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Moving day! We were leaving the only home I had ever known. That coal camp, with all the
coal dust, dingy sheets, bad drinking water, and the company story looked mighty good to a seven year old girl. They said, “Now that
there is no man in the house and since he won’t be working in the mine any more, you’ll have to find another place to live. My daddy
had died in an accidental shooting down at Keen Mountain.
It was like we all had a bad
fever which prevented us from moving fast. The old house with all the familiar smells, the narrow stairs, the cramped bathroom which
had to be used by everyone in the house, would be a thing of the past soon.
do we have to leave, my older sister, Nadine, asked. Why can’t we stay here? I’m gonna miss all my friends at school. I’m gonna miss
my teacher. I’m even gonna miss this dirty old house.”
Momma, known as Eva Gold to everyone
else, answered in a slow monotone; “Don’t worry, Nadine, and don’t talk so loud in front of the other girls. We are gonna make it
just fine. Your daddy had a pension plan that we can live on for a while, then, I plan to get a job at the county hospital to help
us through the hard times.”
The ‘other girls’ were Susie, then me, Anna, then the baby,
Alice. We were just like stair steps, one right after the other. The harsh Virginia mountain winters helped bring this about.
This was not a very reassuring answer to four waifs that had already known very hard times because their father gambled away all his
hard-earned money. We never knew how hard he had to slave underground for his meager wages, then to gamble most of it away was more
that we could bear. We used to see other fathers buying candy sticks and little frills for their daughters. Other girls used to get
a little doll at Christmas time. All we ever received at Christmas time was maybe an orange and some hard candy. Momma tried to make
do with what dad made at the mine, minus his gambling, but there never seemed to be enough food or clothing and there was never anything
extra. We sometimes went to bed with only flour and water gravy to satisfy our gnawing hunger. Sometimes men are not meant to be fathers,
it just happens.
We finally got moved into a new home, with help from Grandpa Counts.
The place was called Big Rock. If Grandpa had not helped us pay the rent sometimes, we would have been out on the streets. Our cupboards
stayed pretty bare back then as we had no extra money coming in. Kind neighbors would bring us a chicken once in a new moon. We ate
everything down to the bare bones, even the craw. Mom would crack the bones and we would scrape the marrow off them, as she often
said, “Marrow’s got a lot of calcium.”
Momma would plant a garden in the spring,
raising green onions, tomatoes, leaf lettuce, cabbage, carrots and potatoes. When the first tomatoes were ripe, we four girls would
be down in the garden weeding the patch. It was not unusual for us to make a sandwich of wrapping a sliced up tomato in a lettuce
leaf and eating it like a sandwich. Wild mustard grew alongside the small garden, and we also liked to get a leaf of that and wrap
it around a green onion for a little sustenance. When a stomach is empty, anything tastes like T-bone steak.
One warm summer afternoon Momma said she had to go to the town up the road. She did not say for what. When she would take these trips
she would always leave Nadine in charge. Nadine was sometimes stricter than Momma. If she said we were going to play house, we played
house. If she said we were going to sing, we sang. Most poor families get a lot of practice at singing. Local churches always invited
us as they figured we needed saving more than anyone else. The trouble was, when it came to helping us, they did not ever have enough
to help all the needy families around. I am sure they meant well though.
Momma had only
been gone an hour or so when we all became tired of what we were playing, I believe it was tag. Nadine said, “Let’s go in the house
and see if we can find something to eat. I’m sure there must be something around.” I am sure that if Momma would have wanted us to
eat, she would have told us about something she had left for us.
Entering the house, we
went first to the cupboard. Not a thing there. We searched under the dry sink. Nothing there! We looked under every bed. Not a scratch
of food could we find. We learned later that Momma had gone to the county to try and get some surplus handouts. Being good little
Christian girls we all held hands and prayed for a miracle. Nadine led us.
thank you for all our blessings. We thank you for our home to shelter us. Thank you for the dresses we wear. (They were pretty threadbare),
thank you for sending us some food to eat. Amen!” Dutifully, we all said ‘amen’.
After searching around some more, we finally went outside and found a small stepstool, just high enough for Nadine to look on the
two top shelves of the storage cabinet. Above that was a small cabinet that only Momma could reach and we had never dared to look
for anything up there.
Nadine searched carefully on the higher shelves all to no avail.
She tiptoed on the top step of the ladder, barely being able to reach the door of the little cabinet higher up.
Suddenly, her fingers touched something metal. Carefully she edged it to the front of the cabinet, being cautious not to shove it
back farther. Finally, she was able to rake it over the side of the cabinet, caught it, and descended the ladder with it.
The squarish, oblong can did not say Spam. Instead, Nadine read it for all of us, and we finally deduced that it was a can of ‘Treet
Meat’, the forerunner of Spam. Boy, did this whet our appetites. Nadine barely had the can opened before we were dipping our grimy
little fingers into this luscious feast. We did not know that Momma was saving this can for a special occasion, probably one of our
birthdays. Besides, we did not care what she was saving it for. We ate every drop of it, and licked the can. Our hearts pounded with
sheer delight. I am sure that no other meal had ever tasted so good to these four girls, and none ever tasted so good afterward.
That evening Momma returned home with some surplus cheese, some flour, beans, rice, and a bag of cornmeal. She had struck a bonanza!
We could eat for quite a few days on what she brought. In our little minds we knew that God had heard our prayers.
After a day, or so, Momma saw the empty Treet Meat can in the outside garbage can as she went to take the trash out. We watched her
pick it up and fondle it. When she came into the house she did not mention one word about the empty can. She knew, in her mother’s
heart, that something wonderful had happened when she went to the county that day. Treet Meat was always a delicacy at our home afterwards.