Wednesday, April 24, 2013

For yesterday's post, I googled "Rum Creek" and ran across a blog written by a woman who grew up there during the 40s and 50s. It's called Life on Rum Creek Hollow and I can't recommend it enough. I wanted to thank the writer, AJ Dillow, but couldn't find her contact info (she apparently finished the blog last year), so this will have to do.  The blog starts off in a nostalgic vein but gradually becomes more and more shocking. It takes guts to write that honestly. Thanks, AJ Dillow, for telling it like it was (at least for her people - mine were not quite as dysfunctional.)

As I said in yesterday's post, my dad lived on Rum Creek, but about 10 years before Ms. Dillow. He was born at Dabney, at the mouth of the creek, in 1928, and lived in almost every camp on that run as far up as Yolyn in the 1930s. ("Run" means creek, as in water runs in it.) He also lived on Dingess Run, the next run to the north, on three different occasions during the same time.

AJ Dillow's father worked in the Hutchinson-Macbeth mine, which is the same mine my grandfather and his brother Frank worked in during the early-mid 30s. The place names get confusing. The coal company is Hutchinson and the mine and camp were Macbeth (accent on the first syllable) but the camp is often called Hutchinson as well, especially on maps. Kleenkoal was another name for Dabney. Further up the run there was a camp called Chambers or Cham.

My grandfather's Social Security application (1936).

In AJ's stories, frequently someone has to be patched up by "Dr. Vaughan." Dr. R.R. Vaughan, the company doctor for Hutchinson, delivered my dad and signed the death certificate of my dad's cousin who died in 1930.  AJ says her grandfather is buried in the little cemetery at Cham, which is also the resting place of my dad's brother and two or three cousins. They died as infants in the 1930s, all from gastroenteritis. It's not hard to guess why: AJ says that even years later, the school bathrooms discharged directly into the creek.  

Hutchinson-Macbeth owned all the camps from Macbeth to Dabney and possibly the upstream camps of Orville, Chambers and Yolyn. One cousin was attended by Dr. Vaughan, the company doctor, at home in Orville and buried at Yolyn. Yolyn is completely obliterated today, the few remaining residents driven out by a surface mining operation. At the head of the run lies Blair Mountain, which has become a cause celebre. A mining company wants to flat-top the mountain, but labor and environmental groups are trying to hold them off. The labor groups want to preserve it because it was the site of a mostly theatrical "battle" in 1921 where men associated with the UMW raised a mob to try to kill all the mine officials and take over the mines. The environmentalists are against the destruction of the forest and habitat. If I were them I'd take the story to big-city customers of the electric companies that buy the coal. They won't be able to stop mining down there even if they chain themselves to a tree.

AJ talks about the two gas explosions at the Macbeth mine in 1936 and 1937 that killed 28 men. Family legend has it that my grandfather was a fireboss (safety officer) at that mine before the explosions, and was let go after he refused to send miners in. What I do know for sure is that Uncle Frank served on the Coroner's Jury for the first explosion.

After the explosions, Dad's family moved up to Dingess Run for a couple of years, where his father was out of work. Suffice it to say they suffered very greatly during that time. I don't have AJ Dillow's guts to blog about the things that happened there. Uncle Frank and Aunt Julia's families stayed on Rum Creek and in fact remained there up to the 1990s, when I used to visit. There was some kind of falling-out between Dad's mother and her sister, Aunt Fannie (Frank's wife), and they were not on speaking terms for years. But in 1974 when Aunt Fannie was dying of cancer, we took Dad's mother down to visit. That trip is my first memory of West Virginia and just one of two times I met a sibling of my grandparents.

My dad's childhood stories were bleak and depressing prior to 1939 but nostalgic after. I used to think this was because of the end of the Depression, but I now think it was because 1939 is when they left Logan County and went over to Mingo. Logan County was a mess even after the Depression - just read AJ's blog.

This post is getting long, but I want to talk about the term "case knife," defined by AJ Dillow as a butter knife.  To Dad, a case knife was a paring knife, like this one. There is also a Case brand of pocketknife, but I believe it is unrelated. The Wikipedia article for case knife says the name derives from the fact that it came in a case as a set of tableware. But I'm going to hazard another guess: I think it might come from the German word for cheese, käse. The root is found in the scientific term casein. Yes, there were Germans in Appalachia - a lot of them. Cf. Chuck Yeager. (Jäger - hunter.) It's a cheese knife.

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