Growing Up Hard in Harlan County
Publication Year: 2013
G.C. "Red" Jones's classic memoir of growing up in rural eastern Kentucky during the Depression is a story of courage, persistence, and eventual triumph. His priceless and detailed recollections of hardscrabble farming, of the impact of Prohibition on an individualistic people, of the community-destroying mine wars of "Bloody Harlan," and of the drastic dislocations brought by World War II are essential to understanding this seminal era in Appalachian history.
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
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MOST ATTEMPTS at autobiography by native Appalachian folk, even retired schoolteachers with college degrees, fail to arouse reader interest. The writer, too often doubting the value of his own story, seeks protection in moral posturing and treats the reader to platitudes and commonplaces...
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BEFORE I get started on this writing, I'd like to tell a little about myself. I was the fifth child in a family of eight. My bringing up was under hard and strict parents. When they spoke to anyone of us kids, we were quick to do their bidding...
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AS FAR BACK as I can remember I always had a lot of chores to be responsible for, such as getting the milk cows out of the mountains to the barn, slopping hogs, weeding the garden. It seems like I could go on for days just sitting here reminiscing about the early...
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THE NEXT MORNING, after all the eating and cleaning up our camp, we started in checking our wagons for any kind of damage that might have happened coming up the mountain. Then we hitched up and took our places with the wagons, to head...
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JOJO AND I went to the barn, caught up the mules, and made a sack of hay to use as a saddle. We led them up to an old tree stump to climb on their backs. Mr. Ford called for us to come by the house. He handed two sacks with the ends tied together up to JoJo and...
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IT WAS ABOUT three o'clock when I knocked on Mrs. Walters' door. She woke JoJo to answer the door. He lit an oil lamp, then called out to ask who was there. I told him. He swung the door open and saw me standing there with blood over the most of my clothes...
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THE MULES were mine now. I had paid Mr. Ford all lowed him. They were beginning to slow up, not prancing as much, The hard work of pulling the scrapers was showing on them. I had the hostler to add more grain to their feeding and be sure they got their regular...
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TIMES WERE GETTING WORSE every day. People that had farms raised a lot of food, canning it and drying some, dry curing their pork, and keeping a few milk cows. They were really lucky. The next morning I was having my wagon loaded at the wholesale. As I stood there on the loading...
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THINGS SURE went to popping soon. Money began flowing from the many coal camps into town. Merchants started stocking their shelves with all kinds of pretty clothes. The big hotel was completed. A big lumber company put in a large mill that turned out finished smooth...
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IT TOOK OVER two hours of hard climbing before we reached the house. Mom saw us coming, fighting our way along the trail. By the time we got there she was putting food on the table, and a big coffee pot was steaming. Mom went...
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I WOKE UP the next morning and started thinking what to do. There wasn't any work anywhere in Harlan County that you could make a dime at. I walked on into town. It was early when I got there but there must have been thousands of people lined up and down the streets, with big canvas...
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AT THE CRACK of dawn I was wide awake. The room started getting lighter as the sun kept rising. It looked like this was going to be a beautiful day. I laid there till I heard voices. I got out of bed and went to the kitchen. Mrs. Barker...
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FOR THE NEXT TWO DAYS, I went to every place in town, asking for any kind of work I could get. I went to both wholesales and the lumber yard and got promises of work at each of them to unload boxcars as they came in, starting the next...
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THE COMPANY Amos worked for gave me a job loading coal. and I joined the union. The company store issued all the tools that were needed. Then you paid for them after you started work. Looking at that pile of tools made sweat pop out on me. I thought that it would take me a year...
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BILL WAS A FINE, HEALTHY BABY, perfect in form and very pretty. It didn't take long for me to learn the effect of closeness to him. He seemed to want to snuggle up to me more than he did to his mother. Winter was over and...
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NO ATTEMPT had been made by any of the companies to operate their mines. The Three Point Coal Company and the Mary Helen Coal Company owned by Elmer Hall and his sister, two of the largest coal producers in Harlan, had built several long buildings near their mines to house...
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ON DECEMBER 7,1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. All the young men were called to the different branches of the armed forces, leaving the older men to do the mining. There was a great demand for coal and the producing mines weren't meeting the demand. Thousands of small...
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I ENJOYED MY LEAVE and reported back to the ship so the others could have their leave. The ship had been raised and a steep gangplank had been put in. It was raised so high it was hard to recognize it as the ship I had sailed on. Shipbuilders were replating the decks that had been damaged during the storms at sea, and loose...
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WHILE RIDING a passenger train from Chicago to Harlan, I began thinking of the many ways to provide a better life for my family. I couldn't see going back to work in the coal mines for some big company and only earning enough to get by on. I was a fairly good trader in livestock...
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I FLEW FROM Lexington to Atlanta, then on to Miami. I was seated midway at a window on a night flight. It was a clear night, no clouds anywhere, as the plane neared Atlanta. It started circling the city for landing. I thought I had seen some big cities, but looking at Atlanta from...
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I GO BACK to Harlan every year or so. I drive through the mountains and the memories of the past come back-the close calls I've had with violence, the many times I've witnessed beatings by hired thugs who would just as soon kill their victim as to beat him. I park along...
Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2013