milk.

I knew the barn cats would get a portion from the milk bucket as daddy made his way back to the cellar to set the milk to cool before he finally made his way back to the house.

If daddy stayed with his normal routine next would be the sound of the chickens contentedly clucking as the grain was scattered and then the sounds of the trace chains clinking along the floor of the barn as he began to harness which ever work horse he was going to use to skid logs to his sawmill across the run.

The little grey horse was more tractable, easy to drive, stood well when being hooked, but was lighter framed and best when skidding the logs down the mountain.  If there was to be a long haul or if the logs had fallen in the bottom of the cove and had to be skidded up hill the bay was used as he was a little stouter ‘though a little more difficult to handle.

Lying there in my bed in the early morning I could even tell which horse he had harnessed just by listening to the rhythm of the trace chains as the horse pranced across the barnyard…then I would know whether daddy and Bud were cuttin’ on top of the mountain or somewhere around in the cove … in case I decided to test my resolve by hiking up the mountain later to share his cheese sandwich and drink from his water jug at lunch.

I guess it was part of my growing up to leave the sanctuary of the house, wander up the mountain through those scary woods, find daddy, sit with his arm around me as I ate part of his sandwich, then have to return down the mountain by myself.  I knew each end was safe, but the journey in the middle was sort of scary… at that age.

Once I got near the top of the mountain I always knew what final path to take through the woods by listening for the gentle rhythmic sawing of the cross cut, the sound of the horse skidding the logs toward the landing, or …daddy whistlin’ his way through the day.

The little sawmill is long since gone, but I can clearly see it in my mind’s eye sittin’ on the bank at the south side of the run…the motor and drive train from some old truck providing the power…the large circular blade slicing through the white oak and red oak…the sawdust piling up beneath…the slab pile…the ricks of lumber being air dried…Daddy and Bud Nichols using the peaveys and cant hooks to sort and align the logs to get the greatest yield, the straightest grain… and daddy whistlin’.

Cuttin’ red oak and white oak logs with a two man cross cut saw, skiddin’ it to the mill, sawing and stacking was all hard work.

Most days the routine was the same except for Saturdays when we went to town or Sundays when we went to church, visited with neighbors and rested in preparation for another week probably just like the last. 

And, … most days … daddy would whistle all day long.

Daddy used to whistle

…as he wandered through the day.

‘Till now I hadn’t even realized I had heard him

…I’d been young … busy with childhood play.

Whistlin’seemed to make daddy happier

as he made up a brand new tune.

The tunes were seldom ever alike

Whether ‘twas in the early morning, or

late

…in the afternoon.

Except that “Rock Of Ages”

or

“Amazing Grace”

would sometimes just appear.

I guess those hymns were thrown in to keep him grounded

…humble,

…grateful

…to help keep Jesus near.

‘Till lately I hadn’t realize just how much that whistlin’ stuff

had stuck there in my mind.

But, now I think of daddy’s whistlin’

often

And,

…now

I whistle

…from time to time.

I see daddy when I whistle.

I see him driving his old truck.

I see him working at his little sawmill,

…skidding timber

…and,

…doing other stuff.

But most times when I see daddy

He’s standin’ in the creek

…waiting,

…white shirt,

…dark tie,

Easter Morning,

…lightly snowing.

Standin’ up with his friend Carl

… the Reverend Raymond Straight’s just startin’ to speak.

Daddy “standing up” with his friend Carl Cutright – Roane County, Spring Creek along US 219 south of Spencer – “out Charleston Road” – an Easter baptizin’ – probably around 1950 or so.

Friends and neighbors from the church

were watchin’ from the bank.

Most had already been baptized

but, some were waitin’ their turn.

And, still a  few others were dunkin’

…for a second time

…just to reaffirm

…the cleansing of an Easter baptism

at the shoal along Spring Creek

between Watson’s barn

and the Hickman place

with the neighbors lookin’ on.

I see daddy when I whistle.

It puts a smile upon my face.

Don’t know if it’s seein’ daddy,

the baptizin’

or,

if it’s the whistlin’ that’s takin’ place.

But, more important,

Whistlin’ taught me

at an early age

…to listen

…by now, I guess you knew.

That whistlin’ reminds me of daddy,

…of Jesus,

…of life’s lessons,

the ones we should daily do.

And

…every time I whistle

whistlin’ make me a little happier, too

There’s a whole lot more to this whistlin’ than a man would have ever thought

First there’s

…the whistlin’,

then there’s

…the listenin’.

that leads me to

…the thinkin’

about the sanctuary of my earthly and heavenly homes

…the sometimes scary journey in between

about grace and faith along my path

in things I have not yet seen

I think about my daddy

standin’ in the creek

I think about the cross

about

…our eternal sanctuary

that through God’s gracious act of love

our savior, Jesus, bought.

