Greg Lilly, Electronics Technician; Check, Virginia, Floyd County:
“I live in Floyd County now, Virginia, a little town called Check. I was born in Beckley, West Virginia. I’m an electronics technician. I learned that in the Navy back in the 70’s.
‘I was born in ’53 [in Beckley, West Virginia] and ‘course that’s a little while back; I’m not that old hopefully, but I remember things like the TV going off at eleven or twelve o’clock. That’s back when you had the black and white TV and some really good shows like ‘Seahunt’. The TV went off at midnight, and you had a test pattern till the next day.
When you get of school and come home, you didn’t have to worry about latch down kids, everybody just came home and started playing till somebody showed up. It was no big deal in those days. Those were pretty good times, back when a dime or a nickel was worth something.
[Families tried] to instill good values in you. You might look back and say, ‘Well, I didn’t like it ‘cause they did this or that,’ but I think most people our age, right around sixty or so, we were brought up in school and it was okay to get a paddlin’ if you did something wrong. We said the Pledge of Allegiance in the mornings; we said our prayer in the mornings. Seemed like people were a little more aware of what they were doing, and if you made a mistake you got some sort of punishment for it. It really wasn’t bad. I don’t know of anybody that got a normal spankin’ that it really hurt them. I think you can get out of control with it. Nowadays, the kids go to school and you can’t give them a spankin’ and everything’s changed so much it’s just hard to see it. I just think I grew up in a good period.
My dad and my mom both liked to hunt and fish. Up in this area, in southern West Virginia, that’s a big thing. Not only did we eat what we got, it was a good thing to take your family out and do that. Fishing was always fun. Some fish you didn’t take home and some you did. We’d hunt squirrels, rabbits, deer; just whatever was in season. We ate it and enjoyed it. I passed along the hunting and fishing part to my kids and they all love that.
Seems like we always got together at Thanksgiving and Christmas and always ate good food, homemade rolls and certain recipes got passed down. Blackberry dumplings homemade, that’s really good. Eating was a big thing. I remember, ‘Bread and butter, come to supper’.
My mom and dad always had a garden. I remember I’d get in there a little bit and try to grow with my mom. We’d have a contest to see who could grow the biggest cucumbers. That was just part of what people did around here.
My grandaddy was named Clifford Lilly. He was a part of a coal company at one time. It was called LiIly and Hornbrook [and] they were out of Crab Orchard. They owned a water company also around Beaver. They were business people and they inherited that from his daddy, Prince Lilly.
He had a mine in a little town called Lillybrook. It was called Lillybrook Mines. I have some coal script out in the car from those mines that was started in early 1900s, 1940s. If you worked for a company, and it wasn’t just coalmines, and they had a company store, they would pay you with script, which was a coin that was specially printed. It had denominations of like 5,10, 25 and they spent this script in the company store. You can get on Ebay and find it, it’s not real expensive, and there’s literally thousands and thousands of different scripts out there for different things.
We used to hang out [at my grandparents] a good bit. He had a TV that had an antenna that turned, and that was nice ‘cause you could get more than one station. He’d always get mad at me for turning that little knob and making that antenna spin around all the time. They had a pretty nice house, comparatively in those days.
He used to have a pool table in the basement, and that was a big deal. It was one that just had the ol’ leather pockets and you’d just go get the balls out of the pockets when you shoot.
My dad worked in the coalmines some until the ‘60s, and then coal got to where it wasn’t real profitable even in those days, where it was only so much a ton. I think they invested in a mine and the seam ran out. Then, he left Beckley and moved to a little town called Wytheville, Virginia and was a cost estimator for Pendleton Construction Company for several years. He ended up starting his own construction company later.
The late ‘60s and early ‘70s I wasn’t living in the coal fields then. I’d been in a few [mines] when I was younger; I’d crawled down in them and look around and stuff, but it just wasn’t really available to me as an option [to work in the coal mines]. I think around here, we know that the coal has really gone way downhill, and people are not having jobs because of it. I wish they could get back into mining more coal, but a lot of that is politics and regulations.
