Nothing beats the old-fashioned days
Several weeks ago a friend mentioned that I could leave my stories the same each week, and just change names because many of them pretty much read the same. After considering the remark, and the good faith in which it was given, I agreed that there is a certain degree of truth in those feelings. My stories often have a common denominator: a common connection coming from a period in which this country was founded on and how over time these transitions seemingly are almost disappearing.
Those days vanished and took with them the one-room country schoolhouse, the three-family telephone party lines, neighborhood grocery stores and a thousand other things that glued families and communities together. Those were times when life itself operated by a different set of standards. And those standards are gone.
A good example of those lookalike stories of yesterday would be 72-year-old Hilda Adkins. She lived so far up the holler in Lincoln County that few boys would make the trek for a date.
“We lived a mile off the hard road,” said Adkins. “Just on the other side of Fourteen Mile Mountain, you made a sharp turn and drove the creek bed to our home that was built by my father. If it rained hard and the creek flooded, we were out of touch with the world until the water went down. On those days that our father couldn’t drive out for work, he walked through the woods to avoid the high water and hitchhiked or caught the Greyhound bus to Huntington. Dad worked for the State Road Commission. When he came home he worked for another four or five hours taking care of our 93-acre farm.”
Adkins grew up in the one-floor frame house where she was born with the assistance of their family physician, Dr. McClellan, who also delivered her two older brothers at home.
“Everyone in the family had their own list of responsibilities around the farm while growing up,” said Adkins. “Mom did the milking. My brothers and I fed chickens, gathered eggs, took care of the garden and dug potatoes for storage in the cellar. There were a few other jobs we did on occasions, one I didn’t
particularly care for because it involved explosives.”
One of those additional jobs Adkins spoke of was to pick up the coal that got scattered about after their dad placed a couple of sticks of dynamite in a vein of coal along the hillside. After the explosion, coal was scattered everywhere.
“My brothers and I would gather up the pieces of coal and load it into barrels placed on a horse-drawn skid,” said Adkins. “Usually one explosion was enough for half the winter season. We used wood for the cook stove which also needed hauled in and cut up.”
Aside from having two older brothers for protection at school, they also provided great memories of damming up the creek next to the house for summertime swimming.
“That creek became a favorite swimming hole for every kid within a two-mile radius,” said Adkins. “We may have made that dam too tight one winter because it froze over before it had time to drain. If it had frozen solid it would have been OK, but it didn’t. I discovered this sliding down the sleigh route that shot across the creek. Both me and the sled broke through the ice and came out soaking wet. Most of my clothing was frozen before I got home.”
Adkins claims that their well had the best tasting water west of Fourteen Mile Mountain. It certainly tasted far better than water from Dry Branch Elementary School.
“Dry Branch School was a walk along the creek to the hard road,” said Adkins. “Then a short walk to school along the berm of the highway. When the creek was up or the snow got too deep we just stayed home.”
She said there were three rooms in grade school; grades one through three in one room, grades four through seven in another. The remaining room contained a kitchen where the meals were usually simple but filling.
“Once a week the principal would pour a gallon of Clorox down the well,” said Adkins. “He thought it would kill any germs in the water. As far as I was concerned all it did was ruin the taste.”
Adkins graduated from Harts High School in 1964. She did have one boyfriend in particular named James. It may have been because he was the only boy who would make the mile-long hike up the creek to come courting.
“When I graduated, my oldest brother took me back and forth to Huntington so I could look for work,” said Adkins. “On the fourth trip, my girlfriend and I were both hired by Cabell Huntington Hospital. We rented an apartment to share expenses and became part of the working class. I started out in the kitchen delivering food trays to patients. I retired there 47 years later from patient accounting and collection department in 2011.”
Along the way, James finally came calling again when the road to her residence didn’t involve traveling through the creek. They dated for nearly six months before he proposed. After parent approval, the ceremony was performed; a week later James was drafted.
“During the next four years, James would come home on furlough,” said Adkins. “We lived happily for 62 years until that hot summer day of August in 2017. After he had mowed the grass, James sat down in a lawn chair and died of a heart attack.”
James and Hilda had two great children, now fully grown. Rhonda, who after graduating from Marshall went to work at Cabell Huntington Hospital. Her son Ronald is a maintenance technician at Johnson Memorial Church.
“I work a couple of part-time jobs to stay busy nowadays,” said Adkins. “I do light housekeeping at Johnson Memorial and I also cook there for the homeless on Thursdays.”
Adkins also operates the kitchen at the Proctorville Flea Market on Fridays and weekends. Her homespun recipes and down-on-the-farm style of cooking is the main reason most regulars at the flea market no longer leave the area for lunch.
Clyde Beal seeks out Interesting stories from folks around the Trl-State. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.