2nd grade, first day of school. Newhall, WVA 1944


My Mother braided my hair, pulling until my eyes were slanted and my head hurt. She said it was to make sure I didn’t get lice. I had my 24 cents in my pocket which I took to the office to pay for the milk money. We received milk in a bottle at lunch time. My lunch was in a small cloth bag that my Mother had made. The bag had flowers on it and was made from flour sacks that she had purchased at the company store. When we entered the classroom you put your coat, galoshes and gloves in a cubby hole by the door as well as your lunch bag. My hands were chapped and sore from being out in the snow. Mother would put crisco on them to help at night.

My Teacher’s name was Mrs. Hall. She had a wooden leg from her knee down so she walked very stiff. She seemed very old, had grey hair. She was kind but mostly very strict. Not the kind of person that you would argue with, although arguing was not something we did. I just listened and did what I was told.

WE lived in the mountains in West Virginia in company houses that were lined up at the bottom of the hill where the school was located. Every house was exactly alike. My Dad came home at night dirty with coal dust and bathed in a galvanized tub in the kitchen. The hot water was heated in a container on top of the coal stove. My Mother would have cornbread, pinto beans, and fried potatoes on the table. We washed the dishes in a large pan in a sink that drained to the outdoors. There was no indoor toilets so we had to walk to the outdoor, two seater, at the edge of the property. Our johnny toilet was the same as all the other families that lived in the same company houses.

In the mountains I always felt safe. Sometimes I was cold, and my hands were chapped; going home to a warm house, pinto beans on the table and a quilt on the bed was all I ever wanted. I never wanted to be anywhere else.

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