Jessica Morgan

“I surround myself with good people. When you do that – positive people, good people – that’s what you get back out of life. You can’t say, ‘oh my poor life.’ You have to say, ‘okay, this day is going to be great.’ No matter what happens, you go to bed and say, ‘Thank you Lord for letting me live this day and do it the best I can.’“

Jessica Morgan, Self-Employed, and works at Kentucky Mist Distillery; Colson, Kentucky:

Growing up here I never knew there was anything better out there, really. I had a good life. My mom and dad both worked and took care of us. My mom worked in different retail places and so did my dad. We just lived our normal life. 

It sounds so funny now because everyone plays video games and technology, but we would actually get outside and play, make mud pies, and act like children. Nobody does that anymore. My kids, if you tell them to go outside and play, they just look at you like, ‘what do you want me to do out there?’ We played sports at school and went to school and visited our grandparents. And all the cousins played together. Lots of family time.

My grandparents were pretty awesome. I was fortunate to know all four of my grandparents. My grandmother on my mother’s side was the one I spent the most time with as a child. She was like my second mom – or actually like my mom. I probably favored her more than I favored my mom because she favored me. That’s where all the cousins would gather and we would have good times. My mother’s dad drove a school bus. My dad’s parents, my grandmother was a homemaker and my grandfather drove a grater for the county. My mom and dad, when I was kindly young, divorced. I would always go there and it was fun times – we would ride horses, go on trips, and do all kinds of fun things.

To me [my grandmother was super cool. She always just treated me really special; different from the other grandkids. I know that probably sounds mean looking back because there was so many of us, but I was the first-born grandchild and she kept me a lot because mom worked a lot. It was just like home. We would go places, we would go on trips, and she would cook. We always had family around so that was fun. She just always made me feel special.

[She taught me to] be a good person, be honest, work hard, whatever you do, do it with pride. 

[I had] lots of fun times in high school. I played volleyball. In grade school, leading in to high school, I was a big softball player. That was a passion of mine. It was lots of fun going to school, getting into meanness that I shouldn’t have gotten in to.

My grandfathers were both military and then when they came home they ended up getting jobs. One was a bus driver for the county, and the other worked for the county road department. They made a good life for themselves. They made a good living, had nice homes, nice vehicles. They lived good on that money, so I never really knew anything about coal mining until I got older. I mean, I knew coal mining, but in my family it wasn’t a direct thing. When I got married we were young – 18 or 19 years old – and [my husband] was like, ‘How am I going to support this family?’ So, he went in the coalmines.

I’ve actually been married twice. Both husbands were coal miners. At nineteen, my first husband went in the mines. He worked in the mines until probably two years ago. He was laid off and hasn’t gone back in. After we divorced, I remarried another man, he’s a miner, and he’s actually a boss. He can do all kinds of different underground work, plus he does his bossin’ too. I’ve just got used to the mining way of life. You may be working today, and tomorrow you’ll go out and be sent home. When it’s good it’s good – it’s real good – right now it’s not so good. We went from making a lot of money to what I guess some people would think is a lot of money, but for a miner, really is not that much money. But we make it. We do okay. 

You never know. He might go in and you might never see him again. I try not to think about it because it’s just our way of life. In our reality his story about it is the trip to work is probably more dangerous than the actual job. But for me, I just think okay, he’s behind this mountain, they put timbers up for support. What’s that when a mountain is going to come down? That’s how I think about that. I just try not to think about the bad things and pray every night that when he goes in he comes back out. 

Everything is regulated really heavily now and a lot safer. A guy that he worked with, a little while back, he was on a section with my husband. My husband was the first one to him. He actually got killed. That bothered him and it kind of hit home to us. You know it was in the mines he was working at. It bothers him I think, but he doesn’t show emotions. I try to talk to him about it, but he won’t talk about it. He just tells me it’s nothing I need to worry about. He’s a miner and he’s going to mine as long as he can mine. As a coal miner, I think they get very little appreciation for what they do. Everybody is against coal mining now. More people are against us, than are for us. But I think… okay, he goes back in this mountain, pitch black dark, he’s doing things so you can come in and flip on your light, watch your TV, get on your computer, but you don’t appreciate what he does?

