A little country town, during the 1930’s and 1940’s, nestled deep between two steep and rugged hills, was indeed booming. Coal mining was the occupation of many young men in the town and there was one mining company that employed the dozen or so men who lived around the valley. But, there were some men with families who were not as fortunate to own their own houses. So, the coal company used their miners to build plain two story houses with clapboard siding for those, which included my family, to live as long as they were employed with the company.
Our house and every company built house had 4 rooms downstairs and 2 upstairs. No indoor plumbing. Coal was the fuel burned in a fireplace in the living room that supplied heat in the winter. It was like the house was built around the chimney. Heat radiated out from the sides of the chimney which was visible inside and ran straight up through the middle of the house into the 2 bedrooms upstairs. Coal was free. Dad would take us kids riding in the back in his 1940 Ford pickup truck to the mines. There we would load up the truck bed with a week’s supply of coal and then unload it in the coal shed once we got home. Everybody used coal and there were some days black coal smoke would lazily float up out of the chimneys from every house and would linger over the valley tree tops with a gray heavy smog. There was always the smell of coal smoke in the air.
No indoor plumbing meant no indoor toilet facilities. So, every house had an outhouse and we took our baths from a pan with water heated on the kitchen stove. From the back porch to the outhouse my father and mother laid down a brick walk. The brick coming from the mines brick yard. My mother was pregnant with me when they built the sidewalk. A few years ago I returned to the place where the house once stood. The area was covered with brush and years of rotten leaves. I began digging around where the house stood and found that brick sidewalk. I loaded my truck bed with as many bricks I could find, took them home and built a hearth where my wood burning stove was to be placed.
My grandmother, on my mother’s side, came to live with us for a while. It was a real treat to have her there. Many times we would gather around her as she rocked in her rocking chair. Sitting on the floor my brother and I would listen to her tell of times long ago when she was a little girl. She told of some really scary stories that made the hair stand on the back of our necks. And to this day I can remember those tales and have passed some on to my grandchildren. Poor grandma who was getting up there in age was unable to use the outhouse, so she used a chamber pot which was stored under her bed. Mother would empty the pot at the outhouse every morning.
One day mother decided that we needed a larger outhouse. So, the men from the mines were called on to tear down the old one and build a new one. It was a deluxe outhouse with 2 holes. The only one in the neighborhood that would accommodate 2 people at the same time. My mother was so proud.
Many years have passed and sometimes I yearn for the return of those days. So simple, so uncomplicated, no television, no computers, lazy warm summer evenings sitting in the glider on the front porch with my mother as she chatted with a neighbor. I laid on the glider with my head in her lap listening to them talk about the events of the day. Mother swung the glider slowly back and forth and every so often a lightning bug would shine it’s light down next to the creek. I would fall asleep.