Monday, October 7, 2019

Driving "Back Home" Thursday...

Thursday,  I'm driving back home to East Kentucky. I need a few days to visit friends and family after this challenging semester.I  left East Kentucky when I was 48 years old, so it's been home most of my life.I'll be alone on this drive and will think about home all the way

There is a spot just beyond Winchester, towards Stanton,  where the hills seem to rise out of the earth and the view is breathtaking. I have stopped at that spot for many years just to take in the majesty of the image. I always know I'm really driving down into the hills, not up the hills.

I'll ask my engineering friend how the foothills really emerged from the belly of the earth. Erosion? Eruption? From driving this for many years, I know the counties are 20 miles across. I wonder if this is an actual fact of the old English/Irish land division, or if it's only marked that way on my route. When I pass the exit to Royalton, I always look to the right and think, way back there, across several hills, is David, my coal camp home.

My grandchildren were always tolerant each time we passed Route 7 and I would retell the story of walking over the "new road" to the head of the Licking River (at Royalton) to celebrate the end of school each year.We packed, in little brown paper bags, Vienna sausages (Vi-eenies), potted meat, crackers, peanut butter sandwiches, or whatever Mother had for us.We climbed the hill and walked the road, too. At the top of the hill, we always got a drink of fresh water from the hand pump in the yard of someone's house there.

Daniel Boone spent his first winter in that region of David and wrote that it was "severe, and unfit for human habitation". Well, I guess we proved him wrong by living out our entire childhoods in David in little company houses that lined the base of the hills up all hollows and along the main road.

The Licking River site was once engineered by GW's crew as a possible gateway to the west. I hope East Kentucky children are learning the richness of their history and heritage. They would heighten their perception of our land as one of beauty and promise. The promise is still there. It lies in the youth and their willingness to learn from those who have gone before. We are only hampered if we limit their dreaming and don't help them make those dreams come true.

I miss driving through the little towns and sometimes detour for a scenic route. I like to see Oil Springs, Crockett, Moon, West Liberty, Salyersville and all the "real" places that have been supplanted with By-Passes.

Remember the hometown drive ins, freezer freshes, and our favorite, "EAT" at Stanton...from the highway, looking down into Stanton, we just saw a huge sign "EAT". They had upside down banana splits and the best hotdogs and hamburgers. We always stopped there. Now, we choose from McDonalds, Arbys, Hardy's, etc. which now make all By-passes look and taste just alike.

"I cannot leave these prisoning hills...being one with this earth, I cannot go"

from James Still's Heritage.

The hills can look desolate and barren in the winter. Coal dust and poverty paint a bleak picture. Of course poverty is everywhere. We have exhausted ways that people can make money working in coal and still respect the land and the safety of the miners. I believe we're making progress.For more than 100 years, Coal has been the only hope for the East Kentucky economy. I worked in the Appalachian coalfields for 15 years, My father worked for 35 years underground, My nephews worked  underground.

It's scary to not draw a paycheck, especially at Christmastime. These miners are great men who deserve their pay. They don't need to "back in to pick up their paycheck". I hope the EKY coal miners are receptive to ideas for a new and innovative approach to making a living in the coal fields

Tomorrow I'll post a picture of the view of the emerging mountains and a copy of James Still's Heritage. Yes, I'm melancholy, I'm homesick, I'm going home Thursday.
Dear Reader,

I finally found the writing I referred to last week. The writer is Dumal, not DuMaurier as I first said.

Rene Dumal is known for his spiritual search that involves true "seeing", real "seeing", objective "seeing. I have read his book, Mount Analogue, and was reminded by my brother Rodney, of his commentary on how reaching a summit might affect one's view of the world. I'd like to share Dumal's The Mountain Top with you.

The Mountain Top

When one has been to a mountain top

One has only to come down again

So why bother in the first place?

Just this....

