Ok, so we’re a week into the 2020 New Year, and as we embark upon what surely will consist of visual encounters of many kinds, I am reminded of the days not that long ago when the first born child of the New Year at what was then Logan General Hospital received a multitude of gifts from local businesses, as well as a photo and write-up in The Logan Banner.
I’m not sure when that tradition started in the newspaper, or when it ended, but I have found stories all the way back into the 1930s in which the first born child in Logan was honored with gifts for both the mother and child. The gifts were quite nice — from baby beds to strollers, to cases of evaporated milk.
My grandmother raised nine children and my mother managed to take care of seven of us “kids” until we all finally “flew the coop,” so to speak. Looking back on things, nearly everybody had a rather large family when I was growing up, and today I am amazed at just how a mother could handle a “bunch” of kids, especially in a coal camp house.
Feeding and clothing children was a full-time job for a mother, who likely didn’t have disposable diapers, at least not before about 1950. Even then, most mothers in southern West Virginia continued to use cloth diapers throughout the 1960s, likely because they wondered what they were supposed to do with the used plastic ones, since there was no garbage service in the area — start their own landfill? At least the cloth diapers could be washed and reused.
Most people I knew when I was growing up had clothes lines in their yards and washed clothes were hung on the line with wooden clothes pins holding the clothing to the plastic line in order to dry the clothing. I remember seeing many cloth diapers hanging from clothes lines throughout the coal camp in which I was raised. What some people may not know is that mothers with multiple children would use a large pan to boil the soiled diapers in before hanging them out to dry. Some built a fire underneath wash tubs outside for the boiling process, while others used large kettles on stoves inside the homes.
Before delving into the reason for this particular writing, permit me to throw some history bones to you. For instance, in ancient European days, children did not receive a fresh diaper for around four days, with the squares of cloth used as diapers tied around a baby’s stomach. Of course, every group of people had their own types of diapers.
For instance, American Indians used the soft insides of milkweed — which is a wild edible plant that grows here in Appalachia — to pack around their babies before strapping them onto a “papoose board.” Eskimo mothers gathered moss during the short summer months and put it inside of animal skins in which they carried their babies.
During World War II, when many mothers were busy working at defense plants manufacturing airplanes, tanks and submarines instead of being home washing dirty diapers, actual diaper services became popular. Cotton diapers would be delivered to homes. It is said that families would gather around the radio in the evenings to listen to such things as the Grand ‘Ole Opry, and to fold diapers.
Families that were not able to afford an adequate supply of clean diapers often were forced to leave their babies in a single diaper all day, the result often being diaper rash, stress on the parents and excessive crying, which statistically has led to be the number one cause of child abuse.
As for myself, I have never claimed to be a wonderful parent, but I can certainly appreciate those mothers and fathers who managed to properly take care of their children, which is why I offer the following story. It’s about a Logan County woman who, quite frankly, must have been an amazing woman for not only did she produce the first baby of the New Year in 1944 in the midst of World War II, but at the still tender age of 38, her eight-pound baby girl named Ruth was the 16th child of Mrs. Nathan Curry of Barnabus, which is near Omar.
Undoubtedly, with 16 offspring born to the Curry family, it is likely that many of the Curry descendants can still be found in Logan and probably Mingo counties; perhaps, we might later hear from some of them. For now, though, here’s the story as reported some 76 years ago.
Not only was Mrs. Curry honored as giving birth to the county’s first child, but the infant’s birth was given even more significance because she became the 16th child in the family, all of whom were living.
Married twice, her first husband being deceased, The Banner reported that Mrs. Curry had three sons serving in the U.S. Army and was a grandmother four times over. Five of the children, including the three soldiers, were born during her first marriage, and the other 11 since she married Mr. Curry, a 51-year-old employee of West Virginia Coal and Coke Corporation.
The Banner reported that all of her last children had been delivered at home under the supervision of Mrs. Dora Harmon of Barnabus without the aid of a doctor.
