Growing up in a coal camp has left me with numerous fond memories of my journey to adulthood. Like thousands of other fellow Logan Countians and southern West Virginians, the coal camp community including the nearby company store and the hills that are always on both sides of any valley, was the local domain. Rarely, did I ever leave or even desire to. It seemed we had everything we needed, homemade ball fields up and down the roads, a basketball rim attached to a nearby pole and well, the hills belonged to us, or so it seemed. We always had heavy snows when I was growing up and sleigh riding was then a mighty sport, a warm fire always nearby.
How many kids even have a sleigh nowadays? We used our sleds even in the summer months because they would glide down the nearby “red dog” that had been dumped by the coal company years before. It just didn’t pay to crash your sled because it wasn’t snow you were landing in. This same “red dog”, which I believe was just burned out slate, used to be utilized by the State Road in winter on the snowy roads. Later, it was determined that practice was environmentally unsafe.
We lived about a mile and a half down from the No. 28 Island Creek Coal Company tipple. I remember every summer evening when the mines were working my grandmother and other ladies of the neighborhood grabbing brooms to sweep the coal dust from their front porches. You could see the coal dust coming down the valley like a huge fog rolling in following a morning rain. My mother preferred sweeping in the mornings; others swept mornings and evenings. Speaking of sweeping, my grandmother had grass growing in her yard, but there were many people who did not; therefore, it was not unusual to see women sweeping up the cigarette butts from around their barren yards, the dust flying.
he oldest son of seven children, I was just one of dozens of kids my age and lots more who were a little older who roamed the hills and alleys at night. It seemed nobody in my camp had a deadline to be home. Nobody’s doors were ever locked so I suppose it didn’t matter when we wandered in. It appeared to me that everybody was what one would have to describe as “poor”, but nobody seemed to know it. We played until we were exhausted; we ate whatever was available, and went to bed.
The first time I remember realizing the family was upon hard times was a good while after my father had been admitted to a sanitarium at Beckley after being falsely diagnosed with tuberculosis. It would take over a year later for dad to finally come home and to seek work. I remember a young Shirley Baisden knocking on the screen door one summer eve. Shirley, who even today is a fixture in the Mud Fork area and lots of other places, entered carrying a box of groceries which I think may have been gathered by either the then Verdunville Woman’s Club or a local church; oddly, I’ve never asked. I realized something wasn’t normal, so it dawned on me that we must have needed groceries. I went to the refrigerator and realized about the only thing in it was a quart jar of home canned tomatoes. Strangely, I guess when you are a “kid” you don’t know you are poor until someone tells you. I guess mom did a great job of disguising it with her homemade “flitters” made of just flour and water. We called them pancakes. The syrup we enjoyed was sugar boiled in a pan of water. I remember hearing no complaints.
I believe myself fortunate to have grown up in the time period that I did. I remember the first television in the neighborhood and antenna line that had to be run all the way to top of the mountain just to pick up one channel. Every time it rained or the wind became heavy, somebody had to make the trek up the hillside and twist the antenna until it was right. It was at times hilarious.
“Turn it back to the right. No, not that far, turn the darned thing back a little,” was the way it sounded at one of the houses, while the unfortunate soul on top of the hill, who could barely hear the other person even though that person was yelling, just did the best he could and oftentimes had to turn right around and do it again after climbing down the hill. Television was a tremendous thing in the neighborhood and reception was ultimately important.
Years later after the neighborhood got a commercial television line I, recall one glorious evening when I was 15 years old standing on my grandmother’s front porch, my eyes piercing the moonlit sky. My grandparents had the TV’s volume up loud and the front porch door wide open as on this June 20, 1969 unforgettable night I was at least one of the people in the coal camp who believed there were men actually landing on the moon. Six hours later on June 21, we witnessed Neil Armstrong take that first step onto the lunar surface.
“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,’’ Armstrong said. We sat like the rest of the world, simply mesmerized. The following day and for days later, you could hear men and women at the company store and post office debating whether it was all real or some sort of hoax.
There was one group in the coal camp which somehow knew the moon landing was real. We were called simply the “porch sitters” because we sat nearly each day and night on theNo. 16 Island Creek company store porch just watching vehicles go by and solving the world’s problems and sometimes creating other local ones.
Some months back, we lost another “porch sitter”, and I, like many others I’m sure, never even knew he died until after it was too late. Jimmy Marcum, one of numerous children of Robert and Ora Marcum of 16 Camp at Verdunville, left us with only memories. There never was an obituary or even a death notice. The very day he was buried I received a rumor that he had died and tried to confirm it by calling Martha Sparks who does The Banner’s obituaries. She said she had received no word of his death, so I went to bed that night hoping the best. The next day his death was confirmed.
Jimmy, like everyone it seems in the Marcum family, had musical talent and could sing well. For those of us who really knew him, there could not be a better person. He left a young wife and plenty of family behind. He also left numerous memories with numerous friends.
This is the official good-bye, my friend.
BITS and PIECES
This newspaper has undergone so many changes in the last few years, that it’s downright confusing for me, much less the average reader……first, about 80 percent of the employees were let go, then everything went to computer; and even the finished product is printed in Ohio now and brought back here to be delivered……the Banner even sold its huge press which formerly was used to print the newspaper…..latest changes include a smaller width of the paper and now the font size is changed; the result of all this being less room for stories and/or photos……I actually like the new style, which includes few continued stories from the front page, and larger photos; however, since most of the “stuff” I now write used to (late 70s early 80s) fit on a quarter page of the paper, it now is almost too much for one page and Martha Sparks, who is the paper’s Editor whether the company knows it or not, has a hard time fitting me in……so, although I don’t know how one could write (for instance) another’s life story, etc., in just a few paragraphs, I will in the future try to shorten my work……I believe you either like a school subject or you don’t …..for instance, nothing can be done to make me enjoy studying, let’s say, calculus……however, I believe there are ways to make a calculus student interested in history, especially local history……having said that, am I the only person who believes local history should be taught in county schools, if not offered as an elective at the college level at SWVCC?…..wouldn’t you like to know just how many Native American skeletons were found when the village of what is now Logan was first becoming a reality?…..there are microfilm articles which tell us about graves uncovered at both the former Aracoma and Pioneer sites and more recently additional exhumations at the Pioneer location……wonder how many people know that Honaker Funeral Home in Logan was built in 1895 and was originally the home of Logan Circuit Judge John B. Wilkinson who died in 1919……when the home was being built, eleven Indian skeletons were uncovered……no wonder some say Logan is a “dead” place—- most of the town is a cemetery…..with school starting, don’t forget to be extra careful, especially near schools and stopped buses…..speeding in a school zone is a minimum $100 fine……also, remember that cell phone use while driving is a flat $100 fine with no mercy…..I’ve almost been struck five different times by those talking or texting while driving…..FINAL NOTE: I think it’s great that the LEAD organization has been garnering shoes for needy children for school. In 1936 and for many years later, Logan County Boy Scout troops and other civic minding organizations did the same thing.