Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Battle Still Rages - 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

This past week was the anniversary of the Battle of Blair Mountain.  In honor of that battle, and my young father's place in it, I am reposting this entry from three years ago...

Another post for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks...

I have watched with interest the ongoing battles concerning Blair Mountain in West Virginia.  This mountain and its people just won't give up.

Bless their hearts.

I began to study the history of this mountain, beginning with an article on Wikipedia:
I saw the images of the battle that raged back in August and September of 1921.  What I did not know was that my own father played a part.

He was a boy, not even 10 years old.  Let me quote from his own writings:

As well as I remember we did not stay in Olive Hill very long after Betty died because we moved back to Lawton where we lived till we moved to West Virginia and that was quite an experience because moved to W. Va. In a boxcar along with a man by the name of Milton Cline, each family had one end of the boxcar and since we were moving to the same place everything worked out all right, there was no trucks to move one in those days and very few automobiles, one might see a half dozen autos a week and there was no paved roads, we moved to an area called Rex Camp which was owned by the coal company, I think it was the year of 1920 when we made that move and that would have made me about eight years old at that time, it could have been 1919 when we moved, I do remember that I was very young and I had never heard anyone talk in a foreign language and it sounded so silly to me, it took me a long time to get used to it because we had foreigners living all around us but they had their own schools and the black people had their own so we managed to get along allright with everyone but it still was a lot different than Kentucky, my oldest brother Russel and my father both worked in the coal mines and although we were poor people I cannot remember a time when we went to bed hungry.

Let’s go back for a moment when we were moving to W. Va., I remember that we were in a passenger coach on the train and the boxcar with our household furniture in it was the last car on the train so we did not get there before our belongings did and one thing I remember so well is that my uncle Logan Brown was sharing the same seat on the train and I got awfully sick and I begged him to let me sit next to the window so that I could vomit out the window and he would not do it and when the train stopped I could not hold it any longer so I vomited all over him and he was very mad about it and I told my father what happened and he told Logan that if had let me to the window it would not have happened.

As well as I remember we lived there about one year or more before trouble started, the union was trying to organize the coal fields and the coal companies didn’t want that to happen and there was fighting all around, the union men were coming over Blair Mountain into Logan County and all who would not join the union were called red necks and my uncle Arthur Fitzpatrick, a big Irishman who had just gotten out of the army in 1918 and he was tough but they arrested him because marshal law had been declared and him and me started to walk to Logan about four miles away and a deputy sheriff inquired where we was going and he told him it was none of his business and he arrested him, and he handed me his big 45 army colt and he told me not to let anyone take it from me and I took it back to my aunt Etta Bee and gave it to her and they blackballed him out of Logan County and never would let him come back, it was not easy living under marshal law but we did it for about two years or more.

During the war between the union and non union there were many people killed on Blair mountain, the sheriff of Logan county and some of his deputies was killed and many coal miners went to work and never returned.

The army moved heavy artillery right by our house by mule team and we could hear the heavy artillery being fired from our home, nothing looked good at all for a long time but we finally come out all together.

Wow.  My own father was part of the history of Blair Mountain, and he was only a boy.  He acted in the face of danger - danger than an adult placed him in.

A different type of battle rages there now, and I am unsure what the outcome will be.  I wonder what my dad would be thinking now...

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Kentucky Funeral

It was just two short weeks ago that we learned of the death of my cousin, Gregory Earl Stevens.

Greg was the only child of my aunt and uncle, and the apple of their eye.  They were married 14 years before he was born.  It would be hard to find a son better loved than Greg.
Have you ever seen a prouder look in a father's eye?

Greg was only 42 years, and his life ended in an ATV accident.  He was not horsing around.  He came up out of a creek bed and got stuck in some weeds.  When he gunned it, it flipped backward on him, crushing him badly.

It has been many years since I attended a Kentucky funeral.  As a young girl, my memories were not always pleasant ones.  I remember wakes that lasted through the night while the body lay in state in the parlor or front bedroom.  Someone would bring up politics or religion, and mom knew it was time to send me upstairs to bed.  "Discussions" would begin in the dining room, move to the living room, the front porch, and eventually right out into the front yard.

Women would begin bringing in the food, trying to find room for it all on the groaning table.  There would be periods of crying, coupled with periods of laughter and memories.

All of this was called "sittin' with the corpse".

The funeral service was held at the local church, accompanied by a very loud preacher.  I mean no disrespect by stating this.  But, to a little girl it can be quite overwhelming - even frightening.  The church my family attended in Ohio was quite a bit different.

My sisters and I left early in the morning to drive to Olive Hill, Kentucky.  We've driven Rt. 23 south many times in our life - mostly for funerals or Decoration Day.  We were still in shock, but talking with each other greatly eased some of our grief.  We all have good memories of Greg, and of our Aunt Betty and Uncle Dick.

The funeral chapel was in Globe, and the parking lot was already packed.  When we pulled in, we were greeted by someone who is actually a shirttail relative of ours.  I asked him when the next Cline Reunion was going to be, since we hadn't been to one in 12 years.  He said there hadn't been one since then.

People were looking us over.  First of all, most of the cars and trucks were Chevys and Fords.  We drove up in my sister's Toyota Sienna.  We all had skirts on.  There weren't many others who wore skirts or dresses.  I'm sure they were wondering who in the world we were.

We spotted my uncle first.  I was amazed at how much he had aged in the short time since we've seen him.  He embraced me and told me to take lots of pictures.  I mentioned that some people might not like that practice, but he said he didn't care.  He wanted pictures.  Period.

Among all of the beautiful flowers was a bevy of quilts that people chose to send.  I've seen this in the past, but neither of my sisters had.  What a tender way to cuddle up in comfort long after the flowers are gone.
As the choir came in, each member paused to embrace the family.  I was so touched.  Their hugs and love were genuine.  They began to sing, and I was immediately taken back to my childhood.  In my heart and in my mind, I could remember every word.  The peace and comfort began to flow over me.

A wonderful bagpiper played "Amazing Grace" as we filtered into the cemetery.
After a few words at the cemetery, we all traveled up Rt. 174, past Aunt Betty and Uncle Dick's house, past Greg's house, all the way up to Porter Creek Fellowship Hall.  When I walked in, I was taken aback by the tremendous amount of food that had been brought in.
I have never seen so much food at a funeral.  Actually, I've never seen that much food at any of our church socials.  The table seemed to go on for miles, sometimes three deep across the table.  The dessert was located against the wall.

Some of was catered, most was homemade.  My mind again returned to my childhood as I grazed my way through fried chicken, mashed potatoes, fried corn, green beans picked that morning, cornbread, red tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, cucumbers, stack cake, butterscotch pie, chocolate pudding, etc.  I can't even begin to list it all.  The sweet church ladies kept coming around asking if we got enough, and reminding us about the "to-go" boxes that were available.

I sat and talked with my aunt for a long time, my sisters sat with my uncle, who just couldn't eat.  Greg's only child, Ericka, sat across from us with her little daughter, Skylan.  Ericka couldn't eat, either.

Our hearts were broken as we left them for our trip back home.  But, knowing the people in the eastern hills of Kentucky, my aunt and uncle and Ericka will be well taken care of in their grief, their sorrow, their long days to come.  The church and neighborhood family will step in to be the comfort they need in our absence.

There are no more cousins on this side of the family.  My uncle is my mother's only living brother out of a family of eight children.  Mom was the oldest.  Uncle Dick is next to the youngest.  

This funeral brought sweet memories back to me - memories of being a little girl without a whole lot of understanding to a woman grateful for the experiences of childhood.