Jacob Carruba, Age 29, Production Teammate for Firestone Industrial Products; Williamsburg, Kentucky, Raised in Cumberland, Kentucky, Harlan County:
“I was raised in Cumberland, Kentucky [and] I enjoyed [growing up] there. I wasn’t a big fan of school.
As I grew up there, it was a little bit rough. There was no jobs or anything like that. I grew up hustling and working here and there, doing odd jobs for older women and doing landscaping and stuff like that, wherever I could make a penny.
There wasn’t much growing up. Most of the time you would just go with your friends over to a creek bank and pretend and swing on vines before they started cuttin’ ‘em down. We used to hang out behind the Piggly Wiggly [now Food City] a lot back when it was still in town. I remember when there was a Piggly Wiggly, and there used to be the Pick Pack and the IGA and then the Big Lots shut down and they opened it up into a factory, then it shut down.
I didn’t enjoy high school. I was a third year freshman. That was during a tough time in my life where I was going through what a lot of people would call my identity crisis. I aced every test, but I never did any of the homework. I skipped a lot of school and that was about it. I went to punk shows a lot. That was when the punk scene was starting to pick up over to Whitesburg. I played football, so I was like the only gothic football player, [with] a two-foot Mohawk and shoulder pads. That was just the way it worked.
Aside from that, that’s where I met some of the best people in my life. I really enjoyed the people that I grew up with.
Our [Appalachian] punk rock was what I would consider some of the most genuine, because you didn’t have your big commercialized stores where you would be able to go out and buy your wallet chains and buy your patches and stuff like that. Anything that you wore that would be considered punk was stuff you found in the trash the same as they did back in London when the punk scene first hit. Whatever you could find to sew onto your clothes and get from a basic convenient mart was how you had to portray yourself.
We didn’t even have a piercings parlor in town; all of our piercings were done with safety pins and little penny nails. You just jam them through and hope that someone had an earring to go in it. Or you wore safety pins and nails and ratchet sets to actually get the size you wanted.
I quit high school due to my mother having her second stroke. She had had a heart attack and a triple by-pass and all kinds of stuff, so I quit school to stay home full-time to help take care of her. It was me and my mother, my grandmother and my uncle Turtle. We all lived together in the same house.
Mamaw had Multiple Sclerosis, and mom had suffered a heart attack and stroke, so my entire childhood, for ten years after I quit school up until I was about twenty- three or twenty-two, was just taking care of my mother. It helped me to grow up. It taught me the value of work and how to stretch a dollar. Turn a penny into a dime and then turn that dime into a quarter. It’s something that you learn how to do. You have to.
My family was originally from Sicily. My great-grandfather and mamaw actually came over here and then got a job in the coalmines. That’s how my family started as a coal mining family.
Carruba is [family name] derived from the carob bean. I’d have to look it up again but I’m pretty sure that it was John the Baptist that survived for a month, or a few months eating only the carob beans. And that’s how they got such reverence in the Catholic Church and the community. I think [the name was changed when they came over] but I’m not sure. It’s hard to trace a family tree. Most of them were born to midwives and that kind of sort. So there’s not many birth records.
I had an aunt that got held up in Ellis Island because when she came over, her feet were blue due to the fact that she crushed grapes and they had no idea. So they held her there for a few days thinking that she was sick, not knowing what the actual ‘disease’ was because she stomped grapes.
He [great-grandfather] came over, and once they got here they’d heard there was a boom in coal in Kentucky, and started working as a coal miner. Some of the family went into it [mining]. I had a cousin that went in and he went underground for years until here recently when they all got shut down.
My mother worked for the Donut Shop when it was still in town, if you all can remember it. After the Donut Shop, she worked as a bartender. She worked for Lonnie Bruner and Hazel and all of them when they owned the corner bars in Cumberland, Kentucky. Then, she did side jobs where she would go over and clean older women’s houses.
I can remember still being like six or seven years old, my momma telling me to lock the door, she had to go and clean the house. I would sit there with my Fruity Pebbles and watch cartoons until she came back home. I actually locked her out once and wouldn’t let her in because she said ‘let no one in.’ I can remember the maintenance men at the projects bribing me with candy bars and I was like ‘nuh-uh, momma would whop my ass, you can’t let her in.’ Mom would always find a way to make ends meet until she became handicapped and we had to live off her Social Security Income.
I never knew [my dad]. My mother never told me his name. I heard rumors, family never really knew. I think she knew legitimately, but he didn’t want to be part of my life so we didn’t want to burden myself with that.
