It's winter 1968. Mommy is 80 years old now and memories are
sometimes a little foggy. She's telling me of her life as a
little girl and down through the years. When Mommy was two
years old, her mother died, her father abandoned her. A dear
sweet Aunt and Uncle took her into their home and shared with
her the little they had, which was very little. They were
gentle folk and very religious. Their name was Lacy, Uncle
Oliver and Aunt Sis. They had a son, Ezra, a few years
younger than Mommy. Also they raised an orphan boy,
a nephew of Aunt Sis. His name was Arno Hill. The three
children were cousins but were raised as brothers and sisters
and remained so through the years [until] death came to Arno
Ezra was an invalid for many years having suffered a broken back
in a coal mine accident. A cable broke and let the car in which
he was riding fall to the ground. Others in the car were killed.
He died in 1953. Uncle Oliver and Aunt Sis lived by the Golden
Rule. From them Mommy learned honesty and hard work are rules to
live by taken from the Good Book. Back in the hills of West Virginia
when Mommy was a little girl, even the little one room school houses
were few and far between. For the little education she got she
walked three miles over a trail through the wilde made by cattle
and other animals in search of better grazing. For a little girl
alone, even the big trees were frightening, but she is ever
grateful for the little schooling she got. She is able to read
her Bible and to write letters to her family away from home.
She tells me when she was eleven years old she went out to work
as a hired girl, often treated as a slave, was paid 25 cents a
week and didn't always get that. Some of the people she worked
for were cruel. They got her out of bed at 4 A.M. to make fires
and do chores milking feeder stock, then get breakfast, wash,
iron, cook, clean, work in the garden, can and chop wood.
There was never any time for fun. The days were long and the
work was so very hard for a little girl. As we sit by the fire
this cold winter day and memory goes back through the years,
she tells me the names of some of the people she worked for and
a little bit about them. Her first job was for the Henry Hill
family. They paid her 50 cents a week. There she worked in the
fields harvesting the crops, helped to chop and carry in the
winter wood for fuel.
From there she went to Joe and Kit Chandler. They only promised
to pay her 25 cents a week [they never paid her]. She only stayed
three weeks with them. They had a big family. [_______________]
made soap and quilted or knitted socks in her spare time. If,
when she left she had not been able to do all the things expected
of her, she was severely criticized.
The years pass and Mommy is sixteen or seventeen. She is working
in a home where the Mother had just died and left a little baby
girl. The husband and father was Sam Griffith, and little Marie.
Sam Griffith, Mommy and Marie remained close friends. Sam is
gone now. Mommy and Marie are still good friends.
Mommy had an Aunt Aggie who married a man named Freeman Michael.
They had a daughter Alice. They lived on Lens Creek, about 35
miles away. But it might as well have been a thousand miles.
There were no roads and no rail roads. On Little Coal River
then, another aunt was married to a McKindley. She died young,
was the mother of two daughters. Their names were Alice and Minnie.
Alice lived in Huntington for many years, moved on to Ohio,
has kept in touch and has come to visit a few times. These
visits were a great joy to Mommie.
We only mention the cousins here because Mommoy had only a few
kin folk. Her friend, Sam Griffith's brother, Cap, married a
girl whom Mommy knew. They went to the same little school and
were friends. Her name was Gennie Holestine.
Gennie wanted her friend, Nancy (Mommy) to come stay with her
when she was expecting a baby - she had twin boys. It was
through Sam and Cap and their Sister Christine (Aunt Jean)
Mommy met their nephew John Myers (Johnnie). They corresponded
and seen each other when possible. Johnnie worked in a coal
mine on Davis Creek. His mother, a widow for many years, and
his three sisters, Anna, Lona, and Ailie, ran the boarding house
for the coal company. It was a very shy nervous young woman who
went with Johnnie that Sunday so long ago to meet his folks,
his Mother, three sisters and a brother. Mother Myers, Lona, Ailie
and Frank liked Mommy and she liked them. But Annie was a bit
of a snob. She was older and wiser, she liked to think. She
insisted on being consulted on everything concerning the family,
personal and otherwise. They didn't always choose to obey her
orders and often told her their life was their own.
On Christmas Day, 1900, Mommy, (Nancy Miller) and Johnnie
Myers were married. Work was scarce and the going was rough.
The following summer Johnnie's 18 year old sister, Ailie,
died. A dear, dear friend was gone. The bright shining light
was gone from the boarding house and from the hearts of those
who lived there. Johnnie got a job driving mules in the
mine-and Mommy worked at the boarding house. Soon they decided
they must get a place by themselves. They moved into a company
house a mile or so away. Mommy still helped with the work at
the Boarding house.