One climbs...One sees

One descends...One sees no longer

But one has seen

There is an art of conducting oneself

in the lower regions

By the memory of what one saw higher up 

Rene Dumal

I think Dumal he uses the metaphor of the mountain to illustrate that when we experience higher or "finer" impressions we can use those--if we work at it-- to more honestly live in the world but not be constantly led by the world. We can serve something higher--if we have truly seen and truly remember.

I'd like to hear from you,

Heritage by James Still

James Still 
I shall not leave these prisoning hills
Though they topple their barren heads to level earth
And the forests slide uprooted out of the sky.

Though the waters of Troublesome, of Trace Fork,
Of Sand Lick rise in a single body to glean the valleys,
To drown lush pennyroyal, to unravel rail fences;
Though the sun-ball breaks the ridges into dust
And burns its strength into the blistered rock

I cannot leave. I cannot go away.

Being of these hills, being one with the fox
Stealing into the shadows, one with the new-born foal,
The lumbering ox drawing green beech logs to mill,
One with the destined feet of man climbing and descending,

And one with death rising to bloom again, I cannot go.

Being of these hills I cannot pass beyond

I've displayed an autographed version of Heritage in my home for years. It's among my favorite passages of all time. Still chose to live out his life in a log cabin in Mousie, Kentucky on Troublsome Creek to which he refers in the passage. Mousie is also the birthplace of my Mother, Nova Hicks. Still was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his novel, River of Earth and served as Kentucky's Poet Laureate. One simply cannot equate illiteracy to log cabins.

I hope you enjoyed reading Heritage here.


Friday, September 13, 2019

Judy's Creative Non-fiction: Polly Coffeeground

Regional Notes: Knott County is in the mountainous Eastern Kentucky coal field. The area is highly dissected by normal stream erosion. Ridges and valleys occupy about equal portions of the landscape. Few large streams are present, and there is a general absence of flat land except narrow strips in the valley bottoms. The lowest elevation, about 675 feet, is at the mouth of Jones Fork where it joins the Right Fork of Beaver Creek.Upland elevations commonly exceed 1,400 feet. Local reliefs of 500 to 800 feet are common,generally being greater in the eastern part of the county than in the west. The highest elevations occur in the extreme southern and southeastern parts of the county where mountaintop elevations in excess of 2,000 feet are present. These elevations are found along and near the Knott-Floyd,Knott-Pike, and Knott-Letcher County boundaries. The highest point in the county is 2,360 feet,on a mountain at the head of Arnold Fork at the junction of Knott, Letcher, and Pike Counties. The elevation of Hindman, the county seat, is 1,031 feet. Elevations at other communities areCarr Creek, 1,009 feet; Carrie, 990 feet; Kite, 879 feet; Mousie, 785 feet; Pippa Passes, 1002 feet; and Sassafras, 947 feet.

Polly Coffeeground

Fall 1862

Polly "Coffeground" Jones Mosley hoarded coffee beans in her apron pocket from 1862 until her dying day. When asked why, Polly took great delight in telling the chilling story of a day when she was all alone on the family farm at the head of the Jones Fork of Troublesome Creek.

Abe Lincoln had called for 75,000 Union volunteers to hold off General Lee's rapid advance into East Kentucky. "The men lit out", Polly said, "most a walkin' down Troublesome, over to the Levisa and Tug Forks of the Big Sandy, wherever the Union told them to be." It appeared that East Kentucky’s job was to cut the rebels off before they made headway into the state from the Virginia and Tennessee borders. Hence Mosley had held out as long as he could, his heart heavy about leaving Polly and baby Frankie, their deepest pride, born in their middle years. The other children were grown and gone, some married off, some off to War, and some, well, just gone.

