At least in my family … my dad, Darrel James King, is the King of Storytelling. He was born in a coal camp in West Virginia in 1932. The grandson of Andrew Jackson King and second child and first son of Troy and Gussie King, Dad’s first memory, or so he tells it, is at two years of age. It was 1934 and his dad bought a new Ford V8 sedan at the Braxton Motor Company in Sutton, WV and Ernest Tubb was singing, “Walking The Floor Over You” on a radio in the car dealership. He says he remembers it as plain as day.
My coalmining grandpa worked five-days a week during the Depression earning a hundred dollars a month. Coal mining was a lucrative job back then, and for most men with big families, the risk of life and limb was worth it. It kept them all in one place, which is important when it comes to putting down roots, connection with extended family members, and the entire storytelling process.
I imagine my dad running barefoot all over Widen and the hills and mountains that surrounded the town. This picture, taken in 1937, is of Daddy at five-years old, his sister, Emogene, was six, and his little brother, Delmer, was three-years old. They all entertained themselves with huge imaginations, and I believe Daddy just had a knack for telling his own stories. One of my favorites is the time he was picking blackberries in the woods with his grandma. “I was just a little feller,” he says. “All of a sudden, I’m movin’ backward, but my dern feet are standin’ still. I look down and I’m standin’ on two black snakes tryin’ to get away!”
I know … he’s a hoot. Daddy has an imaginative memory stacked with stories and often-different versions of the same story. One time he had the horse running like the wind and another time the wind couldn't keep up with the horse . When he tells his stories, my mother rolls her eyes with the “here we go again” look. She’s heard them all … over and over … she's not a fan of history, especially her own. But unlike my mother, I could listen to them ... over and over.
He tells his memories of living in a coal-mining town with such drama and wanting you to believe every word he says, because to him—it’s all true. “Me and Delmer (his brother) used to run to the middle of town each time the whistle blew. We knew somebody got hurt or kilt in the mines …”
It was a different world, a time forgotten. Unless you’re fortunate enough to have a dad like mine with stories like these, your own family history is at stake. I’d suggest, if you have any interest at all in your heritage, start writing it down. Visit older aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents if you’ve got them … write it down to be passed down.
My son, Aaron, who loves his grandpa fiercely, can relay his stories almost verbatim. It makes me feel good inside … because I want those tall tales to live on for a long time.
Eventually, my dad went to college, married my mother, spent time in the Army, and moved his family to Ohio … like so many of the young men of the 50s from coal towns in WV. The rubber companies were hiring—it was a way out. As a result, his three brothers followed suit.
If you’ve read my blogs in the past you know as a young girl I remember spending every weekend driving back to West Virginia. It was home to him. It still is.
Dad insisted that winter in Ohio was nothing compared to the winters he had endured as a boy, interminable winters when the snow reached to the eaves of the roof; and when the wind from Ohio blew away the snow, the icicles remained, “icicles as thick as your arm.”
He tells about the night on December 11, 1944 like it was yesterday. “A very deep snow came. We lived in a house my dad built on a farm at Mill Creek. It had three bedrooms and an outhouse. A living room and a kitchen … that was it. No electric. We did have a water pump in the kitchen that needed primed each time we used it. Oh yeah … about the night of the deep snow … that night our new home burned to the ground while we were all at the picture show in Gassaway. Dad moved us back to Widen in a little house on Nicholas Street with very little furniture and Mom cooked in the fireplace …”
His tales are wrapped in sorrow and in humor. We never know where the truth stops and his imagination takes over. It doesn’t matter. They’re his stories. They’re true to me. He's not trying to write a memoir and get on Oprah. He's just being my dad and doing what he loves to do. Talk about his childhood. I just hope he’s around another twenty years or more … so we can hear them all again … and again.
Bless you, Daddy.
Blessings to you and yours.