Thank you Lord for another dawn, thank you for giving me another beautiful sunrise, thank you for those memories of growing up, thank you for a family that taught me Your ways, thank you for not giving up on me when it perhaps would have been easy to do, and Lord, thank you for a daddy that whistles…today up on tHis mountain.

Steve Alberts

                                                                                                            Bethpage, TN

 September 3, 2007

© 2007 Steve Alberts

You can read more about the 2012 Essays on Childhood writers here.

In a Man’s Voice: Three Silver Dollars by Terry Gillispie

Terry Gillispie was born in South Charleston, West Virginia. The only son to a single mother, he spent most of his formative years residing in various locales within the Kanawha Valley before a period of stability landed him at South Charleston High School, from which he graduated in 1986.

Blogger’s note: Terry was in my class in junior high school. I never knew where he went, or what his life at home was like. What I did know was that he was one of the most well-liked boys in our class, and yet he seemed to have a secret. I was too young to notice what were probably tell-tale signs of a stressed economic situation at home. Until this year, I never knew what happened to him. I had no idea he graduated just a few miles from me, probably the same week, from another local school. For sure, I never knew he had the heart of hero. Now I do. Thanks for finding me on Facebook, Terry, and for sharing this amazing story. You are someone special, and I’m privileged to be part of making sure everyone knows it. — EDG

Three Silver Dollars | by Terry Gillispie

Of all the stories I have regarding my childhood in West Virginia, the following tale stands out the most, and reflects an incident that had profound impact on my life.

I had an uncle I was close to during my childhood.  Uncle Shorty.  I never fully understood how he came to have this nickname.  From my earliest memories as a young child, to the day I towered over him by at least five inches, Shorty always seemed larger than life.  He was the kind of man represented by the popular cliché, “When God made him, he threw away the mold.”

Christmas 1978 wasn’t particularly memorable for me.  I do not remember the toys or gifts that that year, save the one present I received from Uncle Shorty.  In a tradition between him and me, every year shortly before Christmas morning I would visit his house and give him a “present,” of a tin of cashews.  Invariably, on Christmas morning, I would find an empty cashew tin containing some sort of treat.

In 1978, that treat was three silver dollars.

Silver dollars to an eleven year old were pretty special, and in typical eleven year old fashion, I hid them in the same tin under my bed.

The following year, 1979, was a particularly tough one for us.  It was just me and Mom, and like most single parent families, she had to cut a lot of expenses just to get from one month to the next.  Mom typically spent her days working several jobs and was gone throughout the day and late into the night, so I learned responsibility at a young age. I learned these lessons partly because one of the expenses that fell to the wayside early on was babysitting fees, and mostly because, well, I had no other choice.

Despite Mom’s expense management, spring 1979 was very tough.  I can remember short periods where money was tight and Mom was frantic with worry over how she would pay a bill.  There came stretches where we were without food for several days between paychecks from Mom’s various employers.  Now a parent myself, I can only imagine the worry Mom felt then over how she was going to feed me, keep me decently clothed for school, keep utilities on, and several other worries and fears a parent endures.

During this time, for whatever reason, I came to be playing under my bed as eleven year old boys are prone to do.  I happened upon the tin I had placed there on Christmas morning and quickly remembered the three silver dollars.

As I crawled out from under the bed with the tin in my hands, I knew instinctively that I needed to give the silver dollars to Mom so that she could use the money in whatever way she needed to get us through until her next payday.  I was torn over giving the money to my mother.  Yes, I wanted desperately to help, yet at the same time the thought of giving up my “treasure” from Uncle Shorty sickened me.

In the end, my eleven year old sense of duty prevailed.

Terry with cousin Kurt

Of course, Mom was ecstatic to discover that I had not spent the silver dollars and immediately went to the store to get us some items to get us by for a few days.  I recall a few days diet of milk, potted meat sandwiches and Cheerios.  My treasure, as it were, had gotten us through a very rough patch, and lifted Mom’s spirits enough that after this “between paycheck” crisis, she took some steps to ensure I was never that close to going without food again.

Most prevalent on my mind, though, was the heartbreak I felt over surrendering my treasure, even if for the welfare of Mom and myself.

Luckily, the local food mart in the South Hills area where I grew up in was owned and operated by a very friendly man, one who was always telling stories to the local children while negotiating menial chores for candy or small dime store variety toys.  His name escapes me after all these years, no doubt removed from the recesses of my brain responsible storing names and replaced with something more import to my early adulthood, such as the lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody.

