In 1913 when Haymond, Kentucky was built, coal was king in those mountains. It was similar to the gold rush in the west. Men had migrated to find coal. And there was a wealth of it, a black shiny combustible wealth…enough for all.
What my Father brought home burst into flames, and although he worked the mines for the first six years of my life, it wasn’t until much later that I became aware of what had happened to the land. A land so abused, so raped of its grandness, it would never be the same again. The Coal Companies didn’t have the presence they once had. Mining officials had robed both the land and the miners.
Eventually the land was nearly destroyed. The streams became clogged, and a layer of black dust settled, like a shroud, over the valley. No one, except maybe the coal magnates thought or knew their good fortune would end. But end it did! No army of men could have conquered and penetrated the wall of disappointment surrounding the area.
Years passed, and one day I realized I was the land.
In 1961 I was twelve. Haymond was not booming like it once had. I came along after the boom, after the depression, and after World War II. Things had changed dramatically. What I saw as a child was run down and tired. The company store had dwindled to a one-room grocery store. Melancholy permeated the valley.
Another kind of struggle had begun. A struggle of basic existence. Miners with broken backs and stooped shoulders had grown old. They existed on what little pension they received. The generation that followed the depression was faced with a dilemma. Stay and eek out a living as a truck miner, or leave.
Some of my peers left. A lot of them got an education and returned to the mountains. I suppose they may have had a strong connection to their past. Perhaps there were aging parents to care for, or they possessed a burning desire to work at trying to lift the area up from the bed of poverty it was sleeping in.
For me, it was too late. Education became a one-way ticket out.
There was nothing noble about it.