Hence felt compelled, though, to join the Union forces in Lawrence County. He knew this war must be won to preserve the flag that symbolized the hard fought battles for American independence from “old King George”. Polly was a strong, resourceful woman, but his heart heaved a little as he began the 55 mile walk to join forces gathering of the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River, leaving her and the baby alone far from any real civilization. All the able-bodied men on the creek had left by now to join one side or another and Polly was beginning to feel the strain of being alone on the Beaver Creek to face the winter of 1862--she and Baby Frankie are all alone. There weren't many neighbors nearby, her boys had all left, and the older girls had married and moved out. Just Frances, her change of life baby, was with her and made her life feel worthwhile again.

Her brother Claibe was over in Letcher County, spying for the Union near the Virginia border where there was always a fight. She sighs, but knows she won’t see him until after the war. Polly laughs and reminds herself that Claibe is too mean to die.

Polly senses a frosty overtone in the wind and knows winter is coming on. She had worked like a brute for months to get the food and wood supply gathered. She didn’t even try to dig coal from the mountain sides, wood was easier. She’d left the baby on the porch more than once this autumn while she gathered the remaining crops in the garden. “Lord, what will I do with pumpkins and gourds?” she often asked. She saved them anyway, cooking the fresh pumpkin into something she called ‘punkin butter’ that was good on hot biscuits. It was no one’s favorite food, but was nourishing and the baby could eat it too.

She preserved every vegetable and piece of fruit she could find in her sparse garden and in the surrounding hills. She spread her green beans and fall beans on the roof to dry out in the hot sun. She strung fresh green beans by needle on long threads to hang in the sun until they dried and shriveled into delicious shuck beans to cook in the winter when no green beans were to be found.The beans would keep forever once dried properly.

Her hands were permanently stained black from hulling and shelling the black walnuts that grew all over the mountains. The sweet nutmeats would be worth the work on a cold snowbound night, when she needed nourishment. She knew that for sure.

She picked wild mountain greens like ‘polk sallet’ to mix with dandelion greens around her hillside yard and the turnip and mustard greens and spinach from her garden. Polk weed alone was too much of a laxative, so she used it wisely. She searched the hills for delicious greens called ‘Speckled Dick and Molly’s Cock’. Nobody seemed to know where the names came from, but Polly would always laugh to herself when she picked them. Hence made sure her special short knife was so sharp that a flick of her wrist would capture the toughest greens. Polly knew from her own mother, how to season food and that her ration of salt bacon was vital to the good taste and nutrition of such a bountiful mountain harvest.

Out in the cool, dry smokehouse, Polly had hidden a small supply of sugar and coffee among her stash of shuck beans, potatoes, dried green apples, hand ground meal, a right good slab of salt pork, and two cured hams. Since the war, sugar and coffee were impossible to find; even before the war,they traveled 50-mile roundtrip to the nearest supply store for such luxury items.

It’s quiet this evening, no activity on the farm, the birds beginning to huddle in the trees, transitioning their sounds into an evening tone. Polly rocks Frankie to sleep on the front porch where they could still bask in the late sunshine, then swaddles her safely in the cradle. Polly then makes the trek out to the smokehouse under the cliffs just beyond the backside of the house. She worked by the clock of the heavens and looked towards the mountain top. It was around 6:30, she surmised. The sun would sink below the ridge at 7:00 PM. She prayed Claibe and Hence had good shelter tonight, but most of all, she worried about Claibe.

Claiborne Jones

Claibe killed his first man at the age of 12, and, by his own account before he was 30, killed at least 13 more with “Old Champee” his trusty shotgun and with his array of hunting knives.

“I stand on principle and never killed a man without a good reason”, he would declare when asked about his actions.

Claibe was notorious for his escapades with women, his bravado, and his brushes with the law—even though he later came to serve as the law in several counties of Kentucky. He was good looking and brave, fiercely protected his loved ones, and was celebrated for bringing in more than one bear at a time—single-handed. Women loved him and caused him more than a little trouble.He had learned as a child that if he had to back down from a fight, there were other ways to win, if the cause was right.