The following day I entered this store and approached the store keeper nervously, trying to keep a grown-up face as I related my story and my desire to buy back the silver dollars at a later time.  I was delighted to discover that he was well aware of my mother’s purchase and actually had set aside the silver dollars.  I’m not sure if it was my sad expression, his generous heart, or perhaps a combination, but he told me I had an opportunity to earn back the silver dollars.  All I had to do was sweep the store and the store’s parking lot early every morning before the store opened for a month.  At the end of that, he would return the silver dollars to me.

Perhaps he thought this was a fair exchange.  A month’s worth of free labor in return for three dollars.  Ha!  I would have swept his store and parking lot for a year.  It was not until years later that I discovered one of the silver dollars in question had a slightly higher value than the other two.  I am sure this fact escaped my mother’s attention, but I’m fairly certain the shop keeper would have been aware of this fact.

Flash forward to 2003.  Shorty’s 70th birthday party.  Sadly, I was unable to attend and was at a loss as to what kind of present to send in my absence.  Cashews had lost their luster years prior.  I sat down and decided to write the story you are now reading, events that had never been relayed to anyone else in my family as Mom was a very proud and private woman.  In the letter, I detailed how three silver dollars had taught me a lesson about life, family, and duty.  I also included the three silver dollars.

Reports I received from my cousin suggest that the story and the present were very well received.  My cousin read the letter aloud to my uncle at the height of the party, and Shorty was so moved that he described me to other party-goers not privy to the family dynamic as his “second son.”

Needless to say I was moved by this, and felt very much at peace with the silver dollars’ legacy in my life.

A few years after that, we lost Shorty to a long and difficult fight with lung cancer.  I was blessed in that my schedule afforded me the opportunity to drive home and visit Shorty in the hospital prior to his passing.  Even throughout his sickness, and his incapacitation to a hospital bed, he managed to look so much larger than life. I was amazed, and I told him so.  He couldn’t reply, but his eyes passed on to me that he had heard and understood.

As I left his hospital room and went into the ICU’s waiting room to seek solace and comfort with other family members, my aunt approached me and gave me a long embrace.  As she pulled away, she pressed a plain unmarked envelope into my hands.  She looked into my eyes, “From Shorty.”  As I left the hospital and sat in my car, I opened the envelope.

In my hand were my three silver dollars.

You can read more about the 2012 Essays on Childhood writers here.

Truman and Me (epilogue) by Julian Martin

The big old wonderful house burned to the ground. Uncle Kin died while I was a student at West Virginia University, and Charlie died a few years later when I was in San Francisco being mistaken for what Time magazine designated as a “hippie.” I hitchhiked home from San Francisco via Canada and made it to Grandma’s one day after she spent her first night ever alone.

This was me shortly after hitchhiking home from San Francisco in 1971.

Grandma and I lived together for a year. She helped me tame my mule, taught me family history, gardening, and the names and uses of wild plants. By example she taught kindness. I gleaned all the family history I could. I put new tar paper on the leaking cupola roof and replaced the rotting boards in the hay loft and cleared out the decades of manure that was causing rot in the big foundation logs. During that one summer with Grandma, my girlfriend  raised hogs and two so-called hippies from Iowa raised an organic garden with 1500 tomato plants. A blight made sure we didn’t get rich on tomatoes.

Grandma died and I sobbed as I testified graveside that she was special, that without reservation she loved us all. She was our saint, our rock. Grandma Ethyl Atkins Barker and Uncle Kin Barker were saints who smiled into our lives. They both unconditionally loved us all, and for Grandma that even included one of our cousins who stole her pain pills.

Some of Grandma and Charlie's progeny. Uncle Truman is in the back row beside Grandma who is beside Charlie. My mother is next to Charlie and Dad is holding the baseball bat. That is the Kanawha River in the background.

Uncle Truman in front of the barn, spoofing us, pretending to be a farmer.

Our home place is now under siege. Bull Creek is devoid of people, hardwood trees, ginseng, yellow root, and most other native plant and animal species. It is empty. The mountains above it have been strip mined along with my memories of Uncle Kin’s cabin and huckleberry picking. Ashford Ridge running from Ashford to Bull Creek has been scalped by mountain top removal strip mining. Behind our homeplace and just over the mountain on Fork Creek, mountain top removal strip mining is closing in on us.

