Billie Mullins, Clintwood, Virginia:
“I have lived here all my life. We didn’t have a lot, but we was happy. We had time for each other. All together a different world than what it is now. My mom’s people lived all around in this community, and we visited a lot and we had a lot of cousins to play with. We did have bicycles to ride, but other things was very hard to get because you know how it was. We’d play tag, ride our bicycles, built play houses and worked puzzles.
My dad was a game warden. He was a coal miner and he did the game warden work on the weekends. When he retired from the mines, he took up full-time being a game warden. They gave him a special badge when he retired, saying that he could use that badge if he needed to the rest of his life. I was very proud of him he was a very good dad. My mother, she was a good mother, too. We had a good home.
Before I was born, they had an explosion down at Splashdam. He [my dad] was to go in [to work], but something happened that he didn’t go that day. That’s when the mines blowed up.
Then, he come up here and he got a job and he walked to work over the hill here and down to the mines. [Me and] my younger sister, she was my niece, but mother raised her, we would come right out here and we would wait for him to come up the hill.
[He would be dirty] he had to come in and we had no bathroom and he had to wash in a galvanized washtub. He would have coal dust all over him from head to toe. He always changed his clothes and took his bath right at the first start. He didn’t have any trouble getting clean.
He never got hurt in the mines, thank God for that, but he wound up with black lung, and that’s getting hurt.
I have worked in the nursing home, and I took cosmetology and I had a beauty shop for a while. I still like to work on hair, but with my condition with my back, I can’t do that anymore. But that was what I liked to do.
I married and had two children [a son and a daughter]. My husband was a coal miner, and he’s retired now. We try to raise us a garden and things like that.
My daughter was here earlier. They have been living in Texas. She worked down there and now she is changing jobs. They will be moving to South Carolina here in a few days. I’ve had a time with them [my grandchildren]. They have all been good and they’ve all been sweet and I love them with all my heart.
(What makes Appalachians Special?) The love we have in our heart for each other and for our animals. We love our animals. You find a person that loves animals, you can tell what kind of person they are by that.
We lost our dog in the winter. We’d had him for about fifteen years, and he was like one of the family. He got cancer, so we did everything we could, but then the last time we took him to the vet and he had tests run, they said it was aggressive. When the big snow come, we had an appointment to take him to be put to sleep.
The big snow come, and we couldn’t get out, so we kindly thank God for getting to keep him that extra two weeks before we took him. I don’t have any other animals right now. I have all of their [her children’s] pets to take care of. My daughter has two dogs until she comes back to get ‘em.
My happiest time was when I was baptized, that was in 1987. And I have done my very best to live right according to what God wants us to do. I remember it was a snow on, and my brother-in-law and I were baptized at the same time. I did not get cold. I know I had a coat to put on when I got out of the water but there was a snow on you know. I was determined to hit that water so I did. I didn’t chill. I didn’t get cold or anything. It didn’t hurt me one bit. He had helped me and I never felt so clean in all my life as I did whenever I come out of there.
I have had several sad times in my life, losing my dad, my mother and my sisters and my granddaughter. I lost a granddaughter, she was about sixteen, due to drugs. It was terrible, that was very bad.
I think that the doctors need to quit giving them pills. They started out just giving them to ‘em in handfuls, I guess, that’s a matter of speech about it. But they just give them too much. They got it started and with that and everything else, drinking and everything, you know. I can’t say that she had a big lot of drugs in her system. She had two different kinds that weren’t supposed to be mixed with each other and she was with the wrong crowd.
Have no idea [what the area will look like in ten to twenty years] but I know I won’t be here. But I don’t know…my mother lived to be one hundred and ten years old.
I’d like to see it just more or less the same, the fields kept clean, the houses repaired and stuff like that. There’s not much jobs for people. Oh, I’ve seen it change a lot. The coals mines was a great business around here. It was a booming business. Everybody had jobs in the mine. When they had jobs in the mines, most everybody had insurance and they could go to the doctors. Now, even if you have insurance you always get a big bill from them if you go. I mean it don’t take care of a lot of stuff.
They [the media] think we don’t have any sense, you know. Well, I guess our sense comes from doing. Experience, things like that. It’s like this; they have to go to the store for every meal they eat. Well, we always have our can stuff, our stuff in the freezer. If nothing else, we’d go out and pick plants or something like that in the springtime. And we loved it. Raised greens put them in the freezer, beans, corn, potatoes and cabbage. [My favorite Appalachian meal] Fried chicken, mashed potatoes and cole slaw!
Hillbilly means that I live in the country, and I can go bare feet if I want to. But there is so many people in the city that are going barefooted now; they’ve picked it up off of us.”