“If I was ever disrespectful to anybody, my Dad would have give me the back of his hand, and real quick.”
Donald M. Lilly, Retired Machinist; Westland, Michigan, Originally from Dunns, West Virginia:
“We owned a farm. We had to raise our food in the summer, and can it to live in the winter. So we didn’t have a lot of playtime [growing up], we had a lot of work time; gardening, cutting wood for wintertime to keep warm.
We still own the farm, [it’s] about a hundred and seventy-five acres. It’s full of timber. We’ve had a few people want to buy the timber, but we won’t sell the timber off. We want to sell it all together.
Dad worked in the mines. My brother here, he worked with me, right alongside of me, when we weren’t fighting. (Laughs) My Dad’s name was Earl Lilly. Yeah, Preacher Earl, they called him. He used to be a preacher many years ago. He died in ’64, right before I went to Michigan.
He had a tumor on the brain. He was part of the pioneer [research] of the tumors and stuff. They took him to Ann Arbor Hospital up there. He was one of them that they sort of experimented with. I figure people are still living from all the experimenting they done, that’s part of my dad’s legacy.
We went to a two-room school down in Dunns, had four grades in one room, and four grades in the other room. We had a cafeteria in the middle of it. We skipped all eight grades. (Laughs) I think school taught me quite a bit. I learned everything from school. I had some good teachers.
[There was] no work down here back then, [so I] went to Michigan. My brothers, they were already up there. I worked in a little factory called Galen Manufacturing Company. They made air conditioners. That’s when they first started putting air conditioners in cars [and] they was making the tubes for ‘em, that you put the Freon in. That’s the first place I ever worked. I worked there for six months. I went on in the afternoons. [My boss] told me he’d put me on days as soon as he could. Six months later, I was still on afternoons, so I went and got another job. He said, ‘I’m going to put you on days.’ I said, ‘I’m going to another place, I give you six months.’
Went to the other place and worked making concrete pipe. Then, I went in the military, and came back to working in concrete pipe. National Concrete was the name of it, and like I said, come back worked there for about another year. Then I started running screw machines [in a machine shop]. We ran parts for all the big four; Ford, GM, Chryslers, AMC, back then. I run them for about thirty-five years. I’ve been retired for six years.
I worked in the coalmines for four months. The miners’ bath house broke down, and [I] come home one day with black all over me, and my wife seen me, and said, ‘Who are you?’ I said, ‘I’m Donny.’ She said, ‘Donny, you’re out of the mines.’ And we moved back up to Michigan next week.
It’s really not that bad, or it wasn’t when I was in there, back in the 70’s. Like I said, the laws was real strict, and the mines worked right along with the police. They didn’t try to overstep anything. We had a good union, the Miner’s Union, probably one of the best unions in the country. When they set the timbers back in the mines, the whole purpose, in my opinion, is when they start cracking, the roofs a-working, you’d better get out of that area. It will give you a little time to move, but you’d better not keep waiting around there.
I won’t tell you it’s not dangerous, but if it’s like it was when I was in there, they obeyed the laws, and the laws was made for safety.
I was [a] Plumber in the Army. I was mostly out in California. They never sent me overseas. Wouldn’t a-went if they’d sent me. I was out there, and then I was down at Fort Lee, Virginia. Took my basic at Fort Knox. [I was in the Army] during the Vietnam area. I went in on June 20, of ’68 [and] got out June 19, 1970. [Went] back to Michigan [and] been up there ever since.
Been married to my wife forty-four years. We got married right after I got out of the service. She’s from up there [Michigan]. We have a farm back here [West Virginia]. I could have moved back any time I wanted to. After we had kids up there, and we had grandkids [we wound] up staying up there.
I like coming back occasionally. I usually come back once or twice a year. My Mom and them lived down here, my family’s down here, and then I’ve still got a sister that lives here in Princeton.
I’m a hill-lilly. (Laughs) I am a hillbilly. It’s somebody that grew up in the hills and knows a lot about the country. Done a lot through the country, and probably can tell other people about the experiences they’ve had, and be fair about it.
We have a lot of love for each other. People in Michigan, a lot of times, your next door neighbor don’t even know you. Down here, they know you for miles away. And the people teach their kids respect. My dad taught us respect, and I think that has a lot to do with what goes on in the country. If I was ever disrespectful to anybody, my Dad would have give me the back of his hand, and real quick. (Laughs)
Well, I can tell you about my wife. She was ironing one day on the second floor. She was ironing, and all of a sudden, she fell right through the window, cut her face up something fierce. I dressed her and took her to the hospital over there. The doctor told me, said she needs a skin graft. I said, ‘I’m going to be the skin owner.’ The guy said, ‘Don’t you meant the skin donor?’ I said, ‘No, I’m the skin owner, ‘cause it’s my skin growing on her. That makes me the skin owner.’
Anyway, they took a couple of strips of bacon off of my rump, and they laid ‘em across her face, just real nice and everything. Then one day, we were sitting out on the front porch, and she said, ‘Honey, I love you.’ And I said, ‘Honey, I love you, too.’ She said, ‘How in the world can I ever repay you, for what you’ve done?’
I said, ‘Honey, don’t think about it. Don’t even worry about it.’ I said, “Ever time your Mama kisses your cheek, that’s payment enough for me.” (Laughs uproariously)
That’s all I’ve got.”