I’ve had a lot of good times, but many sad times. But that’s life. Sad times. Losing grandparents, that’s a sad time. My husband being a coal miner, having to leave us for a year and a half to work in Western Kentucky just to take care of us, that was sad. That’s a hard thing. 

It’s hard and you just don’t think about it. You get up every day and keep on living your life. Take care of the kids. He lived there for a year and a half, so we had bills there and a life there and he would come home one time a month if he was lucky. He would see the children and try to act like we’re normal but we weren’t normal, because we knew in two days he was going back for the next month… or month and a half. That’s hard. You had to do it because you’ve worked your whole life to have a home that you don’t want to leave. You couldn’t just sell it here now because nobody here has money to buy it. So you just hang in there and fight as hard as you can to keep on living. 

I surround myself with good people. When you do that – positive people, good people – that’s what you get back out of life. You can’t say, ‘oh my poor life.’ You have to say, ‘okay, this day is going to be great.’ No matter what happens, you go to bed and say, ‘Thank you Lord for letting me live this day and do it the best I can.’ That’s what life’s about. It’s hard, but everybody’s got a story. Everybody’s got a sad story. Everybody’s got a happy story. Everybody’s got trials, tribulations, and triumphs. 

That’s one of the things about this job [at Kentucky Mist Distillery]; you meet people and it starts off about moonshine, but then it goes into the story of their life. Whether they mean to tell you that story or not… they’re telling you their story. It’s so interesting, because no matter how much I think I’m different than you, there’s something about our life that we have a common thread. That’s just the human race. I don’t care where you’re from or who you are, there’s something about my life that’s similar to yours. 

These hills have a lot to do with it. I think it makes us kinder people. Stronger people. That’s what I want my kids to see, especially my daughter. Be strong, be independent, depend on yourself and don’t let anyone think or feel any less of yourself than you are. You’re beautiful from the inside out and outside in.

You can’t wait for someone else to come along and be your Savior. You have to save yourself. You have to work hard. You have to believe in yourself. You have to believe in what you’re putting out there. You have to make other people believe in what you’re putting out there. You have to be positive. You have to be open to change. Change is a big thing. Change is hard, though. People don’t want to change, because you get comfortable in the life that you’re living and what’s around you. When you think of change it’s scary. Nobody wants to do it, but that’s the only way you can go forward. 

I think Whitesburg has embraced change. Some people will say not. The majority, especially the younger generation of people, come in here with a big open mind and acceptance of other people. I think that’s the key. Everybody is not the same, and that’s what makes the world go round. If we were all the same, we would never have anything. It would look the same all up and down the street. Being different is what makes us grow.

I didn’t go to college. I ended up having a kid early, 18, right out of high school. Had the baby, stayed home and kept him, and then three years later had my second child when I was 21. I still got to stay home and be a stay at home mom because his work allowed me to do that. By the time [my child] was probably four, I thought, you know, I think I might want a job. I went to work at the school system as a baker, a cook; a lunch lady. Not your typical lunch lady I know but that’s what I did and I loved it. It was where my kids went so I was home with them holidays and weekends, and the money really wasn’t an issue it was just something to do.

Now I’m self employed by day, and then I work in the evenings at the Kentucky Mist Distillery. I do what I love to do and that’s cleaning house. That sounds so weird, but I’ve done everything in the, and I thought I’m going to work for myself. How can I do this and make good money, be home with my kids?

I do like to cook. I like to enjoy my passion – I’m a people pleaser. I like to make people happy. Cooking’s a good way to make people happy. I like different things such as lasagna, roast, I’m a meat and taters kind of girl. I’m not into these quick fix things or these fancy foods. I like mountain food – good, homegrown food.