After the War, Claibe would become a notorious feudist, commissioned by the Governor to help settle feuds before real law was established in Appalachian East Kentucky. After his death in 1915, our relatives brag, he was buried in a prestigious cemetery in Perry County.

But, today in fall 1862, he’s serving as a Union spy in Letcher County Kentucky, on the Virginia border. Being a man of principle, he would later claim, he released many rebel prisoners “if they promised to “go home and kill no more”.

The Smokehouse

Polly is enjoying rummaging around her stock of vittles and selecting a few precious coffee beans for her Sunday morning treat. Coffee was too precious to drink on weekdays--they brewed chicory root and coffee-tree beans then. Polly looks forward to grinding real coffee beans in her little hand mill and boiling the grounds in water on the fireplace. Sunday was a day of rest and she planned to enjoy it as best she could.

“Lord, these beans smell good”, Polly said out loud, startling herself.

No sooner had the quiet returned than it is sharply shattered by the slamming of the smokehouse door. Polly turns in the same instant to see those worthless Hayes brothers step inside. She realizes that she’s cornered between the work table and the wall and has no place to turn. The Hayeses took one step forward and paused.

“Well, look who’s h’yar”! Jim Hayes grinned to show his blackened teeth and tobacco amber dripped down his jaw.

“We’re huntin’ supplies for the soldiers,” He is feeling full of self-importance.

Polly knows they’re not ransacking the farms for supplies for the rebels, as they’d want their neighbors to believe. She looked them right in the eyes.

“Get out of here you worthless low lives! I know you’re stealing for yourselves and nary a bite’s going to the soldiers or the hungry children up Beaver. You’re not even fit for the rebels. Get on out of here, now. Get on out!”

They took another step towards Polly. Jim grinned again, making Polly feel nauseous.

“I love that red hair and how you look when you get all worked up, purty Polly”.

“Low lifes”! Polly’s insults were lost in the tangible silence on the mountain.

She thinks, “The stock’s done run out on these two and here I am alone with them".

Polly knows there are trifling men on both sides of the battle. She and her family just wanted to stay put, but it looked like General Lee had brought the War to them, and also brought out the worst in some of her neighbors. She fought as best she could...which was pretty good, but they forced her down.

“Let’s just have a little fun before we go. You better be good, now, Polly”

Polly demanded, “Let me go you god-damned rebel sons a bitches”, mentally justifying her cursing.

Her attitude was un-yielding even as her body was forced by the strength of the two men, to collapse.As she fell to her knees, they were scraped on the rough splintered lumber Hence had hurriedly laid on top of the muddy earthen floor of the smokehouse floor after a torrential rain just before he left. Her knees were the least of her concerns.

John Hays pulls her head towards the open fly of his britches and Polly is overwhelmed by the rancid smell and knew she’d just as soon die. They jerked her head forward and she felt her hair being pulled out by the roots. Her heart was sinking fast as they roared with laughter.

In the midst of the fray, the smokehouse door flew open. Polly couldn’t see, but even in her misery, knew the men were looking at something fearful. She felt the loosening of their grip from her hair and turned her head. There, framed by the smokehouse door and silhouetted by the last fiery remnants of the Beaver Creek sun set, stood her brother, Claiborne Jones.

Claibe’s stance was firm and calm as he loomed there in the doorway as large as his murderous reputation. He struck a unique type of fear in the Hayes Boys as he stood silently with his famous shotgun, “Old Champee” in one hand and his skinning knife in the other.

At the site of him, Polly jumped up “as quick as a cat could lick its ass”, Claibe would later tell her. Her attackers were frozen speechless as Polly spit on them.

“Well, look who’s here now!” Her pride was physically visible as she regained her composure and hurried to stand alongside her notorious brother.

Claibe knew first-hand the peril women could face when left at the mercy of men with no real virtue. He had routed his spying foray back through Knott County, to honor the oath he made to always look after Polly. He never forgot that oath made when their young lives were so tormented and unpredictable.