Ashford Ridge, decaptitated

A distant cousin sold the mountain across the river from our homeplace to a coal company. It is probably too much hope to expect that it won’t be destroyed like Ashford Ridge and Bull Creek.

When Truman and I are gone, I hope the heirs love the homeplace like we do and resist the coal companies when they come with offers of money in exchange for Grandma’s farm. I hope they follow the example of our progenitor Isaac Barker, who told the man buying up mineral rights on Coal River: “You are Skinner by name, and skinner by trade, but you will not skin old Isaac Barker.”

Isaac spoke truth to power and refused to sell his mineral rights.  My hope is that my stories and my family history will keep that truth-telling alive in future generations.

Strip mining on Bull Creek

All photo credits: Julian Martin

See A Better West Virginia for more on Blair Mountain and the history of coal mining and labor relations.

Truman and Me (part 5) by Julian Martin

We moved to Detroit after Dad’s eye was put out in a coal mine accident.

In his new job, Dad cut deep into his thigh with a sander, and that sent us back to West Virginia. I did half a year of Kindergarten in Detroit, but when we got back to Emmons I started in mid-year of the first grade. My teacher, Mrs. Morris, lived on the next farm about a mile up Big Coal River. She came by on my first day and walked the mile with me to the Emmons Grade School.

After the first day I walked with Aunt Julia and Uncle Truman. Julia was in the sixth grade and Truman was in the fourth.

Lacking electricity like the rest of the area, our one-room Emmons Grade School was heated with coal in a pot-bellied stove, water came from a well, and there was an outside toilet. I was new and shy, which was not lost on at least one of the older boys. Out on the playground during recess, he said something to me, a word for female genitalia, in front of the other kids. I was embarrassed because I knew I was being made fun of, but I didn’t know what he was talking about.

Uncle Truman pulled me away from the embarrassment.

I was sent to the blackboard on the other side of the room where Aunt Julia was sitting—she whispered the answers that I was supposed to put on the board. I didn’t feel connected to the city children characters in our reading books. “Run Jim, run” and “See Jim run” didn’t inspire or connect with me. Jim and his sister Judy wore nice clothes and their parents were always dressed up. They were a bland family. Jim and Judy’s dad in a suit coming home from a day at the office looked nothing like my dad when he came home from a coal mine or a construction job.

I didn’t learn to read in the first grade and neither did the other two first graders. Not being able to read caused me lots of trouble when, a month into my second grade year, we moved to St. Albans. I was called on to read from the same book we had at Emmons. I remembered parts that Mrs. Morris had read to us and brazenly recited them as I pretended to read, but I was looking at the wrong page. My first and only F was in second grade reading.

It was a traumatic time.

My mother tried to teach me to read using a switch. It is hard to learn to read through tears, sobbing. I have enjoyed a lifetime of reading which is testimony that I survived the stresses of second grade.

Somewhere between ages eight and ten, I started going to the farm by myself. I was never afraid on those solo bus and train trips from our home in St. Albans to the farm. It never occurred to me that there was any danger, and there wasn’t. I walked four blocks through Ordnance Park over to Route 60 and for a nickel and caught the Interurban bus to downtown St. Albans. I walked the few blocks from the bus station to the train station, bought a ticket and climbed on the train that went up Big Coal River.

Something akin to the theory of relativity fascinated me as I sat on the train before leaving the station. A train headed for Huntington sat beside my train that was headed in the opposite direction. One of the trains moved but for a moment I couldn’t tell which train it was. Did my train move or the other one? It was more magic. One of the trains stopped and a few seconds later the illusion was repeated.

“Do not flush while the train is in the station,” warned the sign above the commode. I found out why when I did flush—all of what I had just done went straight down onto the area between the tracks. It was fun to hold the flush handle down and watch the wooden ties and rock ballast fly by. After that discovery I paid closer attention to the space between the tracks whenever I walked there.

I was in a safe community cocoon. There were always other people waiting for the bus, and the kind train conductor knew Charlie and Grandma and made sure I got off at Gripp which is across the river from the farm. The conductor enjoyed calling Gripp “suitcase” to see if I would laugh. From the train at “suitcase” I walked on a winding path through a corn field to the river’s edge and yelled for someone to set me across the river.

Charlie often put me to work just as soon as I got out of the boat and to the top of the river bank. Once it was bugging potatoes. Truman and I made a game of it. We knocked the potato bugs into a can and turned leaves over to find their yellow egg clusters and squashed the eggs between two pieces of wood. At the end of bugging for the day, we took our catch to the house and put it in a metal pie plate on top of the hot cook stove. We watched the bugs dance and fry — we had no feelings for potato bugs.

