“I believe in preservation. I’m a diehard, and we’re just not saving nothing much in our area. The importance of preservation is to pass something down to the next generation, take care of what you have, and quit putting in all these parking lots. Some things are best left alone.”
Lois Miller, Retired; Princeton, West Virginia:
“I have one brother and four sisters. I didn’t really do a lot of things for fun. My Dad was very on us girls. We didn’t do very many extracurricular activities. Chores. Work, work, and do more work. My Father was a coal miner, worked thirty years in the coalmines, at Ketchikan Fuel, and my Mom was a housekeeper. She was busy taking care of six kids.
We raised six hogs just for our use, and we had a hundred chickens, and we had a hundred head of cattle. We worked on a hundred acre farm, and we put up hay all summer, also, and raised potatoes. We raised twelve hundred pound of potatoes a year. We sold them to different markets.
We had a cow pasture, and we’d put the cows in different areas, and let them feed off the grass. We were going to work in one of the cornfields, and Daddy took his Mother [because] nothing would do her but to go along. He tried to get her to stay home. We had electric fences up there [and] we’d shift the cattle around. She went to go across the electric fence, and she touched the back of her leg. She threw her dress plumb over her head. (Laughs) We dared not laugh, because Daddy was standing there with a stern look, and there his Mother was in her bloomies, you know.
We would fight over [daddy’s] lunch bucket. When he’d come home, sometimes he’d save a half a sandwich or something, and us kids thought that was the best thing ever. At Christmas time, the coal mines would make little brown bags up with fruit, and candy, nuts, and gumdrops, and we all each got our own bag. He’d bring home Ivory soap from the coal mine. (Laughs) I don’t know if he liked Ivory soap or not, but we always had Ivory soap.
We [always] had a good Christmas. We weren’t allowed to open any gifts until Christmas morning. We didn’t get a Christmas Eve surprise or nothing, and we all took turns watching each other open their gifts, not just ripping into the packages, and you were thankful for whatever you got. Daddy was a clothes buyer, but we would, when my Mother was living, get toys for Christmas. My Father, he thought, as you got older you got a bigger size. I told him one time, I said, ‘Daddy, I just wear an eight shoe. You don’t have to buy a ten.’ He thought as you’re growing, you needed a bigger size shoe all the time. (Laughs)
I loved my grandparents to death. All my grandparents lived to ripe, old ages, and they would teach us things, and tell us stories about things that happened to them when they were kids. I started doing my genealogy in 1982, and luckily all my great aunts, and uncles, and grandparents, except for one, were living. I would hear all kinds of tales, and stories, and things, and they would tell me about what their grandfathers and grandmothers done.
One of my grandfathers, he was blind and they sent [my mother] to his house to walk him to his son’s house. They said, ‘Now Joann, you go up there and get Grandfather, and bring him down here and lead him by the arm.’ And she said, ‘Okay.’ She’s thirteen, fourteen years old and he was walking and he said, ‘Joann, I know there’s a mud hole coming up pretty soon. You ain’t going to make me walk in that mud hole again, are you?’ She just chuckled, and about that time he went right through that mud hole. (Laughs) That’s the truth. But anyway, they had a hard life. They didn’t have a lot, but what they had, they respected. They did logging when they were younger, and then later on my Grandfather, he worked in construction.
We didn’t leave the farm. (Laughs) I graduated and I went to school, and the first thing I did was I got a job. First summer I had a job at Concord College. It’s Concord University now. And I got a job at Wendy’s serving hamburgers. I was the first employee hired at the Wendy’s in Princeton. I’m retired now, and I just volunteer for Mercer County Historical Society and Mercer County Spay Association. I did electronics ten years, and I was a cook at Princeton Hospital, and I worked in a bank, so I’ve had several jobs. I have a degree in cooking, and I like to cook for large crowds so it’s no sweat to me. Some people panic in the kitchen, but I don’t.