In 1902, March 28, their first child was born, a tiny 3 pound
boy. For many weeks life hung in the balance for both Mother and
the tiny little baby. That winter was a bad one. Much of the
time Mommy was alone with her little baby and afraid. There
were lots of tough characters around as there always is in a
mining camp. We believe it was fall 1903. Great preparations
were being made for a birthday party for Annie. The cake was
all decorated and sitting on the sideboard. Johnnie's brother,
a young mischievous fellow of about 20, came in taking the
aprons off all the girls in the kitchen, stuffed them in the
bib of his overalls, climbed to the top of the highest
Sycamore tree in sight, tied the apron strings securely. It
is said those aprons hung there blowing in the breeze for
several years. He came down from the tree, went into the
dining room, cut himself a generous piece of the birthday
cake, called out Happy Birthday Annie, Good-by Ma. When
they next heard from him he was in the US Army training
with the Calvary in Oregon State. In 1904, he died with
Small Pox in Manilia, Philippine Islands, is buried in a
Military Cemetery there.
The shock of his death was almost more than Mother Myers
could bear. She gave up the Boarding House which wasn't
doing very well by now anyway. The mines were closing down.
More and more people were being laid off every week. Soon
Davis Creek was a ghost town.
Mommy and Johnnie, we call him Dad from here on, loaded their
house hold goods and their two sons, Bernard, age four, and
Frank, age two, into a wagon, headed across the mountain to
Briar Creek. There at a spot now known as Dog Town, Dad built
a small house for them to live in on a plot of land given to
him by his mother. The land was deeded to Dad's mother by her
Father-in-law, Dad's grandfather, John Myers. The home is near
Brownland on Coal River where, on September 14, 1907, a baby
girl was born to them. She was named Beatrice. (Dad had not
been able to work much because of a broken leg he had gotten
while working in the mines at Davis Creek in a bout with a mule.
It was about this time Aunt Annie comes back into the picture.
The land where Dad and Mommy had built their house was what is
called a creek bottom. She, being the oldest, insisted she was
entitled to the choice spot, that being the spot with the
house on it. Easy going Dad and Mommy went on the hill and
built themselves another house. Aunt Annie, of course, was
married and had promised to look after their mother if she
could have the property with the house. This, of course, was a
very selfish thing to do. But she got the house. Mother Myers
didn't know about all this. She had absolutely no use for Charlie,
For Mommie and her growing family, life was very hard. She
worked so hard making every little bit count. She raised
everything she possibly could. Everything had to be carried
up the hill, water had to be carried from a spring a half-mile
away. But Mommy somehow managed. How, none of us can imagine.
We believe it was 1912, August. Grandma Myers went to spend some
time with her daughter, Lona, who lived on Lens Creek. Lona had
three children, Robert, Clarence and Dorothy and was expecting
another that fall. In August, Grandma took sick with pneumonia
and died. Her death was a great shock to Mommy. The two, Mommy
and Grandma, had become so close. It was sort of a mutual
understanding each to look after the other when the going got
too rough for either to go on. So, on that sad day so long ago,
Grandma Myers was laid to rest beside her daughter Ailie in a
little cemetery on a hill in the head of Davis Creek. For many
years this little burial ground would have been a source of
wonder to a stranger passing through - the town was gone, the
few graves were surrounded by large trees and some of the graves
had trees growing on them. The little grave yard is now inside
a West Virginia State Park, a beautiful spot.
A few. days after Grandma Myers passed away, little Dorothy
Price, Aunt Lona's darling little four year old girl whom they
loved so dearly, died suddenly of ptomain poisoning. During this
time little Hollas was born to Aunt Lona and John Price.
Dad worked first one place and then another, always so restless.
The year 1913 the two Johns, Myers and Price, brothers-in-law,
went up New River in search of work. They landed at a place called
Glen Gene on Luke Creek New River. This was an awful place. The men
didn't get along very well together. It was at Glen Gene, Lester was
born on January 30, 1914. That Spring the family moved back to the
home on the hill. It was like heaven. Then came World War I [and
everything started]. Dad still working in or around the mine, not
knowing when he might be called to military service. It was about
this time Dad decided he needed and wanted very much an education
that would help him in his ambition to become a carpenter. So he
bought himself a set of books and went to work studying under a
gentle old man who had been a school teacher, an expert in math
and science, Uncle Allen Cantley. Dad stayed with it until he
became a very good scholar. When the course was finished, he began
taking contracts to build houses, coal tipples, schools, churches,
rail road trestles, all kinds of projects. Some he did very well,
some not so good. Lots of the money he made went for tools. Mommy,
Burnard and Frank cleared up a patch of new ground in the head of
White Oak hollow. This was wonderful soil for growing all sorts of
things the family needed to eat. They raised great quantities of
corn, beans, potatoes and pumpkins. Oh, yes, there was a draw back..
