John L and FDR on the Mantel
Family Life After Unionization
Birdie Bledsoe Kyle grew up on Cabin Creek in the 1940's, after the union
was firmly established there. She remembers plenty of hard work and a
tight family budget, but none of the bitter hopelessness that older people
recall from the nonunion era. Perhaps most dramatic was the sense of
empowerment that unionization brought to mining families, represented
in the Bledsoe household by portraits of John L. Lewis and Franklin D.
Roosevelt on the mantel of their coal company house.
Kyle's first-hand account was published in
the April-June 1980 GOLDENSEAL
Iam a native West Virginian, born in Fay-ette County at MacDunn,
but raised up on Cabin Creek in the coalfields, from the age of ten
my father left Koppers Coal Company and went to work for Truax Traer
in 1945. My truest memories, then, are of Cabin Creek's coal towns--not
of Fayette County - but I have a picture of myself sitting on the bottom
step (at one year old of the house in which I was born, a one-room
abandoned boxcar. When I was little, my older sister tormented me when
she felt like it by calling me "old Boxcar Bill." I don't remember which
made me the maddest-being reminded that I was born in a box-car, or
being called "Bill" when I was a girl! Probably both.
How I remember the mixed feelings we had about coal company scrip.
If you went down to the coal company store to purchase groceries, you
"drew" scrip. If you needed "dry goods" you charged them- and those
charges along with whatever scrip you "drew" were taken out of Dad's
pay on payday. Many times my father picked up an empty envelope
trying to feed 12 children and clothe them -we "drew" a lot of scrip,
I can tell you. Scrip could make you schizophrenic. You had to decide
between two evils: drawing scrip and having no cash on hand-or not
drawing scrip so that Dad could draw a payday, by trying to stretch
the groceries and home-canned food in the meantime. Usually, our
family, due to its size, lost the scrip battle.
I do recall, though, that you could draw a $2 bill-but I don't think
you could do it daily, perhaps only once a week. That $2 was expected
to do a lot of things it couldn't do even then-it couldn't pay for
school lunches for 12 children, and take everyone to a movie once a
week, even if the fare was only 15 cents (and it was). Of course, we
could have packed our lunches; but "light bread" was too expensive to
purchase in the quantities needed to pack 12 lunches, and we were too
proud to pack a biscuit sandwich. (Now, of course, biscuits are a treat,
and we would be proud to take a biscuit sandwich anywhere any time.)
My Mom tried to save the $2 in cash so she could pay for our school
books (oh, yes, they had to be bought back then- in cash). But books
were mandatory at our house-school books and encyclopedias, no comics.
The Bible, of course, was very acceptable reading material.
Written by, Birdie Bledsoe Kyle. Article published in
The Goldenseal Book of the West Virginia Mine Wars