There’s nothing better than going out in your garden and fixing a whole supper from out of your garden. And then having some kind of meat that you probably raised or someone in your family raised and you had butchered.

My grandmother always had chickens. When I was little, up until she died, we would go gather brown eggs. You know the rich color in the inside? I always thought it was gross as a little kid. Soup beans and cornbread is one of my favorites, had some this week, little bit of macaroni, good onion, yep ain’t nothing better. And in the morning, I love some good gravy and biscuits. Lots of people don’t know what good gravy and biscuits are. They ain’t nothing like good gravy now. 

My son, he’s 21 years old, but he’s a Shriner and Mason. They do a lot of things like that. That’s one of his things, always making the gravy for the breakfasts in the morning, and he’s like, ‘Mom, everybody don’t know what good brown gravy is.’ I taught him. Sure did. You start out with your bacon or sausage grease. You don’t use oil like these people think you use. You use the good oil from whatever meat you fried. Then I do salt and pepper. Get my flour in there and get it as brown as I like it because I like brown. Then I start adding my cream and a little bit of water but some people use milk. I like cream and water, though. Makes it better. Best gravy you’ll ever eat! I’m not a big biscuit maker. My son can make big cathead biscuits. I can’t, I can make them, but they’re not as good as his. I like pone bread. You just mix up your biscuit mix, you know your flour and oil, and just pour it an iron skillet. 

My kids are great. Austin, he graduated high school and now he’s almost ready to graduate and be a teacher. He’s graduating Alice Lloyd this year, this is his last year, and he is a very charismatic boy. He loves life; he loves people. He loves to help other people. Not so much a people pleaser as me. I would give up my happiness for someone else. He wants his happiness, but yet he wants to help people, too. He’s all about his Shrine stuff and his Masonic stuff. He’s just great. He wants to teach, go back and get his master’s and be a principal. He wants to stay here. 

My daughter, she’s 18, she’s a senior in high school, and she’s trying to graduate in December and get out early. She wants to be a physical therapy assistant. She was going to do mortuary, she wanted to be an undertaker, but she says she just feels like she would make more money in the future because the growth rate in physical therapy and the medical field is so big. She worked in a funeral home for two years and she loved it. She says, ‘mom, there’s nothing like it.’ I said, ‘isn’t that a little morbid?’ She said, ‘no it’s calm and peaceful and you get to see people and make them feel better.’

[What makes Appalachian culture unique?] I think just the way we care about each other. Just being neighborly and good, and we try to hang on to what’s made us what we are. It’s a struggle. People want to move away from here to these big cities and I guess just go forward, but you can still go forward and hang on. It’s like having roots and wings; it’s a balance. Walking down a small town street where you know fifteen of the twenty people you pass, and you say hi and carry on a conversation that has meaning to it, that’s a lot. 

I love it here. It’s a beautiful place. You can just look around and see it everywhere. The mountains, like I said the way you see us care about one another, that’s a beautiful thing in itself. You know, it’s not everywhere you can look and see a mountain and go hiking on that mountain and find a waterfall on top of some place you didn’t even think one would be. There are a lot of people here who have a big connection to their land. I’m all for conservation and taking care of what’s ours. It’s the only one we’re going to have and when it’s gone it’s gone, you know?

People think we’re simple… just simple and don’t want to grow outside of what we have. I think people think… ahhh… they’re just hillbillies. Which, you know, is not a bad thing, but they miss this whole culture we have here. If people would just have an open mind and just say, ‘hey these people, they’re awesome. They’re cool people. We got a lot to learn from those people.’

[Will coal come back?] Here, I don’t ever see it coming back like it was. I think it’s too deep to mine. Other places I think have a better chance, if the government doesn’t shut it down. But as far as it being; never like it was, I don’t think. The numbers are so low now because everything has been shut down.

Being open minded will help [boost our economy]. Our moonshine distillery, I think, is a step in the right direction. I mean, everybody is not for alcohol but alcohol sells. 