This fine garden was in the woods about two miles away. Either she
had to leave her children alone at home or take them with her,
Either way was hard for her. By then there were seven children and,
of course, some very little ones that had to be carried. Often
Mommy would pack a lunch and head for a day of work in her garden
taking all the children with her. Those who could, helped those
not big enough to hoe or pull weeds, fanned the gnats and insects
off the babies while they slept.
After a long hard day of work, the long trek home carrying a baby
and maybe leading a little one by the hand, get home late and so
very tired, prepare a meal for herself and the children. We stop
here to think and to wonder how on God's Green Earth a frail little
woman ever stood up under the burden she carried. Mommy is and has
always been very religious. Every night she got down on her knees
and prayed for strength to carry her through the day. Many were
the times we sat down to a meal when there was not enough food,
but all heads were bowed while Mommy said Grace. I believe this
is one of the things her children will remember all the years of
their life. When Sunday came every one was off to Sunday school.
Perhaps not dressed as well as some, but just as clean you can bet.
Clothes, were hard to come 'by as was food. Dad was away from home
most of the time working. Then came the summer when Dad built three
additional rooms and a porch to our two-room house. This was just
great, so much room.
Now we're up to about 19 It was decided all of us would go there to
live, at least through the winter. That was not easy. Mommy took
care of her family as well as several boarders, men who worked for
Dad. That winter, Burnard and Luva came awfully close to death.
Both had pneumonia. It was that fall before going to Ivy Branch
to live. Mommy got a chicken bone fast in her throat. It remained
there for many months causing much pain.
Early Spring we head back to our dear little house on the mountain,
surrounded by an apple orchard and lots of flowers. "Home!" The
year 1918 Dad sold the home, we went to live on a small truck farm
at the mouth of Fork Creek. It was here Ralph was born. We didn't
stay there very long, a year or so. Dad then bought a litle place
across the river from Holly Hurst. When we speak of home it's
a little house on the West bank of Big Coal River. There in that
spot lies many memories, some pleasant, some sad. It was there
Mommie's family grew up, left home to work, to marry, to serve
in World War Two.
Yes, in this year of 1963, Mommie is alone now with only her
memories.She's living in a little house that Dad built for a work
shop just across the river from home.
I'm sure that when she looks out across the river at home, time is
folded back like the pages in a book. She must surely see Dad and
each one of her twelve children growing up, four of them born there
in the little house by the side of the river. A time when we all
were down sick in bed with the flu except Dad. Aunt Jean coming to
the river and calling to Dad to bring the boat. Unafraid of catching
the disease, she brought baskets of food, all prepared for sick
folks to eat. Our dear old gentle Aunt Jean who did so much for
those in need.
A depression that no one can ever forget. Getting a call in the night,
one of her sons has been hit by a car and is seriously hurt. She
and Dad must go to him at Beckley over a hundred miles away. The
night is very cold. The roads are icy and mountainous. Or the call
that came when one of her sons had been badly injured in a coal
mine accident. This one a broken back. Seeing 3 of her 8 sons
depart for service in World War II. Lester served four years in
the Navy. Lawrence, four and a half years in-the Army.. John,
six years, Air Force. The great joy of seeing them comes back.
The thousands of little things that only a Mother can see or
remember. Things that 'made her family happy also made her
happy. Always so very pleased. When someone got something nice
for her or for the house. The great joy experienced by all when
her boys brought home a May Tag Wash Machine and a new stove.
Or the time Dad got the nice new Norge refrigerator.
Mommy was a lot of fun. Anyone playing a joke on her could expect
her to think of a better one in return. She could beat anyone
or all of her kids playing checkers. She must surely see herself
and Dad so very sick. And when Dad came to the bend in the road
on April 12, 1959. Or herself so terribly sick the spring of 1960.
No one thought she'd ever make it. Her great faith and courage
have in some mysterious way born her along like a great Spirit
on the wings of an Angel. She's a wonderful person. Pray that
God will give to the world more like her.
A wonderful person. Our Mother.
By Ralph Myers
The place where Mommy was born and grew up is now a West Virginia
Game reserve and a park. Boone County. 25 miles or so from Charleston,
Submitted by: Emma Ayles