It was the summer of 1972 and the almost unbearable scorching heat was taking its toll on the “boys of summer” — better known as the “Porch Sitters.”
Most of us who had spent nearly our entire lifetimes congregating every day and night on the concrete porch of Island Creek Coal Company’s No. 16 store could find little solace in swallowing down an RC Cola on this unusually stagnant day. Like myself, then an 18-year-old just fresh back from my first year at a previously unknown world called the campus of Marshall University, most of us had become what has been defined as “young” men.
Some of the older fellows had left for greener pastures such as Detroit, Flint, and Pontiac, Michigan, as well as places like Columbus, Ohio, Chicago, Illinois, and other cities where certain manufacturing jobs existed. A few of my Porch Sitting buddies even wound up in Defiance, Ohio, working for Campbell’s Soup and whatever corporation that owned it.
Also, some of the older guys were doing stints in the military.
I have always been told that when a person applied for a job in most of the above mentioned locations, especially Columbus, and it became known the individual was from Logan County, the person would automatically be hired. It seems that Loganites’ zeal to earn money provided a good working reputation. This scenario probably applied as well to most of southern West Virginia.
The recent death of West Virginia native Bill Withers applies to 1972, too, because his No. 4 chart-rated song “Lean on Me” is listed as one of the greatest songs of that year. That’s saying a lot, considering there were some great songs that year: “Superstition,” “Rocket Man,” “Burning Love,” “Walk on the Wild Side,” “Reeling in the Years,” “Back Stabbers,” “Listen to the Music,” “Superfly,” “Crocodile Rock,” “Saturday in the Park,” “Time in a Bottle” and many more.
Showing at the various local theaters in 1972 were some great movies such as “Cabaret” and two of my favorites, “The Candidate” and “The Godfather.” All things considered, it was a good year; just a very hot and humid summer.
So it was that I had only been home about a week when my brother, Chris, told me he and some of the guys had been frequently “cooling off” by going swimming at an abandoned pond near 22 Holden and that they were planning another visit this same sweltering blue-sky day.
I don’t recall the reasoning behind not going to the swimming pool at Chief Logan State Park, but it could have been a lack of money factor, or perhaps, more likely, just the idea of being totally void of any other human beings. Indeed, the tranquil looking pond was a good distance from humanity.
I remember having to climb up a slate dump, which meant you took one step forward and slid back two more, to reach the perceived destination.
By the time we reached the water, grimy sweat was dripping from all of us. I cannot remember all of the names of the guys who made the journey that fateful day, but there were five or six of the Porch Sitters, nearly all of whom wasted no time diving into the cool waters and swimming to the other side of the pond, where a rope hung from a limb of a large oak tree.
For whatever reason, my brother and I lingered, as the other fellows reached the opposite side of what really appeared to be a very clear lake.
Although I had spent many summers at the former Holden swimming pool that once existed near what is now the Logan Regional Cancer Center on the Holden Road, it had been several years since I had been swimming — and not being the most talented swimmer in the world anyway — I tested the water by wading into it before trying to swim across. My brother stood behind me when I suddenly went under by stepping off of what seemed like an underwater cliff.
Admittedly, I panicked, as I seemed to never stop sinking. I honestly have no idea just how long I was under the water before I felt an arm around my neck. What I can say without any reservation is that it just wasn’t my time to die.
It’s difficult to explain what I can recall about the situation, but what I positively know is that I saw every second of my life replayed in front of me like a lightning-fast projected movie. While I was mesmerized by this, I realized I was in what appeared to be a long white tunnel, and I was moving toward an opening that was a long way off. It was a very tranquil feeling. In fact, it seemed so peaceful, I didn’t want to stop my traveling toward the light.
From there, all I remember is slumping to my knees on a little sandy beach and trying desperately to hold on to those millions of memories I had just witnessed.
The remembrance left my mind so quickly I could not recall anything of what I had seen.
I have heard similar stories of people who have had near death experiences and what they may have encountered. Although I cannot speak for anyone else, what I can tell you is that it truly happened to me. It was a surreal experience that leaves me wondering even today why I was spared.
One of my favorite movies is “It’s A Wonderful Life,” which traditionally is televised every Christmas holiday season. In the movie, as most people know, George Bailey, who attempts suicide, is shown by his Guardian Angel (Clarence) what life would be without him. He is shown what would have happened had George (Jimmy Stewart) not been around to save his brother’s (Harry) life.
I, in no way, have ever considered myself special, and I’m certainly no theologist, but God, or a higher power of some sort, intervened in my life for some reason unknown to me.
And I will not question the reason why.
There were at least three drownings that summer of ’72 in the very same waters that I could have perished in. I remember one of the guys who died there was found with his hands stuck in the coal silt and sludge at the bottom of the abandoned pond, having dived head-first from the swinging rope I mentioned earlier. The deaths came just months after a breaking slurry pond took well over 100 lives in another part of the county — Buffalo Creek.
I do not know what my mission in this life has been, or maybe still is. Someday, I’m sure, I’ll find out.
Nevertheless, I should tell you that too many of the “Porch Sitters” have left us with only our fortunate memories, including my Guardian Angel, Chris, the brother who saved my life. Perhaps he had fulfilled his designated duties, when he departed this life at a tender age, leaving two small children and a loving wife.
Already departed former Porch Sitters include, my brother, Chris; Tommy, Billy and Bobby Hall; Jack and David “Pig” Hensley; Gloria, Kay, Tolbert and Jimmy Marcum; Michael and Pat Petroff; Delbert McCloud; Ralph “Eddie” Tomblin; Frank Hanks; Kenny and Jack Tomblin; Harold “Stiney” Evans; Albert “Shot” Burgess; Harold Lee Evans; Ronald Belcher, Michael Burton, Linda (McAllister) Hall, Tom Back, and Jerry Adams; and likely several others who preceded my age group.
I will simply leave you with this quote from Clarence from “It’s A wonderful Life”:
“One man’s life touches so many others, when he’s not there it leaves an awfully big hole.”
We shall all meet on the other side ...