Debbie Adams

“We’ve had people ask, how could you have your son arrested? We’ve been the ones to get warrants on him before, and sent him to prison. You’ll do anything you have to, to save your child’s life. I’d much rather go visit him in prison, as him be dead. People are going to judge you no matter what you do in life. It doesn’t matter.” 

Debbie Adams, Former Lab Technician, Disabled, Letcher County Farmer’s Market; Jeremiah, Kentucky: 

“I grew up on Blair Branch, right up in the holler. When my children were younger and they disagreed with what I said or whatever, they’d go ‘Oh, mom you don’t know nothin’. You was born and raised up in the head of a holler!’

Being raised in a holler and being poor, you made do with what you had. My younger sisters and me would get out and we’d hit the hills! I’m sure they’re probably laurel trees or laurel bushes, but we called them monkey trees. There was a bunch up on the hill beside where I was raised, and we would go up there and climb all over those trees and just have a good time.

We played in the creek a lot…stuff that I would not want my grandkids to do now! I remember we would go in the creek and we’d catch crawdads. I remember making little graves up and getting flowers and weeds and putting on them, and making dirt patties and stuff like that. Even after dark we were just all over those mountains playing hide and seek. [We also played] hopscotch and jump rope and stuff you don’t see kids do today. I was probably ten, twelve years old before I got my first bicycle to ride, and it wasn’t my bicycle! I was riding a brother or probably a sister’s. Now I look back, and it was a more peaceful time. 

I came from a family of fourteen. There were twelve of us that made it to adulthood. We were poor. By the time that I was old enough to realize it, my dad was not physically able to work. He was a coal miner and he worked a little bit on some Happy Pappy program. It didn’t make a lot of money for the number of children that he had. He had emphysema from smoking, and the black lung from the coal mining. Before he died, he only had a fourth of a lung that he was breathing on. He always had breathing difficulties as far back as I can remember. 

He was an old man when he married my mother. He was drafted Into WWII at thirty-seven, I remember them talking about it. I was one of the younger sets of children. I was probably twelve or thirteen when he finally got his settlement for black lung. It was only like ten or twelve thousand dollars that he got, but that was a lot of money for us back then. I remember he asked each one of us kids what we wanted. There was a little store out there in Isom called the Cow Shed. It was just a gift shop and had some clothes and stuff, but they had this big ol’ purple bear. It was purple and white, and I always loved the color purple and I remember telling him that’s what I wanted. They got it for me and that just meant so much as a child, getting that. I’ve still got that bear.

He always had health issues when I was growing up. When he was able, like on Easter Sunday, we would walk from our house at the foot of the hill and walk back on the mountain. We owned forty-two acres, hillside property most of it. We would walk up the hill and take whatever we had to eat and enjoy. That was probably one of my fondest memories of my Daddy. Kind of like a picnic. We had what we called a little pond, basically it’s a little mud hole that was on a strip job, but we’d go back there and we thought we was swimming

The older I got, the less Dad could do because he was so weak and he’d have to stop a lot and everything like that. I lost him in 1980. He was a veteran of WWII. He’d been wounded two or three different times. He got a purple heart and he got three bronze stars. He didn’t like for us to even watch war movies or anything like that. I guess it must’ve been really traumatic for him. I was very interested in the family tree and stories and I wish we’d had the technology that we have now so I could have those stories! 

I have two sisters who are alive that are younger than me. One of the sisters was a twin, and when they were born, my mother always told me that both of them were very sick and feeble. They always thought the little girl, my sister Maggie, wasn’t going make it. My mother always said that she had a high fever and they thought it burnt up her brain cells so she has a lot of problems, learning disabilities. But then, my mother told me that when the twins were a month old, she was exhausted and she took the little boy to bed with her. That morning, when she woke up he was laying on her arm, but he had passed and was cold

I’m fourth up from the bottom. We were blessed that there was twelve of us lived to be adults. As far as siblings, we didn’t lose any of them until 2009 when my oldest sister died with cancer. In August 2010, another sister died of cancer. And then my brother Den, he died in November 2013 with cancer. In my family, it’s not if you’re going to get cancer, it’s when you’re going to get cancer. To say the least, I keep my cancer policy up to date. 