Claibe took four solid steps forward, and without batting an eye, made a swift kick upward between John Hayes legs sending John to the floor where he rolled around and cried like a baby.

Jim was about to cry too.

"Now Claibe, we wasn’t going to hurt Polly. You know how it is; we just need some supplies for those poor soldiers down on Levisa Fork.”

“Aint’ nobody mad Claibe, we’ll just be a goin’.”

The smokehouse door slammed shut again.

The Story Goes

The Hayes boys were never seen again

When asked, over the years, Claibe said he heard the Hayes brothers were killed in the battle of Middle Creek near the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River in January '63.
However, the descendants of John and Jim Hayes could never find their names registered on any list of the dead or wounded in that pivotal battle.

"Maybe they died in a Prisoner of War camp in the North", they would speculate.

“A terrible way for such fine soldiers to die”, they would mourn.

Copyrighted Property of Judith Sharon Bussey © February 15, 2008

The Hills Around Me...

Called my brother Johnny one morning at 6:30. His wife, Eda said he had gone deer hunting and would be back soon. Since I'd been up since 5 AM, I wanted him to be proud of me. He says that anyone who sleeps past 5 AM misses the best part of the day. Johnny built a pretty deluxe deer stand last year and I betcha he's up there chewing tobacco and enjoying the morning--maybe even has a little heater and some coffee going.

Or, he's just sitting in those hills behind his Wiley Branch home looking up over the ridge for the sunrise and listening to the wind through the now barren trees. Looking down at the roofs of his and his son's home and to my old place. Maybe he's listening to the creek roll by. I've done that before. If you pay close attention, the sound is magical. The wind also has a special sound in those hills. It sounds differently each season, indeed, with any change in the weather. Dry leaves versus wet leaves. Frozen branches versus limber branches. Heavy rain versus a light shower. No leaves versus full blown foliage. Did you know that when it's going to rain, maple leaves give us a warning by turning their backside to us? While this may not be in the Farmer's Almanac, I learned it by listening to the old folks and doing my own observations. It's correct.

When I lived on Wiley Branch, I loved watching the sun come and go over the hills. Watching the movement of the shadows and the light was better than a clock. What happened to the little girl who never noticed a sunset in the coal camp of her childhood? I now seek harmony with nature, it was so much a part of my childhood. The hills are eternal and always offer something new for the observant eye.

As a child, I played all day in the hills, but never really noticed the sunrise and sunset. Maybe the sun didn't shine up "Official Hollow". Maybe that's why people said we had to have the sun piped in. Our hollow was narrow. Our yard was the hillside. We looked out the back straight up a hill where Indians lurked just beyond the forest line. When we looked out the front windows, we saw another hill.On that hill, we could see wooden steps winding high up to a big house reserved for company officials. Mr. & Mrs. I. C. Spotte lived there once. He was an engineer. They were interesting people who had survived the Philippine POW camps during WWII.

The Bradburys and the Strattons also lived in that house at one time or another. I baby sat for both families and felt very important. The women liked my mother and always gave her magazines like Look, Collier, and Life--real luxuries in that day and time.Toby arranged them in a flat cascade on the living room coffee table and we all read them religiously. I still read magazines from back to front. Remember the cartoon "Hazel" that was always last? I always read it first.

Back to the hill in front of our David home. Near the base of the wooden steps that led to the officials' house, was a little mountain spring. We loved to drink water there. This summer when I took my granddaughter Savannah to David, I was sad that the spring was dry. We picked up a couple of rocks as mementos of the trip to bring home with us. Further up the hill was a huge water tank on stilts. This was the water supply for the camp. Pretty modern in it's day, I suppose. On the left of the spring, further up, sat the "Club House" where international coal buyers were lodged and treated royally. There were no Holiday Inns nearby. Mrs. Ora Howard, assisted by Ms. Justine Dawson, a David native, ran the place just like a proper British Mansion. I loved to visit them. Having started reading the Brontes at age 12, I let my imagination run wild. Ms. Howard taught me to knit and to make macaroni and cheese with real "white-sauce", a term I had never heard.If she'd said "thickenin'"I may have caught on more quickly.

