Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Girl From Stretchneck Holler, "Inside Appalachia"

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new:  New River Gorge Bridge Day, Fayetteville, WV  Oct. 20, 2012 video below:


The Girl From Stretchneck Holler "Inside Appalachia"    by Betty Dotson Lewis  and Kathleen Colley Slusher
Price: $5.99 USD. 72560 words. Published by Brighton Publishing LLC  on April 15, 2012. Fiction.
A heart-warming, heart-wrenching collection of short stories of moonshine, cock fights, domestic abuse, Holy Rollers, coal mine thugs and the simple yet complex lives of people up the hollers of the Appalachian Mountains. Coal mining provides a livelihood which is colored by violence, and the rape of mountains has forced an independent people into subservience.

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Excerpts from The Girl From Stretchneck Holler: Inside Appalachia

Coal Miner’s Son
“J. C., here’s your mason jar of milk and bread for your dinner,” my mother said. She wiped her forehead wearily. She’d been up since before daybreak building a fire in the wooden cookstove and fixing breakfast for her four boys. I was the oldest, seventeen years old, and today was my first day to work in the mines.
I noticed Dad’s hard hat and work boots by the door; he was still in the back bedroom. Mom touched my shoulder briefly as I got my stuff and stepped out on the porch to wait for him.
“Take care, son,” she said softly. She turned away quickly, but not before I caught the tear in her eye. Mom hated the mines; she’d lost her father and two brothers during a cave-in ten years ago. She’d wanted Dad to quit then. She didn’t want me to start now.
This was a temporary job for me. I wanted to go to college (the first of our family to do so), but even with the bank loan I managed to get, I needed more money for books and clothes. Dad got me hired at his job site—a deep mine five miles away. We’d walk there and back and eat our milk and bread so as not to have to spend our fifty cents’ pay on food or gas.
I heard Dad’s voice and he came out the door; his eyes were ringed with the black soot residue that scrubbing couldn’t get off, and he was rolling his Prince Albert. “Ready, boy”? Before I could answer, he inhaled deeply and immediately his thin body was wracked with harsh coughing. He continued to smoke as we started to walk rapidly. “You’re almost a man now son… by the end of this summer, you will be a man.”
God help me, I worked hard that summer. A pick and a shovel, crawling on my hands and knees, too tired at the end of my shift to barely talk; but if hard, dangerous work was the measure of a man, I became one.
By the end of that first week, my knees were bloody and raw from scrabbling on them for hours on end when the roof wall was too low for a man to stand. I coughed short, hard coughs and spit up gobs of phlegm streaked black; even the snot from my nose and the tears from my eyes ran black.
The men had taken to calling me Junior, and after seeing that I aimed to stick it out, they treated me good. Dad worked deeper than I did, with the experienced old-timers, but he heard tell of how I wasn’t no quitter. He was happy with me then.
When I’d first told him how I wanted more schooling, he’d snorted and said, “Are you afraid to work for your living?” I needed to prove I could work at what he thought was a “real” job, but I also aimed to show him I had further ambitions than to work in the mines all my life. On our walks home, I told him of my plans to travel and see the world. He said, “Yep, I had them plans too. Best you settle down and marry some little girl from these hills than take off to God knows where, son.”
I kept talking every day, and I wore him down. He began listening, even asked questions about college. That summer, my dad and I actually talked at length for the first time I could remember. I found out that he’d dreamed of going to Texas when he was young. “Out there is wide-open spaces so a man can breathe,” was what he said. My dad had emphysema and black lung, also a touch of TB, but couldn’t afford medicines or doctors; ...
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------The Beautiful People of Stretchneck Holler
I remember seeing my grandfather on my mother’s side. I was scared to death of him. I saw him a few more times when I went with my mother back to visit after we moved across the mountain. His image remains vivid even today. I may have gotten my height and coloring from him.
He was tall, big and blond, with white and pink baby-looking skin. He was a violent man. His work: a union organizer. He called men out on strike by shooting a pistol in the air near the mouth of the mine.
He carried his money in a large leather wallet chained to his belt. His job afforded him good money. He drank heavily and everyone up and down Knox Creek, where he lived, knew he had another woman. She was young and beautiful with fair skin, red hair, and pretty clothes. That’s where he spent his time off from work. She got his money—what he did not spend on moonshine. He would walk up the road, staggering back and forth, on payday. Sometimes falling down by the road and lying there until he came to, then back up to stagger towards home and my waiting grandmother. Once he made it home to his tarpaper shack, he hung up his wide-brim hat on the wooden peg by the front door. After making sure his white shirt was open down almost to his waist and adjusting his shoulder holster, he sprawled out on the feather tick bed after he checked the chambers, making sure the Smith & Wesson pistol was fully loaded. When he was roused up by cars and trucks speeding up and down the road and blowing their horns as they passed his house, he’d get out of bed, pull his pistol out of his holster, throw the door open and shoot up in the air yelling, “You scabs, damn you. You sons-of-bitches. Go to Hell.” Then he would slam the door shut and sprawl back down on the feather tick bed until the cars and trucks came again. He guarded the United Mine Workers of America on Knox Creek with his very life. His allegiance belonged to the miners’ union, and anyone who did not swear by John L. Lewis was in danger of my grandfather’s wrath.
His wife, my grandmother on my mom’s side, was my favorite person in the world. I knew her best because my mom talked about her constantly. A battered and abused woman, she fought off my grandfather with a hot poker when he tried to beat her while he was drunk. He cursed my grandmother and left her mostly penniless except for what little bit she could lift from his wallet while he was in a drunken stupor...