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by Frank Shortt
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Our larder always seemed to run low near the end of the month. Usually when
the winter snows were melting and mud was so deep the trucks couldn’t get to the tipple to haul the coal to Premier Hollow. Many times
an unsuspecting truck driver would show up and try to haul several tons of coal only to end up axle deep in the ever increasing muddy
ruts left by previous haulers. We’d waste several stacks of mine props to try and give the truck enough footing and traction to pull
itself out of the hole.
Such were times on Shack Ridge, where dad determined
to start a new life and a new truck mine, to support the remainder of his ten ‘young’uns’. We had moved up to Shack Ridge from Grassy
Creek, built a new boxed house, and dad had discovered a seam of six feet of Red Ash coal.
“We’ll do right well once this thing takes off, dad had assured mom, not once but so many times I lost count. That’s the biggest seam
of Red Ash coal I’ve seen in many a year. We should be on easy street once the winter breaks and we can once again sell some coal.”
“That is if we don’t all starve or freeze to death,” mom murmured under her
breath. You know that Frankie and E.L. need shoes, Carol’s dresses are nothing but old rags, and I’d sure like to have something besides
soup beans and cornbread for a change.”
“Don’t worry, Stell, we’ll have
plenty by and by. I’m sure that the Lord didn’t lead us up here just to let us die in the wilderness. I’m lookin’ at His Promise.
He said in His Word that if we were obedient to Him, He wouldn’t allow the Destroyer to come nigh our dwelling!”
This seemed to allay mom’s fears for the present.
Wendell and I had slaved
pretty hard to cut those stacks of timber. They were to be used as mining props to keep the slate top from falling on dad and Sherman
Whited as they toiled in working the mine. When we saw them being used for footing, to get the coal truck out, our hopes of new shoes
and shirts for school faded into nothingness. Of course, we knew from dad’s incessant preaching, that God was more than able to supply
all our needs. The truck was finally released and the coal was on the way to Premier Hollow. The actual location was what we referred
to as “up Fork Ridge”. The only problem we knew to exist at this time was that it took almost a month to receive the actual payment
for the load of coal, and the hauler had to be paid! By the time dad’s share was realized, there was very little left.
“Well, looks like we’ll be in business pretty soon!” dad said, trying to sound cheery.
He knew full well that the result of one load of coal wasn’t going to lighten the load of supplying food and clothing to seven hungry
and needy children.
Snow began to fall on Friday night, further dimming our
hopes of relief. Mom became irritable on top of the fact that we would all be housebound for the next few days if something didn’t
happen pretty soon.
Saturday morning showed no signs of clearing and the snow
was already a foot deep. The snow storm was what was referred to as a “wet one” which means that the snow wasn’t of the dry variety,
but contained enough moisture to cling to the tree branches and clothesline wires, etc. giving the illusion of well decorated trees
in preparation for Christmas. All of us being used to such happenings, we were secretly glad because this would give us a chance to
get up to the top of the garden with dad’s old wooden ladder and try to slide down to the bottom using the ladder for a multiple sled.
Most of us usually ended up in a snow drift before we reached the bottom. The ones who weren’t thrown off on the way down were jarred
off as the ladder struck the road at the bottom. We counted this great fun, even though at the time, we were actually performing a
pretty dangerous act considering all things. We also had to face mom after going inside with our wet jeans and “jump jackets”.
“Boy, this is gonna be some storm,” dad opined as he stomped the snow from his old mining boots.
He had been out trying to shovel a path to the outhouse which served as restroom and prayer closet.
“Yeah, the weatherman on WNRG said we could expect at least two feet from this storm,” mom replied with mournfulness. This means we
won’t be able to get up to Irby Altizer’s store even if we had any money to spend after we got there. We owe him so much now, I’m
sure he won’t give us any more credit.”
Dad let her finish her complaints,
then with a gentle voice said, “I’ve just had a visit with Someone who can change things around here, and He has never let me down
yet. I’m confident that help is on the way.”
Mom knew then that Dad had
been talking to Someone in his ‘prayer closet’.
The expected two feet
of snow wasn’t realized but there must have been about eighteen inches from the storm. This was only on the higher reaches. As soon
as the storm subsided, the cold North wind began to come in, a usual thing following a snowstorm. Where the snow had been soft and
mushy, now ice began to form on the upper portions. This made it even harder to travel any distance without just plain wearing oneself
out. Most of our day was spent by the old “Warm Morning” heater playing games or listening to the battery radio. Our favorite programs
on Saturdays were the cartoons of Tweety and Sylvester, Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam, pronounced Yo-see-mite Sam. We had never heard
of Yosemite National Park in California. We had barely heard of California. If we had been to Raven or Richlands, only a few miles
away, we thought we had been to the Big City.
