Whitesburg KY

Farm life in Letcher County

After we moved one mile from Camden to Cane Branch, our rent was $50 a year in the late ‘30s.

Things were very bad for the miners who lost their jobs. I was born on High Street in Jenkins in my grandma and grandpa’s boarding house for single miners of Consolidated Coal Company, and knew nothing about farm life with no electricity, indoor plumbing or running water.

(I used to tell my men who worked for me in the military that the only running water we had on our farm was the creek that ran under our house.)

About this time my sister June Short got married and moved away from Letcher County, and my half-brother Erman Short enlisted in the Army in 1940 along with some friends from Jenkins including Buddy Nolan, Ed Mullins and Paul Howington, and served in Iceland before the war.

Our first winter on the farm was rough. I remember sitting by the warm fireplace while my dad sat on an old, cane-bottom chair, and listening to him play his banjo.

During the days he cleaned and checked his traps that he had set along the creek banks every evening. That method of catching the animals was done by every hunter and trapper who was trying to survive the long, harsh winter. It was the only means of income for us during that first winter.

In the spring and summer months after we plowed and seeded our fields, Dad would hire both of us out to neighboring farmers, hoeing corn and cutting hay for $1 a day.

My mother was the most soft-spoken and most patient and enduring person I have ever come into contact with. To be the mother of us boys and never raise her voice above a gentle whisper was so amazing to me.

My father was just the opposite. He sometimes had a quick temper, which did not last long. He was a man that, when he saw a job to be done, he did not stop until the job was finished. He insisted that Mom and us kids do the same when it came to a chore we had to do.

My brother Roger was two years old, Dickie was six years old, and I at 10 years old had always lived in a house with electricity and indoor plumbing. It was no fun having to get up in the middle of a cold night and walk a long ways to the outhouse.

I sometimes had to get up early, milk two cows before I ate my breakfast, and then get ready for school two miles away at Burdine.

I hated to be the fist person out of the hollow in the mornings. That person got all the dew from the tall grass and weeds, and was soaking wet when they got to school.

During farming time, I had to rush home from school and work in the fields until it got dark. We sold most of our produce in Jenkins and Burdine, very cheap. As long as we were not on the main road, my dad had me drive his Model A pickup from house to house selling his produce. So, I have been driving since I was 10 years old.

Getting to school was always a chore. The road out of Cane Branch was a creek most of the way, and when it rained a wide and deep creek divided the road. To get to the other side, you had to walk through the creek or try stepping on rocks that lay halfway out of the water.

We also had to pass through two sets of drawbars. They were two or more long, wooden nails that slid into the facing ends of the fence. You had to pull these rails from one end of the fence, drop them on the ground, pass through, then replace the rails back into the slots of the fence to keep the livestock from wandering off.

I left Cane Branch at an early age for the military, but I was so homesick that I almost went AWOL to get back home. I had lived in Cane Branch for seven years, and the memories of how it looked when I was a small boy is what caused the lonely and homesick feelings.

I miss those days and the mountains of Letcher County so very much. It seemed the sky was bluer then, the grass was greener, and the sun shined brighter. If only it could be, once more, the way it was then.

I have been over most of the world, and I think the mountains of Letcher County are the most beautiful place in the world.

(Contributing writer Everett Vanover lives in Fairfi eld, Calf.)

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