Susan Sanders

Susan Sanders, Retired; Big Stone Gap, Virginia and Destin, Florida:

“Big Stone Gap was the greatest place in the world to grow up, to be honest with you. We had all our schools right here in the middle of town. They don’t exist anymore; they’ve all been torn down. We walked home every day for lunch because the school didn’t have a cafeteria big enough to feed us. We had 50 minutes for lunch, and there was a Safety Patrol that helped us cross the street, and if you lived within a mile and a half of school, you had to walk home and eat. 

It’s been a very, very active community. I grew up with great people, and a town that raised you. As a matter of fact, I’ve gotten in trouble with lots of my friends parents a long time before I got home. 

A lot of our food was grown out in our yards. We had a kind of Farmer’s Market at the time, but you cooked fresh food almost all of the time. I guess one of the distinctive things I tell people is that there were always beans on the stove. In the summer time, it was salad peas or green beans, and in the winter, it was either Great Northerns or pintos. But we always had beans. My father was a car dealer, and there were people a whole lot worse off than we were at the time I was growing up, but I can’t remember eating meat during the week. We had meat on Sundays. We ate vegetables. 

I cook all the time. I cook soup beans, meat loaf; you know…just plain old food. I don’t fix a lot of exotic food.

Many of us have come back. I’ve been gone twice. They say you can’t come home again, but I’ve done it twice. I actually came back and raised my children here. The first time I left is when I went to college, went off on my own and got married. Came back, probably 20 years later and bought a business here that was a food business…a grocery store, but I didn’t make it, to be honest with you. I was here for eleven years then moved to Florida with a freshman, a sophomore and a senior in high school. 

This region has changed drastically. First of all, a lot of the things we have in this area were paid for by coal severance tax that we don’t have anymore. So, the schools are having to downsize, schools are getting rid of the arts because they don’t have money for it anymore. Lots and lots and lots of people are leaving. I would say this is probably a bedroom community. I don’t know so many people who can live here who have to make a living. Unless you’re in healthcare or education, it’s very difficult to make a living here. Fortunately, we still have schools, and we still have hospitals.

Makes me feel sad that it’s that way. But it depends on what stage you are in life. I’m glad my children are in Bristol, instead of here. My daughter lived here with her children for three years. She remarried and moved to Bristol. But the opportunities they have over there are so much greater than what they have here. And I’m glad they’re getting that opportunity.”