The House On Grassy Creek
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by Frank Shortt
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It was just a shotgun affair, as more room was needed, dad added on a room here and there. Eight of dad’s ten children were born there.
When we left for greener pastures, there was a kitchen, three small bedrooms, and a living room. In back was a service porch where
mom did the washing, ironing, and the children played on rainy days.
Our neighbor on the other side of Highway 460, was Fawn Chambers,
who was the neighborhood midwife. She delivered most of the first eight children and named them too. She must have grown weary as
our family grew and grew. Mrs. Chambers owned quite a few acres in the Shortt Gap area, left to her by her husband Tom, who died pretty
young. She raised a passel of mischievous boys and girls, and it is a wonder she lived to the ripe old age that she attained. She
must have been in her nineties when she finally went to meet her Maker.
Dad had a little coal mine just above our house, and through
the years he probably wished he had discovered the coal before he built the house. I know that mom surely did, because she washed
out many buckets of coal dust from her children’s clothes, as well as, dad’s mining clothing. It seems there were hardier stock in
the late 1930’s and early 1940’s when I was born.
Dad was what was called by Union men, a ‘scab’ miner. This was due to his being
independent and not joining the union set up for miners of the area of Shortt Gap. Sometimes food and clothing was hard to get when
scab coal was difficult to sell. The only store, at that time, was a small independent grocery/department store affair run by Mr.
Irby Altizer. This is where we bought our groceries, shoes, and our Wrangler jeans. Levis were unheard of in that part of the country
until about the 1960’s. When we could not get Wranglers, mom ordered our clothing from the Sears, Spiegel, or Montgomery Ward’s catalogs.
Our bibbed overalls were from wherever we could rake and scrape them. Mr. Altizer never refused my dad any purchase he made, even
if he had no money at the time. He was a man among men!
When money ran scarce, dad would gather all his family around the old naugahide
couch, and say, “young-uns, we’d better pray, let’s ask God to meet our needs!” Many times, after these devotions, someone would appear
with a truck demanding some ‘customer coal’! Oftentimes, the person would have been waiting since before daybreak.
Our Great Uncle
Joe was the one in the neighborhood who nicknamed all the children, most often from one trait or another that the child manifested.
He had a name for all dad’s kids, as well as, our cousins, names like; Smoss, Truth, New Gene Rachel D., Skunk, Cob-a-Lily, Wilkie
and Flossie! He sat on a big flat rock each day up by the Shortt Gap Post Office chewing plug or bag tobacco, and his girlfriend
was Eva Lowe.
The little house was probably no more than a hundred yards from Grassy Creek. How many times we neighborhood children
would dam up that creek for a swimming hole. None of us knew the first thing about swimming so our method was called the ‘mud crawl’!
And crawling in the mud was what we did, because the first time anyone hit the water, up came the silt and coal dust at the bottom.
It is a miracle that the Polio virus did not hit our area sooner than it did, not to mention that most folk’s outhouses were not far
from the creek. TMI!
One hot morning in July, My sister Ruthann (called Rootie) by her siblings, came up with a bright idea! “Let’s
make us a lemonade stand” she cried! I was all for that as we never had spending money. We figured that the coal truck drivers along
460 would probably be real thirsty after driving in the heat from the coal mines down in Buchanan County. Several days before this
event dad had brought home some slab lumber from the Rose sawmill up in Baptist Valley. As children think, we figured this would be
ideal for making our lemonade stand and all we needed was three good-sized pieces to make our table. The piece we chose was a longer
one that we needed so I chose to mark it with dad’s double-bitted axe. “Right there should fit the bill,” I exclaimed! Rootie showed
me the spot to mark it just as the axe descended. A piece of Rootie’s finger then lay under a peach tree in our yard. Consequences,
Consequences, Consequences when dad arrived home!
Bill Chambers, son of Ira, came out to our place one hot morning. He told us of
a wonderful hiding place for his father’s stash of moonshine. Bill, and my brother, Wendell decided to raid the hiding place. Moonshine
has the quality of being clearer even than water, so to replace the ‘shine’ in Ira’s jug, they poured polluted Grassy Creek water
back in the jug. The water came from out of Mr. Altizer’s deserted mine. I too, drank a little, but Bill and Wendell drank more than
their share! They whooped and hollered most all the day, Bill passing out in the outhouse, and Wendell under the hill below the house.
We poured gallons of rainwater over these two delinquents, from a barrel used to catch water for washing purposes. They finally sobered
up before our parents arrived from their places of visiting. My sister Frances bribed us for many days and got us to do many chores
by just pretending to drink from a cup!
We got our heater coal from one of the local tipples at hand. Wendell stood up on top of the
tipple and yelled, “The Tipple is full”. Just as he yelled, he threw a lump of coal down below, fracturing our Brother Raleigh’s skull!
Children heal fast, and soon, we were right back doing our regular routines.
During summer, between chores, we built countless log
cabins, swung on grapevine swings, played in the slate dumps, and played in rainy days in the loft of the barn. I was never so homesick
for a place than when we left Grassy Creek to move up to Shack Ridge. I would often dream of the place with fondness, hoping that
someday dad would grow tired of Shack Ridge and decide to move back down by the creek. But alas, he had sold the place to cousin Arch,
who eventually sold it to Lee Burke, who resides there to this day. I often wondered if the Burke family had found the happiness that
the Shortts had found while living, what I thought was the life of Riley, down by little Grassy Creek! If he found more happiness
than me, he would have to move to another place!