On the left of the Club House the hillside was landscaped into a rather formal garden. There I saw my first gold fish pond with Lilly-pads. That's also when I began to love Adirondack chairs. I remember sitting in the sturdy, solid wood, always white painted chairs. Beyond the pond up the hill was the Shepherd Family Cemetery. I wish I had paid more attention to this beautiful old-time cemetery. I went to school with many Shepherd children over the years.The long row of wooden steps that led straight up the hill may have made the steep climb easier for those carrying the casket. I'm sure the company built them to guarantee the Shepherds access once they had bought or leased the hilly land that formed our two main hollows.The Shepherds were pioneer royalty and had been on that land since--well, maybe since the late 17th or early 18th centuries.

We're still only half way up the hill, aren't we? Behind these two houses there were just trees, grapevines, little caves, all kinds of wild flowers, and big rocks. On the clubhouse hill, way up high was "The Devil's Stool", a famous gathering place for the boys in the camp. On the bull-dozed road leading down from the official's house, the boys tied a rope to a branch so that we could swing out over a cliff. Scary stuff back then. I fell off it once and sprained my arm. I was proud, though,that they let me try.

It was fun to play house in the hills where we'd "play like this rock is the table and play like that rock is the baby bed". "P'like this rock is the coal house". "P'like you're the daddy and there's some Indians attacking us". "P'like the baby is cryin". "P'like you get shot". "P'like I'm fixin' supper"."P'like this mud pie is cornbread." "P'like this stick is my horse". I wonder if little girls and boys still say "P'like"?

Some days we were Nyoka and Judy the Jungle girl--two of our favorite "funny book" characters;and some days, most days, we would enjoy a round of cowboys and Indians. There is no place better than the hills to play hide-and-seek, go-sheepie-go, or tin can alley as night falls. We played until dark. That was our only rule: Be home by dark.

I just don't have any memory of climbing to the top of the hill or of watching the sunset over the ridge as I did later in life. We were so immersed in our natural surroundings, we didn't look up except when lying on our backs looking at the artistry of moving clouds or looking for the trail of smoke that followed the planes that were finally breaking the sound barrier. Brother Rod was a Boy Scout and worked in the Civil Air Patrol, with other Boy Scouts, using binoculars to identify planes in the aftermath of WWII. They looked for each and every plane that passed over the camp and kept an official log. They were given access to a Company telephone (no one else had one) and were to report by phone if any planes aroused their suspicion. We felt safe with Rodney being in charge. He was all of 10-12 years old. I guess coal companies would have been enemy targets. Coal was important to the War effort so many of the miners were exempt from the draft. Daddy was one of those.

I'm missing Thanksgiving in the hills this year--the first time in many years--and the thoughts of Johnny hunting in the hills behind his house triggered all these memories. Later today, I'll post "The Walk" a poem by my Mother, Nova, who actually made it to the top of the hill. I wonder what she saw?

Until then,thanks for letting me share these memories with you.
I hope this is a good day for you and yours,

The Walk, a Poem by My Mother, Nova Hicks Bussey, 1958

The picture on the right is a view of the David coal camp from the hills

The poem below is one of many written by my mother, Nova Hicks Bussey. She wrote it about her real experience of going into the hills to find some peace and relief from her hard life. I love you Mother.

I took a walk this morning, in the early morning breeze
A rabbit crossed my path; I heard the squirrels in the trees.

I like to walk in the morning and relieve my worried mind--
To look at nature around me, hoping a new treasure I'd find.

