“We may not have had the best things, but we always had everything we needed. Yeah, that and a lot of love.”
Alex Brashear, College Student and Carpenter; Cornettsville, Kentucky:
“[Living in the mountains] I love it. A lot of good friends. Good people. Just good times. Hunt. Fish. Garden. I stayed outside all the time. It was fun. I still hunt and fish and garden.
Dad, he was a carpenter. And he worked at a photo shop. And Mom, she worked at a Senior Citizens Center. Both my Papaws were miners. And my one Grandmother, she worked at a nursing home. And the other one, she worked like at restaurants, waitress and stuff like that. It was fun times, a lot of good lessons learned. I was taught to be honest and kind, and do people right. You know, be good to people, good things come back.
Well, there was a big rock fell on one of them’s knee. Busted it up real good, and he’s…he’s bad off with cancer now. Lung cancer you know. My other Papaw, he had Black Lung, but the mines he worked at, they moved out and burned everything. And he didn’t have any of his check stubs left. You know, he didn’t save ‘em, and all that, didn’t have no proof that he worked there. So he didn’t get to draw Black Lung, or nothing like that.
My Papaw, whenever I was little, he always told me I was worse than the stuff a cat would cover up. (Laughs) I never knew what he was talking about until he died. And it took me a couple of years after that. I thought about that, and I said, ‘You gotta be kidding me.’ We’d get out, and he wasn’t in all that good health at the time. But we’d get out and walk around, look at stuff in the woods. And (we) gardened a lot.
I know they had a bunch sweet pepper planted one year. Mamaw grew all different color bells and things. And she got out there, she was gonna pick ‘em. And I was real little. And I remember it, ‘cause she had red and yellow, purple, and everything. And Papaw told her. He said, ‘You’d better pick them peppers tonight.’ She said, ‘Naw, I think I’m just gonna wait till in the morning.’ And she went out there the next morning, and the deer ate ever one of them she had. (Laughs) She didn’t get a one off of ‘em. One day too late. They took them that night.
(Growing up) It was pretty tough. We raised our food and didn’t have to worry about starving to death. We always had chickens. Here recently, we got into goats. Help keep the place cleaned up.
(At Papaw’s) when I was little, I remember going up to the hen house and gathering eggs and stuff. They had two big turkeys in the chicken lot. They kept running around. And Papaw kept them to bring wild turkeys down from the mountains. He enjoyed seeing them. I was scared to death of them. I remember I thought one was getting after me one time, and I took off running, grabbed Grandma right by her britches leg. She started laughing. I thought I was eat up.
We used to raise hogs. We raised about two a year. You just start ‘em out as pigs, and make sure they get enough protein to grow up big and healthy. We liked them to get to about three hundred, three hundred fifty pounds. You definitely want to butcher them in the wintertime; nature’s refrigerator. You don’t want your meat to spoil. We started bright and early in the morning. Everybody would help. It was just something for the family and neighbors to do together. Everybody swung by, they’d have to stop and see what was going on. Hang around, help and get a fresh piece of meat to take home.
We may not have had the best things, but we always had everything we needed. Yeah, that and a lot of love.
I got out of high school. I went to college. I went to Alice Lloyd for two years. And I went to EKU for a year, and then I came back here. I still ain’t finished yet, but I’m working on a Biology degree. Trying to go to medicine.
In 2011 I took classes on working underground. My buddy, he was working at Sapphire (mines), and they were getting ready to open one up over there in Pikeville. And he told me he’d get me on there. Well, I went and finished my class and caught up with him. That next week they ended up shutting the mines down and laid everybody off. That was whenever it (layoffs) started hitting real heavy.
(Jobs) There’s nothing, where I live at. I’m thirty miles from town and you can’t drive to McDonald’s to work three hours, and then come back home, and make gas money, you know. It’s awful. We’re up here selling a few vegetables and stuff (at the Farmer’s Market)…but that’s about it. (What we need is) Factories. Roads. Factories. You know we’re rich in art and crafts and stuff. If people would get back to their roots, I think it would help a lot.
