Truman and Me (part 3) by Julian Martin

The kitchen and dining room at the farm were closed off from the rest of the house for winter living. Heat came from an open-grate coal fire in the dining room and from a wood burning cook stove in the kitchen. Charlie and his brother, great-Uncle Kin, dug coal from an outcropping up Thomas Branch holler (that’s what I still call a hollow) to fuel the dining room fire.

In cold months Truman and I bathed in a galvanized wash tub sitting near the kitchen cook stove. In warm weather we washed in Big Coal River.

On winter evenings, we enjoyed the voice of Uncle Kin singing hymns as he rocked in the warmth of the dining room fireplace — Bringing in the Sheaves and When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder were my favorites.

There was no overnight heat in the farmhouse. Electric lines had not reached our area of Big Coal River. At bedtime, Charlie, Uncle Kin, or Grandma “banked” the dining room fire with ashes to keep air away from the coals. In the morning it was easy to rekindle a fire with hot embers in the grate. Grandma told me that Isaac and Spicy Barker, our progenitors and the first Barkers in Boone County, kept a stump burning in the summer to have a source for starting a fire in the cook stove.

As the fire was being banked and by the light of a kerosene lantern, Truman and I hurried out of the two heated rooms, across the cold living room floor, past the white enameled slop jar and upstairs to bed. If we had to pee or “goo-goo” at night it was either outside to the toilet or the slop jar under the stairs. I can still smell that foul thing. In the outside toilet, Sears Roebuck catalogs provided the necessary finishing touches.

On cold winter nights, Truman and I shared a feather tick under a mountain of homemade quilts. It was deliciously scary when the wind banged the big sycamore tree limbs against the house. Ghosts and strange creatures lurked in the “boar’s nest” — a dark, mysterious, and cluttered storeroom of dusty pictures, old clothes, trunks, broken furniture and a coat tree with a hat on top. Flashes of lightening or a full moon turned the coat tree into a creature looking in at us huddled close together under our quilts.

From late spring through early fall mornings after Grandma milked the cows, Truman and I herded those cows up Thomas Branch to graze for the day. Uncle Kin leased that holler for a dollar a month from ARMCO Steel. As we followed the cows, we chewed on birch bark, threw rocks in the creek, ate blackberries, and watched snake doctors (AKA, dragonflies) glide over still pools of water.

At the end of the day we found the hurting-to-be-milked cows waiting for us at the holler gate.

We carried drinking water by the bucketfull to the house from a dug well down the hill near the collapsing remains of the first house built on the farm. Water for other uses was caught in barrels from roof downspouts. By August, it was so dry that Charlie hooked up horses Frank and Barney to a sled with empty fifty gallon water barrels aboard. Besides “gee” and “haw,” Frank and Barney seemed to understand the meaning of “get up there,” “whoa” and “easy there.”

Truman and I rode the horses as they dragged the sled and empty barrels on the road to a ford in the river where Charlie poured buckets of water into the barrels. Going back with one hundred gallons of water was not easy for the horses — their veins bulged as they pulled the heavy water on the uphill grades.

To reduce the load on the horses, Truman and I walked on the way back.