My family wasn’t just my immediate family. The entire town of Cumberland helped raise me. I can remember being eight [or] nine years old, walking the streets of Cumberland and my mom being at work. People being able to call her at the bar, and be like ‘oh, he’s fine, he’s down here, or oh, he’s over here.’
I was raised by a community, instead of just my mother, so I really learned from that. I can still remember being younger and being influenced by the older men in the bar, because my mom would be closing up at night and I’d be hiding behind the bar because I wouldn’t have a way home. After she’d close the bar, I got to get up and shoot pool and stuff with all the older gentlemen that were still waiting on their rides. So I learned that most of the drunks and drug addicts that I grew up around were some of the best people I knew.
My mother passed away about seven or eight years ago. I was about twenty-two or twenty-three. [I grew up] watching how strong she was. I knew it [her death] was inevitable. Sooner or later it would happen, and it would happen while I still a young adult. She passed away the year of her fiftieth birthday. After all of that, as soon as it had happened, the landlord came over the next day, and told me, ‘I’m sorry to be like this, but rent is due, and if you can’t pay it then I’m gonna’ have to ask you to leave.’
I had thirty days, sold everything in my home. Made enough money to live for roughly three months and got her life insurance policy. [I] paid off her funeral costs, my grandmother’s funeral costs and one of my aunt’s funeral cost. I had roughly maybe eight or nine hundred to my name and had to stretch it over a six-month period.
I was homeless for a few months. I couched surfed between friends and stuff like that. [I] slept outside. I was hooked on a lot of different drugs and I drank super heavy. And then a friend of mine that I went to school with and went to church with growing up and hadn’t talked to in ten years gave me a call out of the blue, saying that he had gotten married and he had an extra room in his apartment and that I could come and stay with him.
I moved with twenty dollars in my pocket and I had a garbage bag with about six outfits in it. No bed, nothing [and] moved down to Williamsburg and stayed with him and then got on my feet there. Over a period of three months I made enough money working fast food. I was working at Pizza Hut and Burger King doing sixteen hour days. My day off consisted of either I got to sleep in and go to work on night shift or I got to wake up early and got the night off. That was all of my days off until I got my job at Firestone and went to working twelve-hour shifts.
I discovered that I couldn’t survive on it [drugs and alcohol] so I quit. I couldn’t afford a rehab so I worked through all of it. I remember waking up, going to work, coming home, going through the cold sweats, waking up, going to work and doing that until I was just over it. I still drink occasionally, but it’s more of a social experience than me sitting down with a fifth alone in my house with that sad paper bag and saying ‘this is my friend today.’
One of the things my mother taught me was willpower is usually stronger than anything else. If you set your mind to it, you can do it. If you don’t want to do it, then you won’t.
The day my wife said ‘yes’ [is the happiest time in my life]. Oh man, [she’s] me as a woman. If I can explain it. I get teary-eyed. [She’s] my rock. She went through the same trials and tribulations I did growing up.
She had to take care of her mother, because her mom, I think she had a degenerative bone disease and she took care of her for roughly the same amount of years. She had to take care of her sister. She was forced into the same roles here in Appalachia when she came back. Me and her just clicked.
[We met] at a punk show. It was one of the Crawdad Festivals. We’d actually met times before that. She had knew me because I had been friends with her sister, and she had seen me before but she’d thought that I was really, really young, so she kinda strayed away from me. And then we met in New Tazewell at the Mustang one night, and that’s where we had our first dance.
We didn’t talk for probably six years, and then [ended up] seeing each other again at a punk show. I came up to her and was like, ‘I’m going out to the bar with some friends, would you like to go?’ I went and I bought her a Monster and brought it back to her and then once she said yes, she said ‘where’s the friends?’ I was like, ‘I lied. I just really wanted to bring you out.’
She got to spend some time with me and meet my Aunt Sue. [She] got to see us dancing and drinking and having a good time. Then after that, I had already told all of our friends that I was going to marry her before she knew it. I just had to win her onto the idea. It was a period of a year. She was terrified. She didn’t want me to pop the question to her until we at least dated a year. It was New Years and I took her outside at midnight at the start of the New Year because I made a promise that I wouldn’t propose to her until after the first year of dating.
At 12:01 I proposed to her in front of about eighty of our closest friends. Everybody was drunk and loud. I was [nervous] but if I’d thought that she would have said no I would never have asked. We are going on one year married.
I would [like to have kids] but she suffers from PCOS [Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome]. So it’s a trial and tribulation. I would rather adopt. I think that there’s enough kids in the world as is, and we could always bring one or two in and give them a good home and a new place. I am a huge fan of adoption.
