Daddy said he grew up “rough as a hickory nut.” He was born in 1918 in “Bloody Harlan,” KY where men often settled arguments with the guns they toted. Pine coffins, built and stacked in the town’s hardware store, waited for the undertaker.
From a family of coal miners, he followed suit. He worked in mining camps with names like Yancey, Arjay, Turkey Pen, Blanche, and Cow Branch.
I can see him on a typical workday when he heads to the mines before first light, before a rooster crows, before morning glories open their blooms. Sometimes two or three gaunt dogs follow him, whining for attention. All strays, he has tended to their worms, their mange and wounds. He treats them like pedigrees.
His work boots crunch along a well-worn path. His lunch pail, with bologna sandwiches and a Moon Pie, thumps against his leg as he heads down one mountain and up another. When he enters a labyrinth of dark, damp tunnels, he splashes through rancid water. A tiny carbine lamp clamped onto his cap casts a golden glow on the dust suspended in the air. When he reaches his workstation he sets his lunch bucket nearby and places a rock on its lid to keep the rats out. Timbers creak and groan overhead.
As a child, I knew nothing of the dangers he faced.
Somehow he found time to show my sister and me the beauty of summer storms rumbling over the mountains, a pink lady slipper poking through a brown-leaf carpet, and he planted cotton in our hillside garden—so we could see it, touch it, compare it to the textbook drawing.
Often he interceded for his two girls. One summer day, we built a clubhouse and nailed it to one side of our home. Since daddy worked long hours, as did Mother as manager of the camp’s commissary, we basically entertained ourselves—after finishing our chores. That evening Mother surveyed our construction and said it must come down at once, if not sooner. Daddy said, “Now, Edith, look what a good job they did and I bet they have blisters on every finger. Let them keep it up a day or two.” And so we did.
That was my daddy. He was both a gentle man and a gentleman. He loved the simple things of life, his family, Juicy Fruit gum, the Kentucky Wildcats, and pinto beans and cornbread.
Many were blessed with his presence on this earth for 93 years.