A Perfect Example
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As a fierce winter storm raged in the Appalachians with freezing winds, and intermittent
sleet and rain, a lone figure could be seen wending his way up Coal Creek. His one thought, to arrive at his warm shotgun shack where
all that really mattered awaited him. His blue denim ‘Duckhead’ overalls had already frozen about his legs, his brogan shoes, from
wading the frigid waters, were two blocks of ice. He had to ford Coal Creek because the path fell into the stream due to a long wet
winter. The other alternative was the unfinished automobile road which had become nothing but a swamp of mud.
He stood about five feet, eleven inches in his stockings, dark hair and blue eyes reflecting his heritage of Cherokee and Irish. He
wore the flannel shirt, blue denim overalls and Jump Jacket so indicative of his ken. Had one not known where he worked he would have
been mistaken for a person of African descent. He had labored ten hours in the Red Ash coal mine with hardly a break for dinner just
to earn enough money to feed his already growing family. His wages were about a dollar an hour. Coal dust clings like tar.
This was a time of hardship for most folk in and around Shortt Gap, Virginia in the County of Buchanan. Except for scant farming the
only other means of making a living was coal mining. The men who had the foresight to buy small businesses in the area kept alive
by draining the populace dry by charging two prices for every article. Some even ran ‘Bootleg Whiskey’ industries from their squalid
storefronts. Such was the Sammons’ local market. This particular store was notorious for robbing men of their hard earned paychecks
for rotgut whiskey and home brew. They had no heart for the snot-nosed children who waited anxiously for these men at home.
My father, Ed Short, as he was known to all who knew him, climbed up over Shortt Gap, entering into Buchanan County. He stopped, staring
at Sammon’s store, reflecting how that if God had not redeemed him, he would be going into that establishment for some liquid refreshment
and possibly passing out by their pot-bellied stove until they were forced to kick him out into the blinding storm.
As he stood reflecting, his mind wandered to the time that he was sent to prison on a trumped-up charge of having shot his own father.
He remembered how that his father, Jeff, had come staggering drunk to his little house and had demanded entrance to pick up his wife,
Eva, who had run to Dad’s house for safety. Dad had barred his way with a twelve-gauge shotgun, as the door had still not been hung
on the hinges. Grandpa had insisted that he be admitted so Dad shot through the wall to the side of the door to scare him away.
He cried, “Ed, you’ve shot me” and commenced to run up the hill to an old beech tree under which he collapsed.
A younger brother of
Ed’s was the first to reach him and saw that Grandpa had instead been shot in the back with a single bullet, not a shotgun. This was
not brought out in the trial because in those days a child’s testimony was not viable. A sheriff’s report at that time went the way
of political persuasion.
Dad served six months in the Richmond prison, along
with his brother, Andy, whom the populace insisted had abetted him in the crime. This was where Dad was introduced to the Word of
the Lord and where Andy contracted tuberculosis, eventually taking his life.
were not too popular in that community at the time because they were reputed to be a little too quick on the trigger. The reason;
Grandpa would get drunk, ride his horse up and down the creek and shoot at anything that moved. His name was used as the “boogieman”
that mothers used to scare their children with. “If you don’t behave I’ll turn you over to Jeff Short.
When Dad arrived back in Shortt Gap from Richmond, it took a few years for the local gentry to realize that he had amended his ways.
Some folks evaded meeting him. They shunned his children at the local church, and especially at Grimsleyville School. His boys had
to fight many battles because of a tarnished name, this was no fault of their own. Dad insisted that his children walk the chalk line
and enforced this with a thick mining belt. This is all he knew because of the way that Grandpa had raised him. He would be clobbered
with whatever lay handy and often went to school with bruises and cuts inflicted by a man who held little regard for his wife or his
children. Jeff’s every waking hour, since having suffered a nervous breakdown, was spent trying to accumulate enough money for whiskey
or women. Some say he had the breakdown due to the noise of Locust Year, which comes every seventeen years.
“Lord, I’m not even worthy for you to have visited me in prison,” Dad remembered, I’m just a castoff of humanity, nevertheless, I
will do my best to serve you ‘til I die.”