I cook a lot of things. I can’t tell you I have a favorite thing to cook. They sang a song to me last night about the brown beans and collard greens. I made ten gallon of beans day before yesterday. I make a good chili, hot dog chili. I’m famous for my chili. I like cooking anything. I make a lot of cookies. (Favorite food) I like good spaghetti now. If it’s made right, I like it. In the Historical Society, one night we had a Spaghetti Throwdown, and we had to sign up, and we had a taste test, and we brought in forty people to taste spaghetti sauce, and her and I lost. Them women had a senior moment, and they got them little numbers mixed up on the bottom of them cups. We just looked at each other and just laughed, because we knew our spaghetti was good.
I make pepperoni rolls. We have another lady in our group that makes pepperoni rolls, and I think I make mine better than hers, but she probably thinks she makes hers better than me.
I’ve been married to my husband forty years. I got two grown sons, three grandchildren, and one on the way.
I like it here. I wouldn’t live anywhere else. I just like it. My husband’s from Newport, Rhode Island, and he’s been here forty years, and we wouldn’t move. We had opportunity to move to Massachusetts, or New York, or Rhode Island where he’s from. He was going in the service and I met him when I was in the 12th grade, but I wasn’t allowed to date. When he came out of the service, he looked me up.
His father was from Lamar, which was Mercer County, and that was a little coal camp. He lived part-time in Rhode Island, and he would go back and forth, but he always liked it here in West Virginia. His father was in the Navy twenty years, and they traveled all over the United States. Wherever they stationed his father at, he always came back to West Virginia. He’s retired now. He was a truck driver.
I like to pass on to the younger generation things that, if you don’t tell them, they’ll never know it happened. We’re just living in a modern, fast-paced world now, and a lot of kids don’t know what to do, or what you did in the past. That’s one of my goals, to try to show them where you come from and where your roots are and what it means to us. As they get older, they’ll be thinking about what Grandma said, or somebody said. I tell them about how I was raised, and how we worked on the farm, and how we went to school and just things in general that kids take for granted. We milked cows when I was growing up. They think you get milk at Kroger. (Laughs)
I don’t think anything about some of the things [the media and outsiders] say. We just say, ‘We’re just proud to be a hillbilly,’ and go on, because that’s our culture. I consider myself a country girl. It means a lot to me. I grew up in the country, and my father taught us things, and his Mother, and my Mother. Country living, how to survive. If you had to go back to this way of living, how would you survive? I’m a survivor. That’s why my husband married me. He said, ‘I’m sticking with you. You could live off the land.’
(Things her parents and grandparents taught her.) To be a hard worker. Be honest. And don’t take anything for granted. I want my grandchildren to look up, and say, ‘My Mawmaw told us that. Remember Grandma used to tell us that stuff?’ They call me Mawmaw and Grandma. I sing songs to my grandchildren, and I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. They love it. They don’t discriminate against me because I can’t carry a tune. They go around singing them songs, and they’ll remember that when they get older. A lot of kids don’t even do nursery rhymes now, and I do nursery rhymes with my grandchildren.
The saddest time was probably when my parents died. I was thirteen when my mother died, and then my father was only fifty-two when he died, fifty-two’s not old, you know. You have to think back about that. He had a hard life. He worked hard to support six kids.
[My happiest times have been] when I got married and had my children, and seeing my kids grow up. I never thought I’d see the day that I had grandchildren.
(What will the region look like in 20 years?) I think we’ll have like more downtown traffic in the Princeton area and 460, but as far as some of the little outskirts, I don’t see a lot of change in them. I think the people like what’s here, and they want to keep some things that are here. I do think coal is dead, I’m sorry to say that. I don’t think there’s going to be much of the coal. They want to do more clean air things, and it’d probably be better for the environment in the long run, but I hate to see the coal mines phase out. A lot of the farming and timber has phased out, too. And so for the Clean Air Act, for the next generations, it’s something to be thought about. I know coal has been around billions of years, and the first coal seam was found in Coopers, West Virginia by John Cooper, but they just don’t have the demand for it now.
I would just like for [my grandchildren] to respect what grandma’s done. You would be shocked at the things that I’ve done. I believe in preservation. I’m a diehard, and we’re just not saving nothing much in our area. The importance of preservation is to pass something down to the next generation, take care of what you have, and quit putting in all these parking lots. Some things are best left alone.”