My mom was a homemaker. She canned, she cooked; I always said she could take nothing and make a meal out of it. I realize now how she did that, with the canned foods and stuff she had on hand. If we had company come up she’d just go in there and cook something or other. It might be green beans and corn bread or whatever; we might not have had meat at every meal. But she would always make a meal out of whatever she had. We was raised on soup beans and taters, stuff out the garden. I have to say, I did not want to be in the garden. That was not what I wanted to do when I was younger. I wish my sister could see me now. The summer before she passed, we let her use some of our land and she raised a big garden, a huge garden. I went over and helped her because I knew she wasn’t able to do a whole lot. She goes, ‘I know you don’t like being out here.’ I said, ‘no, that’s all right, I’ll help you.’ She would be impressed with what I’m doing now. And my family would be impressed because I never pretended to be a farmer or anything like that. 

My grandmother would come in from Ohio and tell us these booger tales. You wanted to hear the booger tales, but then you were scared to death to go to sleep at night. My older brother who passed away in 2013, he was the one that begin our family reunion. We have a large family reunion the first weekend of August each year and there’s been as many as 400-500 people come. He was instrumental in organizing that, but he would share a lot of the stories of our grandparents that I never knew. 

One of my favorite stories was he said that my grandfather used to go over to Stonega, Virginia and get supplies for everybody in the holler One person in the community would go get these basics that you couldn’t ordinarily get or grow. One time, he went over there and he took the lady that he had caring for his wife. His wife was pregnant, and she must have been having a lot of health problems. So, he (my grandfather) took the lady with him that was caregiver to his wife. Well, they never came back! After the first wife died, my grandmother and my grandfather got married and they were farmers down there in North Carolina. They had one child that passed while they was down there. They came back up here and made their life here on Blair Branch. They had inherited land off his father and his great-grandfather. They said that Grandpa, after they came back up here, would do moonshine. The way they’d keep it hid is Grandpa would be on this side of the holler doing the moonshine, and my grandmother would draw attention away by burning the fields off over here on the left side. 

When I originally started school, I went to a little two-room school. I have more vivid memories of that probably than my older years! I loved the two-room school. They had a great old big partition type door that they separated the classrooms with. At Christmas, and different things everybody would be in one big classroom. They were four of us that started first grade. Two of us are friends and we get together every few, even after all these years. In that classroom you had the first grade up to the fifth grade. Then in the other classroom you had sixth, seventh and eighth. Hassie Breeding was my teacher and I know I just loved that lady to death. She was such a great storyteller. In life, when we got older, every time she would see me she would remind me I had terrible nosebleeds when I was in first grade. She would bring this bag of rags and put underneath my desk, and I learned that if my nose started bleeding to get those rags out and wipe it. 

Hassie and her and her husband, B.G. had gone to Hawaii or somewhere. She brought this little stuffed alligator and she said it was alive and that meant a lot to me because I thought that thing was alive at some point! I really enjoyed Hassie as a teacher. 

I went to Letcher High School. I enjoyed it. I didn’t try as much as I should have; I was more interested in goofing off. I was really shy. I wish I had tried harder, but I didn’t. I started working probably when I was about twelve or thirteen babysitting for a handicapped child. I enjoyed it; it’s a good memory. There was a program called the NYP, the Neighborhood Youth program. And of course we were a poor family so I was eligible to work on that program. I worked on it for years, like cleaning the school or working in the cafeteria at school. 

Of course, when the hormones kicked in there I met my soon-to-be husband. We’ve been married forty years in August. Mostly, I was focusing on that instead of my education. But then I did go back to school after I had my kids. They were probably in middle school when I went back to college and became a medical lab technician. I had two kids. I had a boy and a girl. 

I’m disabled, so I just sell for my husband at the farmers’ market. I worked for years as a medical lab technician for Mountain Comprehensive Health. 

My husband worked in the mines 37½ years before he got laid off. From the time he was eighteen, he had worked in the mines up to June the 9th of 2013. ‘Course he got six months unemployment and that was over with. He’s only 58 year old right now so he’s too young to retire. He wasn’t in union mines or anything like that. Only thing he’s got to look forward to is getting social security, but we’re just spending the kids inheritance. (Laughs) That’s what you do when you don’t have anything else. He bought a tractor in January, so people hire him to bush hog their ground and he got the loader part on his so he can move dirt and different things like that. 