This morning my mind and heart were troubled. From my face, I wiped a tear.
I wanted to keep going so far up the mountain feeling God was near.

I stopped to pluck a daisy. Memories of my youth came back to me,
Telling fortunes with this beautiful flower sitting under an old, old tree.

I walked up the mountain. Sumac was low and crowded too.
Wild grapes were hanging all around, I stopped to pick a few.

I saw a snake sleeping peacefully, I moved on without any fear.
This was his kingdom and his castle, I had no right to interfere.

I stood admiring drift wood in the small mountain stream,
Scenery so beautiful, it would be any artist's dream.

My mind became less worried because exhaustion had overcome me.
I came to an opening and sat down on the soft grass, under a tall oak tree.

I sat there wondering how much further I had to go.
The path seemed to get more narrow but I'd make it if I took it slow.

I prayed as I walked the narrow path because it had become difficult to see.
I looked to see a huge rock looming, high over me.

Through a clearing I could see the top of the mountain,
It seemed to touch a bright blue sky.

Briars scratched my legs and arms, it didn't hurt.
I had to make it and I'd try.

The rest of the path was rocky, but soon I reached my goal.
I flung myself on the ground sobbing to the depths of my soul.

Rain came beating down on my face, and the wind began to blow.
I said," God, will my life always be filled with fear and hate? Please, God, I have to know".

I saw the trees bending to and fro, their leaves almost covering me.
I wiped the rain from my eyes, then I saw this small tree, unknown to me.

It was taking a beating, but its leaves were hanging on
While the leaves of the oak were on the ground. The oaks, so tall and strong.

The rain stopped as suddenly as it had begun.
I looked at that little tree (and it seemed to me, I grinned)

I said to myself,"Why, that little tree could be me."
I'd manage to hold my own because the strongest really are weak.

I started back towards home. I looked up and smiled into heaven.
It seemed to be quiet and peaceful as I went back down.
Written by Nova Hicks Bussey, 1958 

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Washin'

Looking back, as a young girl living in the coal camp of David, Kentucky through the 1940s and '50s, some of my strongest memories are of watching Mother do the washin'.  I helped her with little things like bringing her the clothespin bag or helping her carry a tub of wet clothes out to the line--several feet up the steep hillside that was our back yard. Sometimes I would move the clothesline prop--usually a strong tree branch that forked in a few places that allowed us to prop the line up high, or down low. I don’t remember ever doing the washing myself-- until I was married and had my very own Maytag wringer washer. I remember Mother letting me run some things through the wringer. It was really dangerous. She usually asked one of us children to plug the washer in, since she was afraid of electricity, too--although her childhood home up Stonecoal had been “wired” in the 1920s by her brother Rob Hicks who wanted to make life better for Granny and Pap.

We kept our Maytag wringer washer, on the back porch. Underneath the wringers was a wooden stool that held the tub of rinse water. There was one other tub to carry wet clothes out to the line. It was heavy. There were no plastic baskets back then. How did we get the water into the washer? We had a  laundry stove in the kitchen--a small black iron coal stove that heated water. Did Mother build a fire to heat the water then carry out buckets full? Did we heat the water in summer? The house would have been so hot! Did we have a hose that ran from the kitchen sink to the washer? I wish I could remember more details of Mother doing the washin' in a wringer washer?

After my marriage in 1962, I used a wringer washer for several years.I seem to remember making big water messes in my kitchen, though.  We bought an automatic washer and an electric dryer in 1968.

I know that the best, cleanest clothes were washed first and that Daddy’s work clothes--coal mining clothes--were washed last. Once the black coal dust turned the water a scummy, dark gray, that was the end of the washin’ for that day. We dropped the drain line off the porch and let that water run into the back yard!

When did we do the clothes that needed bleach? You couldn’t start with bleach water. Did we do a separate load for those white things we bleached? If we’d used bleach, could we put the mining clothes into that same water? I don’t think so. I know we got the most out of every tub of water and didn’t empty the washer until we had to.