He trudged on home with a heavy heart knowing
what was going on in Sammon’s store. He vowed in his heart that he would somehow make a difference in this ungodly community.
Upon entering his little home, Dad at once began to shed his jacket, shoes and most of his clothes. My mother, Stella, already had
water heating on the cook stove for thawing Dad out and for his bath. They had no running water, no indoor bath, and no modern conveniences.
Bathing was done in a large round laundry tub. Water was usually heated, unless there was water in the tank, present in most wood-burning
cook stoves. Fortunately for him he had made sure there was plenty of wood and coal for the cook stove and the ‘Warm Morning Heater’
to last from the day before. Otherwise he would have to go out into the storm again to the woodshed and cut enough wood for another
day. Also, coal would have to be dragged down from the ‘coal bank’.
Soon Dad was warm and
fed and then began the incessant ‘tattling’ from one or the other of the children and sometimes from Stella. He had accepted this
as a daily ritual. He sometimes wondered if he had not come home who the tattling would be directed towards. Oftentimes he would become
angry and his ire would be directed toward whoever happened to be closest at the time. Raleigh, the oldest boy, suffered most of Ed’s
wrath in the early days.
One time in the nineteen fifties, Raleigh, known as Don, and some
Davis boys were playing in a field above the Davis’ house when all of a sudden I walked up into the corn field. Stubs of corn stalks
were still standing where the corn had been harvested and the stalks shocked for fodder. Raleigh pulled one of these stubs out and
was unaware that a rock had lodged in the prop roots. He threw the stub at me striking me in the collarbone. Of course, I screamed
bloody murder and began running down the hollow toward home. Raleigh followed me, not far behind, and when we arrived home, Dad had
just returned from work and was in no mood for an emergency.
“What’s wrong with you, Frankie?
Dad enquired, Are you dyin?”
“Don hit me with a rock on my shoulder and it is hurtin’ like
the dickens,” I informed him.
Dad felt my shoulder for a little bit and suddenly, without
any ado, he snapped the collar bone back into place. After taking care of the emergency he turned to Don, pulling his thick mining
belt from his pants, began to strike him several times across the back. I hurt more from the pain inflicted on Don than from the damaged
collarbone. The affected member was sore for a few days but left no lasting effects.
Dad grew in grace and admonition of the Word of God, he began to mellow toward his children. Beatings became fewer and fewer and except
for a few spats between him and Mom, peace reigned in the Short household.
elapsed. Dad worked like a quarry slave all day and preached mostly every night. Many books could be written about how he would be
called to someone’s bedside all hours of the night to pray for one person or the other. Many miracles were recorded from those days
of effort. He became a model citizen and stood in the Gap for over forty years as a witness for the Master. (Ed in Hebrew means Witness).
The High Sheriff of Buchanan County paid him a great honor when he told him, “Ed, if the
whole County were as peaceful as up in your end, I would be out of a job.”
years I was witness to all that transpired in the Short household. When I was inducted into the Air Force in 1960, I still had a healthy
respect for Dad and his temper. I am told that after I left, Dad became much mellower. When I would go home on a leave or a visit
after getting out of the Air Force, Dad was a different man. This was a witness to me that Redemption is possible even in the hardest
men because ‘Salvation belongs to God’.
When Dad died in June of 1986, I was at the funeral.
There was one of the longest lines of automobiles that I had ever witnessed in that locale. After the funeral in Richlands, Virginia,
the caravan wended its way over to Shortt Gap for Dad’s final resting place. He was buried in a plot on a little plateau above the
house he had built with his own hands. This was just below Shack Ridge. The dirt road leading up to the old home place is one-half
mile long. Folks parked all along the road all the way up and walked the rest of the way to the cemetery plot. There were cars parked
almost all the way up to the Shortt Gap post office which is over a mile away on U.S. Route 460.
As we sat in dad’s yard in hickory bottom chairs, after the funeral, I overheard two elderly ladies from Dad’s church commenting about
“What are we to do now?” one asked.
“Who’s gonna come and pray for us now that Brother Short is gone” the other inquired.
My righteous indignation got the better of me when I heard this.
“You’re gonna put
into practice all that he has been teaching you for the last forty years!” I assessed.
The two could only sit there with gaping mouths.