Described as a child bride, Mrs. Curry’s first baby was born July 10, 1919, when she was 14 years of age. The child, Mrs. Frances Neece of Braeholm, was the mother of two children in 1944, according to the newspaper account. Orville Perry, at the time serving in the army, was the second eldest of her children, born May 5, 1921, and is the father of one of Mrs. Curry’s grandchildren, Mrs. Gladys Chafin of Pigeon Creek, born Oct. 10, 1922; she too had a child in 1944.
The fourth child of her first marriage, Ernest Perry, was born March 8, 1924, and the fifth, Ira Lee Perry, on March 22, 1925. Orville, Ernest and Ira Lee Perry are the three sons listed as being in the military during the war.
The first child born during her second marriage was Harley Curry, whose birth date is June 29, 1926. Other children by the same marriage were listed as Pressie Lavada, Feb. 1, 1928; Susan Maxine, Sept, 20, 1929; Nancy Elma, Jan. 28, 1931; Freeland Elmer, May 7, 1932; Raymond Willard, Feb. 18, 1934; Dennie Bradford, June 1, 1935; Marie, Dec. 11, 1937; Edith, Aug. 19, 1939; Betty Gale, April 19, 1941; and Ruth, who was the newborn child on Jan. 1st.
It is possible Mrs. Curry could even later have had more children, but the answer to that may have to come perhaps from one of the many descendants, some of which we hope will take notice of this column.
In the meantime, to all of you single-digit mothers out there, may I suggest that you thank the Lord for your babies and, of course, for disposable diapers, which — by the way — are now causing major landfill problems since the diapers do not disappear for 500 years.
Maybe it’s time to invest in a clothes line.
BITS and PIECES
We’re now just four days away from the beginning of the filing for the May Primary Election, which will include many important offices, including the presidency of the United States. Offices of interest include the State Senate and House of Delegates, as well as at least one Board of Education seat. Other local government offices that potential candidates could file for include assessor; sheriff, county commission and magistrate.
Although there are a great deal of rumblings as to who is going to do what, I can tell you that one outstanding legacy will be coming to an end, as Magistrate Leonard Codispoti, an icon known statewide in the legal system, has made it clear that he will NOT be seeking another term.
Leonard, perhaps the top campaigner and vote-getter ever in Logan County, is currently in his 38th year of service as a Logan County magistrate and can never truly be replaced, simply because the good Lord above truly broke the mold when his amazing mother brought him into this world.
Most people do not know this, but years ago when I was a writer with The Logan Banner, I did separate interviews and consequent stories with both Leonard and his mother and father. His brother, Pete and I played softball and graduated together from Logan High School, while his brother, Joe, and I played softball together during the 1980s. In fact, I know the entire family and think highly of them all.
I suppose, as time goes on, I will again eventually sit down with a guy I’ve worked with now for 19 years and retrieve his thoughts about an ever-changing legal system that he has endured probably longer than any magistrate in West Virginia. His story should be interesting, to say the least.
Like so many other folks in southern West Virginia, whose ancestors came here as immigrants to mine coal, Codispoti has succeeded in contributing to the public cause — something that is not always appreciated.
It’s interesting to me that Leonard’s father was a coal miner, as was my father, as well as fellow magistrate Joe Mendez’s dad, who also is a former magistrate and the son or grandson of immigrants who came here decades ago to mine coal.
I want to make myself clear about Logan County Magistrate Court. If you choose to seek any of the seats in the dungeon of the Logan County Courthouse, know this: we are the least paid of all full-time county office holders, and we’ve already been told to not expect a pay raise for at least two years. And, be prepared to work all holidays and weekends. In addition, be prepared to be harassed at home, at the stores and by telephone — that’s just part of what comes with the stressful position where one sees nearly everything imaginable, from murder to incest and everything in between.
Most importantly, if you’re not willing to work diligently under constant scrutiny, and if you’re not willing to carry your own load in a cooperative manner, don’t waste the public’s time — because you will likely end up resigning the position anyway.
Until next week, keep in mind that we might need some real wintertime in order for us to truly appreciate the flowers of spring.