- Maggie and BuckCoal Camps, Cabbage Rolls, and Community in Appalachia
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Maggie and Buck Spriggs were the author’s maternal grandparents. The tenacious couple lived and raised their family in McDowell County, West Virginia, during the years of the Great Depression. Their deep love and compassion for people of all ilk and races, a value they taught to their children, inspired the author to research her West Virginia coal mining family. Drawing from interviews with family members, personal experience, and scholarly research, the following biographical snippet is offered here as a lens into a past worth remembering.
She was the only child born to parents with children from earlier marriages. America Lewis and James Henry Spiva had married for companionship, and to help each other raise those children. Each had lost a spouse to death. Their marriage culminated with Margaret Elizabeth, their last child and something of a surprise. America was forty-two years old and James was sixty-one. They were living in Meadowview, Washington County, Virginia, just outside Abingdon.
When Margaret was thirteen she met George “Buck” Spriggs, twenty-one years old, handsome and tall, with icy blue eyes, and newly home from military service. There were many Spriggses living in the area; some were property and business owners, others rented and farmed. At the time, Margaret was all but engaged to a Porterfield from Abingdon. Mr. Porterfield had sought and secured permission from Margaret’s father to court her.
Porterfield would have been quite a catch. His family owned and ran the Barter Theatre, a wonderful venue where community members could barter the cost of a ticket to watch a live performance. Vegetables, grain, eggs, perhaps meat, all had potential for trade, and most was accepted. A marriage to a Porterfield most likely would have provided Margaret with a secure future, which was her father’s intent. Being older, James and America sought to see her married and safely in the care of a good man, and Porterfield fit the bill. But before a relationship could begin, Margaret met Buck.
Sitting beside the springhouse at her home in Meadowview one day, Margaret saw him come walking over the hill, on his way to visit her father. Family lore insists it was the proverbial love at first sight for both of them. Buck—straight of carriage, good-looking, smart, and ambitious—met Maggie, as he came to call her, thirteen years old, beautiful, and of “marrying age.” She offered him water, he took it, and all thoughts of Mr. Porterfield left her mind. Within the year, they snuck across the state line, from Virginia to Tennessee, and married, lying about Maggie’s age. She gave birth to their first child a little more than one year later in West Virginia.
There is an early photograph of the couple with their child, Preston. It was the 1920s; Maggie’s hair is bobbed, Buck is dapper and well-groomed. He has a look of rapt contentment on his face. Her face is glowingly happy. Although Preston looks a bit confused by all the fuss of having a photograph taken, the overall mood of the picture is one of a young couple confident of their future. They did what [End Page 91] young married couples of the time did—they loved and multiplied. After Preston, came Lawrence, then Jane, Chester, Peggy, Buddy, Eva, and, finally, Walter, born when Maggie was thirty-three. All of their children were born in West Virginia and raised in coal camps. The family lived the longest in Elbert...