Grandma and Charlie told me about the heroes of the coal mine wars. It was word-of- mouth history. I remember sitting at the dinner table and Charlie saying, “When they killed Sid Hatfield that was the last straw.” Grandma said that a woman they called “Mother” came to talk to the miners—she was speaking of Mother Jones, the famous labor organizer. United Mine Worker heroes Sid Hatfield, Bill Blizzard, Frank Keeney, Fred Mooney, Cesco Estep, Mother Jones and the Battle of Blair Mountain were never mentioned in my twelve years of West Virginia public school education.

Despite the fact that we are on opposite ends of politics and religion, Truman and I are still friends. He spends half of his time in Florida and the other half at the farm. It is great fun when we get together and reminisce.

At this writing he is 78 and I am 75.

(Editor’s note: Visit the Daily Kosand many other “Google-able” websites for more on Blair Mountain and its significance in the history of West Virginia and labor relations in the United States.)

“The Battle of Blair Mt. in Logan County was referred to as a civil war and depicted as fully 10,000 men – and some estimates to twice that number – were involved as the two armies began exchanging shots along a ten-mile front. George Washington had fewer soldiers at the Battle of Trenton, the engagement which changed the course of the American Revolution.

On Sept. 4, 1921, with more than 6,000 federal soldiers assisted by 20 airplanes ……the miners eventually surrendered when faced with the alternative of fighting against U.S. troops. Hundreds of men were indicted by a Logan County Grand Jury on charges of treason and murder.” (pp71-72, Don’t Buy Another Vote, I Won’t Pay for a Landslide, by Allen H. Loughry II)

More historic railroad images from St. Albans and other communities available at WVRails.net.

Truman and Me (part 4) by Julian Martin

(Editor’s note: Biology. Physics. Chemistry. — farm style.  Very boyhood, intense, funny, and gross.  The image of Grandma with the fightin’ groundhog is absolutely classic.  You can’t make this stuff up.)

Fall butchering was a Druid carnival. The bladder from the hog was cut loose and thrown to Truman and me. We put a hollow stick in the urethra, blew the bladder up like a balloon, and tied it off. We kicked it all over the hillside pasture, fell down, got up laughing and ran after our “pigskin.”

We rode the snow down the hill behind the house on sleds that were old pieces of metal roofing. One summer we camped out in a shelter we built of boxes holding up that metal roofing. A pregnant cat crawled in with us and aborted her kittens in slimy looking bags—we were stunned and ignorant of what was happening.

The bottom land was, in addition to being our camping and recreation area, a cow and horse pasture where we invented the game of Frisbee. Cows’ semi-liquid poops dried hard in thin disc shapes and were perfect for tossing.

We learned to swim in the Big Coal River, which winds along the edge of our farm. Grandma, who couldn’t swim, was our life guard. Truman yelled, “Did you hear that?” He was knocking two pieces of coal together under the water. No, I didn’t hear it. “Go under and listen.” It was magical! The loud knocking noise seemed to be inside my ears.

Our physics lesson continued on the railroad track — we put our ears against the rail and listened to an approaching train before we could hear it through the air. As the train approached we put pennies on the track and got them back thin and flattened. We noticed that in cold weather the spaces between the rails were much farther apart than in the hot sun of summer when they almost touched. A few years later science teachers taught me what I had already learned by experiment, that sound waves travel faster in liquids than in gases, and still faster in solids, and that metals expand on heating and contract when cold.

Aw, Grandma. I see her herding and milking the cows, churning the milk into butter and stirring hot, thick, satin brown apple butter in a large copper pot over a wood fire. She stirred the apple butter with a long-handled wood paddle with holes to allow the liquid to pass through. To pick berries, she dressed up in a garb that covered every part of her body. Her face barely peeked out of an Arab looking head wrap through a swarm of gnats trying to get at her blood. Picking berries was slow, hot and miserable for me, but Grandma could go all morning, picking two water buckets full of berries without giving in to the heat and bugs.

On one of our berry picking forays up Thomas Branch, the dogs treed a groundhog.

Grandma picked up a piece of wood and knocked the groundhog from the limb it was clinging to. Thinking it was dead, she picked it up by the tail and we started toward home. The animal wasn’t dead! It was “playing possum.” The dogs barked at it but stayed a safe distance from the snarling, vicious growl. I was looking eyeball-to-eyeball at an animal that had every survival alarm turned on, ready to fight for its very life.

Grandma didn’t pay any attention to the life and death noises as she carried the groundhog to the house where she finished clubbing it to death, skinned and gutted it, and cooked it for dinner.