I love this job. My title is actually gift shop clerk, but I do everything. I’m out here, I’m back in the back bottling, labeling, you know I’m out here with the people mingling trying to be the friendly face, to be the person they remember. I try to be part of the good experience here. I serve their samples sometimes. I do a little bit of everything.

The most interesting part of this job is hands down the people. Today, you sit down here and there’s been people from everywhere. That’s good. Our big people Florida, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Montana, you know, Washington State, New York, Maine, I mean it’s really ridiculous when you sit and think about the people that come through here in our small little Appalachian town. Even Czechoslovakia. That’s a hard word for me to say. We’ve had people from Germany. Quite a few from Germany. We’ve had people from you know, like, Mexico and places like that. I’m here in the evenings, so here in the morning they get the flow of people going through town and stuff, so they’ll tell me this person come by from this place or that. 

Here [Whitesburg], I think people are open to new things. They’re open to the art, the music, they’re open to ‘you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours.’ I have this business you have that business let’s work together. We try to help each other. You know the Appalshop is great. We have lots of people from the Appalshop – that’s where we get a lot of our out of town people. They come to the Appalshop for something, and then they’re like, ‘Oh hey, we have a distillery next door.’ They come on over. There’s lots of different people with a talent; woodwork people, people that’s good with their hands, art, artists, there’s plenty of artists here. Writers, musicians. It’s endless. 

You just got to be brave. Go out there, if you have a dream, it might be small, but it can become something big. It can become huge. If you want to put a pastry shop in – do it! You live one time. Do it! Be open to you might fail, but you might succeed.

I am a hillbilly. A lot of people think of it as bad. I just think it shows that I am from the hills. That’s a good thing. We’re strong people. We have a lot of pride. We are courageous people. We’re ready to get out here, work for what we want, and get it honestly and good. Being a hillbilly is not a bad thing. It’s really not. We are stereotyped. I just think people look at us, especially places like Louisville, Lexington, even other states… even though there’s people like us everywhere, they look at us like not being educated. Being simple people. Even though we may be simple – simple is good sometimes. You can be simple and still be an extraordinary person. 

[Whitesburg in 10, 20 years] In my mind I want to see us grow. I want to see every building in Whitesburg have a thriving business. No matter if it’s the record store on the corner, if it’s the restaurant up in the middle of town, or if it’s our distillery that’s had to expand to meet the needs of what the country wants…or the world. We would love to be global. When I think about it I think that’s what I would love to see. I would love to see it just be huge again. My children to have a great living here, my grandchildren able to live here and be successful and happy, and their needs met instead of having to go away to find that. How will it be? I guess that just depends on everybody and how willing they’re willing to change and accept something new in here. 

[Appalachia in 10, 20 years] I hope just as beautiful as it is today. I hope that there’s nothing stripped from us. I hope we keep the pristine beauty that we have; the mountains, the valleys, the beauty of the natural state that we are. I say I want change but, really, do I want a shopping mall at the top of Pine Mountain? No. I would rather look and see that beautiful mountain. I hope we just stay intact as a community. As Appalachia. I think people are moving away from here and just trying to get away from what they think is simple. They don’t want to be here with nothing going on. I think the culture that we have is just dying. 

Oh, there’s so many good times. Becoming a mom – that was a good time. Being a wife. Being a part of things like distillery. I mean it’s great. I do everything I can to help them grow and be successful. You have to be that way to take care of people that are taking care of you. 

I would like to be remembered as a beautiful soul. A kind person. A caring person. That means more to me than anything. 

I want to pass on to my kids strength and integrity. Yeah, those are important. It makes me want to cry thinking about it. (Crying). I just want them to know their worth in the world. It doesn’t matter what they say – you know what you’re worth. To me, that’s the most important thing. Follow your dreams. You just look at your kids and you want that for them so much. But there are going to be bad times. That’s what life is. But there’s so many more good times.”