Whitesburg KY
Mostly cloudy
Mostly cloudy

For you, Daddy, on Father’s Day

Let me tell you about my daddy, Curt Cornett. He was born in 1910 on Linefork, a descendant of an indentured servant, a Revolutionary War soldier, and a farmer from Dry Fork. Tracing his ancestry further back, his forefathers came from Denmark to England in 1076, so that makes him a descendant of the Vikings.

He only went to school for six years. (He got his eighthgrade GED in 1972.) He started working in the coal mines at the age of 12, lying about his age so they would hire him. He worked in the deep, dark coal mines of Letcher County for 36 years.

In 1936, at the Marlowe Coal Camp, he met my mother, Thelma Ruth Cornett, whose father, Fred Hughes, was a foreman there.

Mama was 15 then, and he was 25. After a year of ‘sparking’, they married on Dec. 5, 1936. I was his first child, born in 1937. The other boys came along in 1940, 1941, and 1943.

We grew up poor, but we never knew it. I cannot ever remember not having something on the table at mealtime.

Daddy could build anything. He could lay blocks for the foundation of a house, build a house on it, then wire it, put up drywall and build and install the kitchen cabinets.

I was his helper when he was building or remodeling a house at Blackey, and he paid me 50 cents an hour to help him.

While living in Graveyard Hollow in Whitesburg, I was trapped in a forest fire in about 1946. Running down the hill through the fire and falling, burning limbs, I tripped and fell over Daddy, who was crawling through the flames, coming up the hill to get me and Dave Smith.

He got some burns, and had a scar on his temple the rest of his life.

When he died, the undertaker covered the scar up with makeup and I made him wash it off.

Daddy raised four boys on a miner’s wages. He said, “I don’t want neither one of you boys to go into the mines. I’ll educate you and you stay out of underground.” We all ended up in and around Dayton, Oh.

Daddy called me one night. “I want you to call the rest of the boys, and I want you all to come down here to Blackey Friday night. Leave your wives and kids there, and all of you come home.” He said nothing was wrong, but he needed us home.

We all went home in the same car, talking all the way and wondering which one of them had cancer and was about to die.

The next morning, Mama woke us up to the smell of tenderloin, fried eggs, biscuits, fried apples and gravy. After we ate, Daddy said, “You boys come with me.”

We followed him up the hill, expecting him to show us where he wanted to be buried. Instead, he showed us several dead poplar trees. He had ‘ringed’ them earlier in the year, so they would season just right.

Daddy said, “I want you boys to cut down those trees and drag them down to the house, and cut them up for my firewood for this winter. I can’t do all this work myself, and I can’t find anyone around here who wants to work.”

We spent the weekend cutting Daddy’s firewood and enjoying Mama’s home cooking. We drove back to Dayton on Sunday night, tired but happy.

Daddy and Mama retired and moved to Burnside in 1982 to be near Lake Cumberland. I moved here later that year. He would go fishing just about every other day.

One day, he started catching 12-inch bass, one right after the other. The keeping size was 15 inches, and Daddy was getting mad. He carried the minnow buckets to the car and when I emptied them at home, both buckets were stuffed full of those 12-inch bass. We had enough to feed about 12 people at a fish fry.

Daddy and Mama acted like teenagers all their lives. They would sit on the couch and watch TV and hold hands. They would take walks together every day when weather permitted.

They went to the movies together, and even the drive-in movies.

I drove Daddy to the Somerset hospital one day in February 1984. He was having some uncomfortable pains in his chest. They said he was having a heart attack.

Three days later, on Feb. 29, 1984, his heart just stopped. His last words were to a nurse in his room: “How in the world do you ever get those tight, white pants on?”

Leave a Reply