Growing up without things never missed
Seventy five year old Willis Pertee was born in a small, old frame house situated on the side of a hill bordering Route 52 in Wayne County. If you asked the mailman where the Pertee family lived, he’d probably tell you 3 miles outside of Crum on Bull Creek. That’s where Pertee spent his early years living with 5 older brothers and 3 sisters. Those were the growing years of hand-medown clothes, a 12 gauge shotgun old enough to have been bought at George Washington’s estate sale, a worn out bicycle in need of constant repair, a single shot 22 rifle, mom’s secret recipe for egg custard pie and the best Christmas present ever — a football that received more playing time than his homemade slingshot.
“Our father stayed involved with a number of jobs just to provide for the family,” said Pertee. “He worked part time in a local coal mine and saw mill. When he wasn’t busy there, he was a laborer for the N&W Railway but his heart was being home on the farm. I’ll never forget the day a salesman stopped by selling new rototillers. He told my father that this newfangled machine would cut his work in half. Dad answered him saying, ‘So if I bought two of those contraptions I’d have nothing to do.’ Even when the salesman mentioned a convenient payment plan, he still drove off without making a sale.”
According to Pertee, Bull Creek wasn’t deep enough to work up a good lather with a bar of soap on Saturday. If you really had a hankering to go enjoy a day of swimming in water deep enough to do a bar of soap justice, then Tug River was the place. During the colder weather it was back to sharing the traditional wash tub in the kitchen.
“Times were different growing up in Crum,” said Pertee. “I don’t mean different because we didn’t have a mall, or a big town with restaurants and modern convenience. I mean because of growing up in a poor family that really didn’t know how poor we were. Our little hill side farm ran like the family on Walton’s
Mountain. What we didn’t have, we didn’t miss. We had a supper table to talk around and a list of responsibilities that kept us too busy to be concerned about much of anything except home work. We walked three miles to school and thought nothing about it. I’ll tell you something else too, during those school years I only missed one day because of snow.”
Public schooling in Crum, West Virginia, was not your ordinary school system. All twelve grades of education were contained within two floors in one single building. Elementary, junior high and high school were all taught under the same roof; a most unusual system that served Wayne County for several generations of school kids.
“We never had a gym until I went to the seventh grade,” said Pertee. “Some of the best teachers a kid could ever have taught there, I can’t remember a single one I didn’t like. The only bad thing I remember about that school was during the winter the coal fired furnace in the basement would sometimes “belch” and fill the classroom with smoke and soot. When that happened, we had to open all the windows to clear the air. I was selected for the safety patrol in the 6th grade and was allowed a school trip to Camden Park as a reward. I thought a good game of football at recess was more fun.”
And play football he did, Pertee also had a love of baseball and basketball at Crum. He was selected to play right field with the junior high baseball team while still in the 6th grade. As a senior in high school he played quarterback where they went 10 — 0 beating such teams as Fort Gay, Chapmanville, Liberty, Douglas, Wayne, Buffalo and a few other schools that Pertee cannot remember. He does remember the small drive in restaurant called Dorthy’s that served hamburgers, hot dogs and soft drinks. With a jukebox and small dance floor it became a nature social gathering for the high school crowd.
“After graduation in 19611 tried working at the Marshall student union and attending classes,” said Pertee. “It just became too expensive and I was forced to drop out. I went to work in Rittman, Ohio, at a factory making cardboard shipping containers for beer and soap. After two years I was laid off, several months later I was called back, and less than a year later I was drafted. This came at a most inappropriate time as my high school sweetheart and I were planning to be married.”
Come April of 1965, Private Pertee was traveling to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for boot camp where a most unusual set of circumstances would occur.
“Following boot camp I was selected to attend administration training and office machine operation right at Fort Knox,” said Pertee. “During this time a few of my pals and I joined the Squadron baseball team. We were soon considered as the best baseball team on Fort Knox with a darn good win loss record. The first sergeant finally told the team that there would be no transfers for any player until we won the Post championship, we did 2 to 1. After a total of 17 months at Fort Knox, I was transferred to a small support detachment in Kings Mill, Ohio, where I stayed until my discharge.”
Following his military career Pertee worked for the old Armor Elevator Company for years until he was injured in a work related incident. Extensive rehabilitation couldn’t bring him back to an acceptable level of company performance so he was given disability retirement.
Pertee and Rebecca did get married over 53 years ago, a marriage blessed with wonderful children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. During those years he was a volunteer football coach for the Barboursville Little League Football Program.
“I still have my old Army uniform,” said Pertee. “I take it out of the closet at times and wonder what would have happened if I had stayed in. Aside from the respect my father taught me, I really believe those early days in boot camp changed my thinking and attitude about several things. If I could just get my weight back down to 190 pounds again, that would be a good start.”
Clyde Beal seeks out Interesting stories from folks around the Trl-State. Email email@example.com.