Thanksgiving, an Everyday Celebration
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by Frank Shortt
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Imagine not having any assurance of where the next meal was coming from. Imagine watching the muddy road leading up to our house for
any coal truck, any produce truck from neighboring towns, or just any individual needing customer coal for the winter.
Our house sat
just about a hundred yards from Grassy Creek in Buchanan County, Virginia, a little section called Shortt Gap. Edward Shortt my Dad,
was as were most men in our neighborhood, a coal miner. At the time of this story, around the late 1940's, he happened to own a little
truck mine that he and my Uncle Elmer operated. They usually sold enough coal to be able to pay the local store what was owed, and
to be able to buy clothes for dad's eight children and Uncle Elmer's three children at that time.
Getting enough coal in the tipple,
which sat above and to the right of our house, was a superhuman effort as these two brothers slaved like boat rowers on an ancient
Roman battle ship. After filling the tipple as full as it could be filled, then the long wait began to see who would be first to arrive
to purchase the black gold! The problem with the operation was that these two miners were truck mine operators and were referred to
by Union miners as "Scab Miners". They did not have a scheduled way to dispose of the coal they mined. This was mostly by word of
mouth by satisfied customer who passed the word that these men were honest and could be depended on to sell a ton of coal that was
not mostly slate rock. Some mine owners were not as dependable in that effort. When coal was not in demand, the cupboards were pretty
I was taken into the garden plot at about 5 years old to begin learning how to grow vegetables for our table. The corn area
had to be cleared of rocks and brush before it could be plowed. This was known as a 'newground'. We cleared many newgrounds as we
moved our plots around in those times. My job, at that early age was to throw the rocks down toward the creek and pile the brush in
a corner for burning. Dad had enough knowledge of farming to know that crops must be rotated occasionally in order to produce more
of a crop from the over-used earth. There was not usually enough remnants left over to revitalize the plot as the leftovers rotted.
We ate everything we grew out of necessity. My mother, Stella, canned everything in sight to carry us through the harsh Appalachian
winters. By springtime, most everything she had canned in the fall was just about gone. During berry season the Blackberry and Raspberry
briars were totally bare around the perimeter of our garden plot. Little Grassy Creek provided a lot of food in those days as berry
vines grew along its fertile edges. Some edible greens grew there also providing us with a diversion, especially in the spring when
branch lettuce, poke stalk, and wild mustard flourished.
Thanksgiving Day was a daily ritual! We did not wait until November to celebrate
a certain day. Each time we had enough food to feed dad's large brood was a cause for celebration. Any clothes, shoes, or store bought
food purchased was a special time to rejoice! (The Shortt children wore their shoes until the soles could not be repaired anymore,
or they were outgrown by the owner.) This necessitated passing them down to the next older child. We were allowed one pair of rough
brogans per year and if by reason of wear the soles became thin and holes showed up, we would oftentimes put cardboard in the inside
to keep the rocks from puncturing our feet. I still take great care of my shoes because of my early training to be extra careful of
my body coverings!
When an old coal truck arrived at our door in winter, we rejoiced and thanked the Giver of all Gifts! Sometimes
these were days apart and many prayers went up in our household for that occasional produce truck from Bluefield or Roanoke to show
up. These could hold the most coal and then there were ample funds to buy what we needed.