Celebrating W.VA. and Fathers
June 20, 1987
In my case, it’s appropriate that West Virginia Day and Father’s Day coincide.
A poet once observed that home is the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in. That’s incorrect. Home is the place where when you go there, they want to take you in. Mine was. To me, West Virginia will always be home – and home means Daddy.
There is a remembrance of things past. Fathers, at Mallory, down in Logan County where I grew up, were characters in books. In real life there were daddies. There wasn’t any “togetherness” syndrome. Son and daddy lived in different worlds. Men had far more important things to do than play games with their children. They had to feed them, not always the easiest thing to do in the middle of the depression.
Any grown man who would have wanted to play or coach baseball with a group of teenage boys in Logan County during the 1930’s would have been certified immediately as mentally deficient. Daddies were shadowy figures, who, fueled by enormous breakfasts of biscuits, gravy, eggs, meat, potatoes by the skillet full, disappeared in the gray of early dawn down into the mines to return late in the evening, exhausted, black with dust.
My Daddy was a good citizen who loved America and revered the law, with one notable exception. He regarded prohibition as an unwarranted infringement upon his right to enjoy a bottle of beer after a long day in low coal.
He ignored the prohibition law and brewed his own beer. There was little scientific about his methods. He filled heavy, dark brown bottles with whatever happy mixture of yeast and grain caught his fancy, capped them and happily awaited the results. Sometimes these were pungently disastrous.
My family still remembers being jolted from sleep once in the middle of the night by a loud explosion and the sound of shattering glass. First thought was that the mine had blown. But then came several more of the vigorous reports, one after the other, and it was discovered that some of Daddy’s home brew, “working” in the cellar, had exploded; first only one bottle and then a whole case, one beer after another. The evil which befell Daddy’s brew he attributed to the Democrats. These, in our household received the blame for all disasters, physical, governmental, economic or otherwise.
West Virginia means home.
Home meant yuletide pageants in a little country church. As related herein previously, I was the proud possessor of one of the few bathrobes extant in the little coal camp where we lived. Because I owned such a piece of clothing, automatically I was cast as one of the shepherds in the church Christmas pageant.
One year, prospective shepherd characters had received strict instructions from the harried director concerning the absolute necessity for each bring a staff – crooked at the end – to add color to the performance. I mentioned to my Daddy that I would be needing a staff for the pageant and he nodded absent-mindedly in agreement.
Came the day of the performance. I had no staff. When Daddy came home from the mine, I realized he had forgotten all about it. This was an omission which at the time loomed large in my life. The mine where he worked was miles from where we lived. Daddy walked to and from the job – how else could you get there in Logan County in the 1930’s?
On the day in question, without saying a word, he turned around and went out the kitchen door, trudging down the steep hillside, walking all those miles back to the mine.
Hours later he retuned with my shepherd’s staff. I can remember yet how tired he was, barely able to make it back up the narrow path to home. But what a staff he bore! Most of the shepherds at the pageant had shepherd staffs made of sassafras limbs, with a piece of string tying down the end into a crook.
Mine was simply elegant. It was fashioned from a piece of heavy copper trolley wire, just the right height, with a shapely crook at the end bent into shape by virtue of some heavy pounding at the mine blacksmith shop.
How proud I was, as all the little shepherds watched over their flocks by night during that pageant, my heavy staff pounding the floor with every step I took. And I can still recall the awed admiration of my peers as they whispered: “His Daddy made it for him.”
Why is it that men find it so hard to express their love in words? I never once told my Daddy that I loved him. It was far beyond his ability to communicate ever to say any such a thing to me. We understood the emotion but never expressed it;
It pleased my Daddy greatly whenever I wrote a piece like this.
He was too embarrassed ever to say that he liked a column in which he was mentioned but he would casually mention, “Son, that was a nice paper this week.” I got the message.
Daniel Webster, in a famous legal argument, once declaimed, “Dartmouth is a small school, sir, but there are those who love her.” We say the same about West Virginia. There are those of us who love this proud, defiant little state. My Daddy was one. West Virginia was home. It still is.