Music? No, I never did pick up anything, but a lot of family members, you know, they pick and go on; bluegrass and gospel. Stuff like that. ‘The Singing Cookes’ is on my Mom’s side, and then ‘The Master’s Harmony’ is on my Dad’s side. And the rest of ‘em, they just pick for fun and stuff. I write a little bit. That’s it.
Appalachian culture? We’re the best. (Laughs) Humbleness, I think for the most part (is what separates us). Really. Because you know, we never give up. (You) can’t get us down. We’re used to dealing with hard times, and it’s just been bred into us, I think. I was taught to never give up.
I think it’s funny. I took two Appalachian Studies classes at EKU, and I really enjoyed it. The teacher, he got up talking and everything. Everything he brought up, you know it was my life.
(The media) I think they come in, and they pick the worst they can find, and throw them up on the screen. ‘Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia’; there’s that type of people here but I don’t think we’re all hillbillies, with no teeth and no sense at all, you. It’s funny that people believe that. The accent I think it has a lot to do with it. Really. We’re good, honest folks; great work ethic. And if people would just give us a chance, they’d be surprised at what they’d find.
I met this guy one time, while I was in Richmond, (Kentucky). He was from Australia. And it kind of made me really proud. I was talking about his accent, the Australian accent, I think it’s cool, and he was talking about my accent. I said, ‘What do you mean, my accent?’ He said, ‘That’s America’s accent.’ I said, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me.’ He said, ‘No. That’s America’s accent. I like it.’ You know, it made me proud. It really did.
The happiest times? Probably when I was little. Way up to the top of the mountain, Dad took me up there. A big old rock up there. It had like a ledge, came out and stuck over the mountain. A cave kind of, look back in it. And they call it ‘the big rock,’ is all I know, no official landmark. But I think about that. It’s always been my safe haven. I call it my happy place. It’s just a big rock. You know, it’s my safe haven. It’s my happy spot, I guess. My dad and I, we used to go up there and squirrel hunt, and see what all we could find.
I love fishing and hunting. Catfishing for the most part. Night fishing, I like doing that. With chicken liver and night crawlers.
One night, my little cousins, they’re going on, ‘Let’s go fishing. Let’s go fishing.’ I said, ‘Alright, let’s go.’ We loaded up lanterns and stuff, and went down there and got set up. I always use cane poles in the river. It’s a lot easier. And I had one set out there, and there was a limb sticking out, coming off the bank. A catfish had got hooked and wrapped itself around one of those limbs. The lanterns had died. It was pitch dark. All we had was a little flashlight, and I was trusting my little cousin to shine it for me. I walked all the way out there on that limb, and whenever I got out there on the main end, I reached down to get that cat, and my foot slipped, and there I was. Soaked! Soaked! Standing in the middle of that river in the middle of the night. Couldn’t see anything. He started laughing and dropped the flashlight. I was holding on to a catfish, trying to get to the bank with it. It was awful. It was. It was a fun time though.
I do some crappie fishing. And white bass whenever they start running. They’ve always said that whenever the redbuds start blooming that the white bass are running. Usually you can go by all them old sayings. That’s another thing I learned. We plant a lot by the signs. I learned that from my grandparents.
Mamaw, when she was little, her Daddy, and his brother, and a friend made moonshine. And her Mom would peddle it over cross the mountain. She rode a big mule, and had it in the saddlebags. She’d also take and sell possums. She would put (the moonshine) down with them dead possums The revenuers were constantly after them. They stopped her on top the mountain one time and they caught on to it. Then she started carrying the possums live in her saddlebags.
They stopped her on top the mountain again, and said, ‘We know what you got in them bags’. And she said, ‘I got possums.’ They said, ‘What else is in there?’ She said, ‘That’s it.’ They wanted her to get down and get them out. She said, ‘If you want ‘em you can get down in there and get ‘em out.’ They wouldn’t touch them live possums. Loaded down, she hauled over to Vicco. She got away with it.
People I went to school with here, I’d say there ain’t a quarter of us left living here. All jokes aside they’ve moved (away) for jobs. Twenty years from now I hope that we will have more business. People are gonna have to move away from coal. We seen that already. Then, hopefully, a more stable economy (will develop), and folks will come back that left (the region). I hope to (live my life here). Do the best I can. Do whatever I have to. I ain’t afraid of work. I’ve known it all my life.”