I also watched in awe as my wonderful mother-in-law did the washin’ every week, when I lived with her the first few months of my marriage. First, she built a fire in the middle of a circle of cinder blocks that she kept in the upper left corner of the front yard. She placed a washtub securely on the blocks, filled the tub with water she carried from  the hand-pump nearby, then tended the fire until it was hot but tame. She scurried to get the clothes, towels, and sheets she had sorted on the porch while the water heated, knowing it. wouldn't take long. Before long, with a lighter bucket, she carried hot water to the wringer washer on the porch.  The rinse tub had already been filled with cold water from the pump. Sometimes, I'd help with that job, but she didn't trust someone as young and inexperienced as I to do the more complex, important jobs. Usually, I did the inside work, while she worked outside. We had made that deal and it worked for me, even if I did have to learn how to keep fireplaces burning or banked, water carried to the kitchen, but nothing as hard as her outside work.

Another thing I’m wondering about—we said “do the washin”, not “do the laundry”. I wonder what other families said—and say.  Now I say, “do the laundry”, but my heart wants to say, “do the washin’”. What feels good to you? How did you and your mother sort all the clothes? What was your process. What got washed first? What last?

There seemed to be a protocol for proper washin’ in the coal camp Some of those homemakers had it down to an art form—washing on a certain day, hanging the clothes in a logical uniform way—you know—socks with socks, towels with towels, panties with panties. I was never taught this. Whatever was on top of the tub was hung on the clothesline first, no matter what it was.

Who taught you to hang out clothes? How to take them in  so they were in some kind of order for seasoning out, folding, preparing for ironing? I’m thinking women may have actually studied their neighbor’s clotheslines to make sure they were in line with the best homemaking practices. The washin’ was an important part of our culture. There seemed to be a set wash day and a set ironing day?  My mother was unpredictable and we never knew what would get ironed and what would never be ironed.  I remember sprinkling clothes with water and rolling them up—sometimes putting them in the refrigerator to cool. But, I don’t remember a system for getting them ironed. I think we ironed them as we needed them, and if you were the one needing something, you were the one that ironed it.

I admired the Howard family and the girls ironing on the porch all day Tuesdays. After Mother got Daddy’s clothes clean, we had to fend for ourselves. Maybe Toby and Peggy ironed for us younger ones. I hired out to Ila Willis when I was 12 years old and had to iron her husband’s white shirts and look after her 4-5 children. That was certainly educational. In return, though, she made me a beautiful white pique Eighth Grade Graduation dress. I never liked the dress, though, since I had to work so hard for it. What did I know? I was twelve.

 Please tell me some stories about doing the washing. I won’t even try to talk about bluing and starching!

While she washed the clothes, Mother told stories and I listened. I loved her stories of life, love, marriage, and heartache. I remember so many of her one-liners.

If they hurt you when you're young, Judy, you never forget it. 

It's OK to kiss a boy, Judy, but you don't need to kiss every boy".

Tell it on yourself, Judy, then no one can talk about you.

There's nothing worse than a gossip. There's nothing that hasn't happened in our own family. 

I love every one of my children the same. Rodney's never hurt my feelings, not even once, but I still love all of you the same.

Be a lady, but be a woman.

Having a lot of children doesn't mean you don't miss the one that's gone. 
If you’ve got it, you’ve got it and being fat don’t make any difference.

If I heard of any Bussey child showing fear of John L. Capelli, I’d whip them good. That would break Mary’s heart.

I don’t try to tell Toby what to do. She’s smart and stubborn and has a mind of her own. She’ll do just fine.

Mother's cigarette was ever present, dangling from her pretty lips, Betty Davis style or resting on a window sill burning a brown outline into the wood. Every single window in our house had burned cigarette marks. But we were doing the washing weren’t we?

I'm dreaming of my beautiful mother, Nova.....