Spiritually Speaking

-A A +A
By Pearl Harper

Fourth of July and miner’s vacation


First let me tell you about the place we lived from 1947 until 1964. I was eight years old when we moved to Leatherwood, Ky. My dad Walter “Dink” Bryant worked for Blue Diamond Coal Company as a motorman. We had lived in Harlan County, Kentucky up until this time, at a place called Twila, Ky. Dad worked for Creech Coal Company. There was a bus to and from Harlan several times a day.

Things were different at Leatherwood, it was built and developed right in the middle of the wilderness. It was approximately 30 miles to Hazard, Ky, 22 miles to Cumberland, Ky and 30 miles to Harlan. There were some bus routes eventually to Hazard and Cumberland, but not in the beginnings we didn’t have a car for several years. The towns were in opposite directions.

I have written before how we had a mini-mall at Leatherwood before they were invented. There were people that came there to work from any surrounding states. We had a grocery store; it was referred to as the commissary. There was an adjoining big building like a department store. They had everything from appliances to pajamas if they didn’t have it they could usually order it for you. Did I mention a 33- percent mark up? There was a movie theatre, restaurant (The Y), barber shop, beauty shop, pool room, post office, a company doctor, and a dentist. We had a good grade (elementary) school, very good teacher, and three churches.

At times the work at the mines was irregular, and then there were some strikes. I know there were many times things were hard for mom and dad, but I never remember being hungry.

The fourth of July was very special for most us in the camp. There were 323 houses and some of the parents had large families. Most of us looked forward to Christmas and the fourth of July. The miners could order special treats to be delivered to their homes.

Just imagine waking up on July 4 and a delivery truck stopping by to bring ice cream (on dry ice), watermelon and a case of 24 sodas. We thought the grape and orange Nehi’s were pretty special. Mom would have homemade chili for hot dogs and butterscotch and chocolate syrup for ice cream. There was a standing rule; no ice cream until after breakfast.

Dad would always find a special place and build a fire so we could roast our hot dogs and have a picnic.

We didn’t have an abundance of material possessions, but dad always made us feel special. Dad’s mom died when he was very young and he went through some heartbreaking things, he could have been hard-hearted, instead of having a tender heart. He wasn’t perfect but he cared deeply for his family. Dad was a very good baseball pitcher; remember coal camps always had leagues. He was approached twice to come to a Brooklyn Dodgers farm club, but he wouldn’t leave the family.

The Walton’s make me think about our family, except we certainly were not on a farm. We always told each other good night individually, it was a ritual. We had our family ball games, horseshoes, etc. We were never bored. Lifelong friends were made at Leatherwood. We have a reunion at Cove Lake every fourth Sunday in September at the pavilion. There were many families at Leatherwood that came from LaFollette originally and many retired here.

The miner’s vacation was always the last of June and early July. Several times we were privileged to come to Tennessee and camp out and fish and swim. That’s how we found LaFollette. When Bob got a job offer at Westbourne and Blue Diamond mines we were glad, Bob analyzed coal. We moved here in 1964, we love it and we love the people. Later mom and dad moved here in 1973 (they are deceased).

Many of the miner’s children went on to become doctors, nurses, school teachers, engineers, many good vocations. Most of us have fond memories and there is a bond because we shared so much of lives experiences together.

Leatherwood is special to me because I walked down the isle of a little church and accepted Christ in 1959. Now, 52 years later he is more real in my life than ever.

One of the greatest things I ever experienced was when my mom at age 74 accepted Christ, and dad later at the age of 84 accepted Christ.

For some of the families of coal miners, I am sure I have stirred memories. Have a happy Fourth of July with your family. God Bless.