[My high school days] were mostly in the late ‘60s, so you had rock and roll music and the Vietnam War was going on and people being drafted. Everybody had hot rod cars. I graduated in ‘71 from George Wythe High School [in Wytheville, Virginia]. We had a group of friends we’d hang out together; probably six or eight of us were pretty close. I ended up playing golf. As big as I am, you’d think I’d have played football, but I was a better golfer. Seems like the times were much simpler then.
I was one of the first classes that went to an integrated school. We really didn’t have any problems. You’d hear on TV about the civil rights and things, but it seemed like in town there wasn’t a problem with any of the people getting along; everybody was friends with each other and when we went to school and they put us all together it wasn’t like there was anything wrong with it. We were always friends anyway. I think people make problems when there’s not problems there, sometimes.
I personally didn't get drafted. I joined the Navy in ‘73, but I had some friends that were in the Vietnam War. One guy, he got drafted and he wasn’t there two weeks and got killed. I think it was a mortar or something. He’s on The Wall up there in D.C. I remember him, he was older than me, but only two or three people I knew that were killed over there.
[After high school] I had a couple of choices. I was going to go to college [or] go in the military. I ended up getting married when I was seventeen, and joined the Navy. I was in the Navy six years, and it was good for me because joining for six years they gave me two years of school.
I ended up getting on submarines, believe it or not. That was good training for me ‘cause I’ve used that to do what I’ve done since then, which was work for decent companies like Hughes Aircraft Company and Sperry.
[Being on a submarine] wasn’t as bad as people would think. In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s they were bigger than they were in World War ll. The ship was four hundred twenty-five feet long, thirty-three feet in diameter and had one hundred thirty people on it.
I had a pretty good job; I used to take care of the fire control equipment. It’s not fires like you think of a fire that burns; it was fire like you fire torpedoes.
It was a real complicated system, more like a computer system, so it was good training to learn how to fix that.
I spent all my time in the sonar room standing watches, listening to things around the ship, picking them up, and reporting what was around us. I was on that ship four and half years. Our patrols were in the Arctic Ocean, off the coast of Russia. I was on the submarine that had the missiles on it [during the Cold War]. We’ve still got them and they’re out there as a deterrent. We don’t want to use them, but they are there if we need them.
That was our job, to [be] ready at all times. I’m in the VFW because of [the Cold War]. We were there to be used as a missile platform, and we had constant radio communications where, if they told us, ‘Alright, the Russians have shot their missile at us, you guys go ahead and shoot theirs at them.’ We had [nuclear warheads] on there. It was something we needed to have, and it’s still kinda dangerous out there, so we have to be ready.
There at the end of [the Cold War] I was working for Hughes Aircraft Company; I was working on a sonar system that picked up the Russian submarines. It was so good, that we’d pick them up as soon as they pulled out of port and they knew that. That was one of the reasons [that helped] them to give up fighting. They were spending all this money, and it really wasn’t working, and then they ended up separating. It’s still coming back and it’s really not completely over.
Most of us here have left for some period, and then you end up coming back. One reason is these mountains are absolutely gorgeous. You can go out west and you can see the Rockies, or you can go anywhere in the world and see different places, but you don’t find many other places much prettier than this; the gentle rolling hills, the trees, the greenery, a lot of water. It just seems more peaceful here.
I think [outsiders] hear some with more of a southern, or what some of them might call a hick accent, and they take that instantly as you’re not as smart as they are; or you’re a redneck or backwards, which is completely wrong.
It’s just the way we’ve talked around here and it’s not good or bad it's just the way it is.
[My biggest triumphs] are my kids. I’ve got three children, two boys [and] a girl. I’ve got five grandkids and two great grandkids. I’m only sixty-two. I teach them about maybe coming up here next year and try to get them to come. I think I’ve taught them some good values. I think they’re doing fine. I've been employed pretty much my whole life and I’m kinda proud of that.
When you lose your parents and your family gets smaller, you think, well that makes me next then, doesn’t it? You think about that. I hope I’ve got another twenty or thirty years in me. Might be able to do something a little fun and maybe still be able to help people out. Not have to get up every morning and go to work for somebody else; that’d be nice.
[I’ve] always been a hard worker and always been a decent provider. I’m not rich or anything, but you know, you don’t have to be. Money doesn’t buy happiness.”