We had the land [and] his family had always raised vegetables and things. We just decided in the beginning just to raise enough to supplement us, to help our income out. We enjoyed it and were really amazed. I just posted some pictures on Facebook, next thing I know people wanted to buy the beans and the corn and everything I had! So I became a part of Grow Appalachia this spring and oh God, this is such a wonderful community. I feel like they’re family. They are wonderful people. It’s just been a blessing. I’m so grateful to be part of it. 

I don’t see coal coming back at all. I really don’t. That’s the reason I try to encourage younger people to start farming. I feel like the future of Letcher County lays in tourism or agriculture. There’s hope that we’re going to get a commercial kitchen up here in Letcher County. It would be a blessing. We’re hoping to do a commercial kitchen where you can come up here and can your vegetables. Of course, there’d be demonstration kitchens for 4-H or different clubs that want to come up and can. 

I’ve had my micro-processing class and I’m hoping to get my recipes submitted to the state pretty soon for some of the things I can so I can sell it. The things I’m going to submit right now are a spaghetti sauce and a chow-chow and pickled beets. I’m working on getting me a good canned vegetable soup. I’ve canned some this summer and I like it! Hopefully I can get them all submitted and get them on the market pretty soon. I’m a decent cook, I don’t say I’m really a good cook. I can cook though! Do I look like I’m going to starve, honey? 

One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through is my son’s addiction. My son is a drug addict. It was traumatizing for me at first. By the time he was eighteen years old he was a barber, living in Lexington making $750 a week. The next thing you know, he was a drug addict, living back here in Letcher County and can’t find a job for nothing. It was traumatizing. That’s been a struggle for the last ten or twelve years. To be honest, I don’t know how I was able to work while I was going through the rough part of it. But I had great co-workers and understanding friends. Yeah, I would say that’s been the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with in life, other than losing your parents and your siblings. You just have to pray about things and go on a lot. 

I’ll be honest; I’ve dealt with depression. When I first started dealing with it I was in shock because nobody in my family had ever been an alcoholic or a drug addict or anything like that. One of the ladies he worked with as a barber in Lexington had messed her back up and gone to the doctor. They gave her oxycodone and apparently she must not have needed it that much because she was telling these other two guys how great it made her feel. To me, it wouldn’t have made you feel that great if you really needed it, it might have comforted you. Next thing you know, they were using it too. 

We just deal with it one day at a time. He’s been in and out of prison; he’s been in and out of rehab. All because of drugs. He had so much potential. That’s going to be something we deal with for the rest of our lives. We’re just grateful for every day he’s alive. 

We’ve had people ask, how could you have your son arrested? We’ve been the ones to get warrants on him before, and sent him to prison. You’ll do anything you have to, to save your child’s life. I’d much rather go visit him in prison, as him be dead. People are going to judge you no matter what you do in life. It doesn’t matter. 

[Happiest times] I don’t know why you have to have kids to have grand kids! I love my kids dearly and I’d give my life for either one of them, but them grandkids, there’s just something about them! My grandchildren are so precious. I got two granddaughters that are eleven years old; they were born two months apart. And then I’ve got a little five year old granddaughter. My daughter has two children and my son has one. All girls! They have just stolen our hearts. They’re a blessing. They sure are. 

I’m very proud to say I’m a hillbilly. I think everybody around here really cares about each other and I know if I needed help with something, somebody would be there for me. I’m not sure you got that in these larger cities and towns. There’s a closeness in the mountains, and I’m glad to say I’m part of it. We’re a proud people. I know we get insulted a lot, and I don’t care if it’s in Letcher county or if it’s California, you’re going to have people that don’t want to work or don’t want a better quality of life. But I don’t think most people are looking for a hand-out, maybe a hand up. 

I hope people realize that I will help a person if they need help. I try not to bother nobody, don’t want nobody bothering me. I try to live a private life. I love to be social and everything like that. I feel like I’ve got a lot of friends and family and I hope they remember me as a nice person.”