Yes, the cartoons that were later
on T.V. were actually first played on Radio. We could envision every escapade of our favorite cartoon characters. Children today have
missed a great segment of history that would have honed their imaginations for years to come. We could make every sound that was produced
on the programs we listened to in those days. Oh boy, did things change when Mr. Pruitt, our neighbor, bought a T.V. We almost drove
him nuts every night as we could sneak down the hill and stay so late that he would turn to Rosella, his wife, and say wryly, “ I
guess we’d better go to bed I think these folks wanta go home”.
We were oblivious
to hints in those early days of television. We’d watch it until the station signed off and then sit staring at the station symbol.
[Usually a cross in a circle with the stations call letters in the middle] What a time!
Another pastime was playing mom’s old 78rpm spiritual records. There was the Chuck Wagon Gang, The Brown’s Ferry Four, The Johnson
Family Singers, The Kings Men, and a slew of others that have long escaped my mind. We learned every word of every song on those old
records. I suppose that between those records and Grace Wooldridge, our music teacher at school, we all became decent singers. Wendell,
my older brother, and I were very tender in those days. We would sing those old hymns and tears would well up in our eyes until it
became difficult to continue singing. This usually happened when we were traveling home from one of the many “tent meetings” in the
back of dads old ‘53 Ford.
Dinner, consisting of, you guessed it, Corn bread
and soup beans, came to an end. We were all sitting around the table discussing a myriad of subjects when all of a sudden we heard
a scratching at the side door. Our first thought was, it must be one of the cats from the barn who had gotten out and wanted to come
into the house for warmth.
“Oh, let him get back into the barn where he belongs,!”
mom cried as she could not stand to have any animal in her house, which by the way, was always swept and garnished to the highest
degree of cleanliness. Cleaning was mostly done by one or more of her children. I can remember spending many toilsome hours cleaning
a certain area of the house only to be told, “lick your calf over, Frankie,” which meant to attempt to do it again. To this day that
saying rings in my ears when I have tried my best only to end up not achieving my goal. I suppose most “country children have heard
that motivating speech at one time or another. I suppose that was what urged me to try to “better” myself as I moved through life.
I have never turned down an opportunity to make an honest dollar.
the sound emanated from the side door. This time it sounded more like a dull thud.
“Must be “old Mike” trying to get in, dad said with chagrin.
Old Mike was our
“He’s probably tired of sleepin’ under the porch and wants to hump
up behind the “Warm Mornin” for a while”.
Mike had been traded to dad probably
for a couple of chickens. He was supposed to be a “rabbit dog” but we found out the first time a gun went off that Mike was “gun shy”
making it impossible for him to ever be any good for hunting rabbits. Soon as a gun went off he fled to his favorite haunt underneath
I remember one summer day Mike was laying out in front of the house
in the sunlight with his four feet hanging over the edge of the ruts made by the passing coal trucks. Ira Chambers was coming out
the road with a load of coal and not seeing Mike lying in the roadway he just continued along his merry way. His truck ran over all
four of Mike’s feet pushing them down into the soft sand in the bottom of the rut. Mike got up, shook himself off and trotted off
as if nothing had happened.
“Well, if we’re gonna find out who or what’s at
the door, I guess we’d better get up and look” mom said as she moved toward the door.
As she flung the door open, there lying at her feet was Uncle Clar, half frozen, icicles hanging to his beard, almost unconscious
from the cheap liquor he had consumed that morning.
Mom cried out in
amazement, “what in the world are you doing out in this storm! You’d almost have to be crazy to be out on a day like this. Ed, help
me get Clar inside. He’ll need some thawing out after this ordeal.”
Clar just lay there in a helpless state, and all he could say was, “Stell, Something told me you needed some money, so I brought you
That was a lot of money when I was growing up.
He had crawled all the way up the old dirt road, one half mile, to bring us sustenance because “Something” had told him we were in
I left to enter the Air Force when I turned eighteen. I never took
a furlough until seventeen months after I left home. Meanwhile, Uncle Clar continued to drink every weekend. He’d work in the coal
mine all week like a slave and at the end of the week he’d spend every penny on cheap beer or home brew made by one of mom’s cousins
up on Fork Ridge. This did not prevent him from showing up at mom’s door several times with the same message each time, “Something
told me you all needed money”, and you know what? He was right every time. Needless to say, he was my favorite uncle. I was heartbroken
when I got the news, two weeks too late, that he had taken his own life. He was only in his early thirties! He was a veteran of World
War 2, serving in the Philippines. His life after the service was one drinking binge after another. He gained the peace he sought
by taking a shortcut.
His message of “Something told me” will forever
ring in my ears as assurance that God keeps His Word even if he uses the actions of a weekend binge drinker to carry out His will.
What a great lesson for all of us to remember.