I listen to a lot of music. I think my biggest hobby is work just because I enjoy it. Actually I really enjoy working, I always have. Other than that, I’ve got my cats. I’m a big cat person. So cats, work and listening to music.
I used to play music but I actually had to sell my drums and all of my equipment to pay rent. After I get situated and settled, and get a five-year plan established and completed, I may buy a drum set. Right now I can’t rationalize a spend for that.
Music is a gateway. It’s an opportunity for kids to let loose and let go and accept and be who they wanna be in life, without trying to conform to modern society. It could be the prissiest little female in the entire community and she could be sitting and listening to thrash metal in her bedroom, rocking out. But she has to keep on a certain appearance for everyone else. It’s really a release for everyone.
I have [had an interest in traditional music.] I always enjoyed the mandolin. It was one of my favorites. I like mouth harps and harmonicas. It’s just a little twang. When I was being raised up I didn’t just didn’t get to listen one style of music. Between my Aunt Helen, and the way she listened to stuff like Barry White and Keith Sweat and stuff like that, and then my Aunt Sue, grew up as a disco/pop girl listening to basic pop music everywhere.
My mother was a huge country fan when it come to Alan Jackson, Waylon and Hank Williams, Kenny Chesney and all that. She liked ‘em all. As I grew up, I realized that all of those genres really just melted away from the basic early genres where it started out as Mozart and started out with punk music and the rise of the Beatles. Everything came from there.
People usually don’t enjoy listening to my IPod at work because it will go all the way from Buddy Holly back up to Mega Death then back down to Trampled by Turtles doing bluegrass back up to do-wop. It jumps everywhere.
Community [is our culture] and the fact that you don’t just have to rely on yourself. Regardless if everyone hates your neighbor, your neighbor probably still loves you and vice versa. I’ve heard people talk about people behind each other’s backs every day and then as soon as those people get around each other they would give each other the shirts off their back to the person they just talked pure garbage about. So it’s a sense of community that everyone will take care of everyone.
I still do [love the mountains]. I [will live always in the mountains] because me and my wife recently went on a three thousand miles road trip for our honeymoon. As we went around, I realized that I am kinda’ agoraphobic when I get out of the mountains… it’s too flat. It makes me really uncomfortable. It’s nice to visit, but I would still rather have shade, than sun.
It doesn’t matter how much someone says they hate the mountains while they are in the mountains. They will always come back because they will miss ‘em.
Maybe in another couple thousand years [the coal will come back]. Let the fossil fuels rebuild. We ran an entire town based upon one economy with no backup plan. The youth [are the future for Appalachia]. It’s the kids now days. They are more accepting than any of the other past generations have ever been. They are more in tune with everything. I think it was the sprout of the internet and the influences of my generation and the generation before me to them. They’re not afraid to lash out and put a foot down when it comes to change.
[We will be] a small mountain community [in twenty years] with new aspects. It will be exactly the same with new stores. Or it will be a retirement village where everyone that grew up here keeps it alive just by owning land.
I’m happy being loud. I’m cool with the marginalization of my community and the people that I grew up around. I’m happy to fit a stereotype. No matter how I lash out, I already know that I am going to sound country my entire life. I am going to use phrases that no one knows.
I think the only way that people can change their views of the stereotypical Appalachian would be to spend a day with us, because it doesn’t matter what town I go to, I start creating a community around me that still reminds me of home because of how I was raised, and how I treat people around me.
My grandmother was Catholic. My mom wasn’t. She never really went to church. She started to when she got older, but it was really hard for us to find a church where we didn’t get berated after the service for what we did and who we were. Catholic Church and even a Church of God, even though it’s a non-denominational, the women would criticize her on the outfits she would wear, and they would criticize me for my outward appearance.
That was one of the main reasons that I fell out of the church. I can’t look at someone based on their outward appearance and decide on what kind of person they are.
I recently started claiming being an agnostic as I started falling out of the church. I started going and leaning more to the humanitarian concept of eternal life, to where I believe that as long as I live as a good person that when I die, my legacy will live on in the memories of others.
I just want to be remembered as a good person, a caregiver, a hard worker. I hope that the values and the way that I have been in my life and the joy that I try [to] bring to others will carry on.
My mother was the [most influential] person in my life. She taught me that chivalry’s not dead it’s just underappreciated. She taught me to be a good man, because I never knew one. [She] taught me the values of hard work, dedication, [and] that friends can sometimes matter more than family.”