“I’ve been doing carpentry work now for over thirty years. I was wanting to go in my Dad’s footsteps, and I asked him to help me get a job in the coal mines. He said, ‘Son, if you can stay out in the sunshine, that’s where you need to be.’”
Tim Delay, Carpenter and Civil War Re-enactor; Kesler’s Cross Lanes, Summersville, West Virginia:
“My Mom was a stay-at-home mom. She raised three kids, my two older brothers and me. My Dad was a coal miner, worked in the mines for forty-one years. We didn’t have a lot, but they kept a roof over our heads, and kept us fed, and kept us clothed, and they’re good Christian people.
[As a kid, it was] a pretty simple life. Working in the garden [was] hard work and we had fun. We had a swimming hole in Meadow Creek, and we’d go down there after we got done with the garden, and swim and jump off ropes and trees, and splash around in the water a little bit and cool off. And just do what any other typical kid would do, and get in trouble. Aggravate your in-laws and your neighbors. Have crabapple fights.
We didn’t have much extra money or anything, so what toys we had we most usually made them. [We’d] make little go-carts that we would push up the hill and ride down, and we’d get in crabapple fights, horse, cow biscuits fights all the time with the neighbor kids and stuff, and that was pretty interesting. You got to find the right horse biscuit to do any good. (Laughs) We usually put them on the end of a stick and hurled them. You could get a little bit farther [and] you didn’t have to get a grip on them because some of them was kind of juicy inside. (Laughs) We used them for our hand grenades when we played war.
My Granddad was a full-blooded Cherokee Indian. [He] was born on Dolly River, I think in 18 and 84, I believe, to a tribe of Indians that migrated. They weren’t really Cherokee. They were kin to the Cherokees, and when they become civil, they took on the last name of Johnson. My Grandma, her mom was a full-blooded Blackfoot, so she had some Indian in her, too. I didn’t really know they were Native Americans until I got a little older. But then when I got in school, and learned about history, and learned what the U.S. government done to the native people, it really saddened me that they just took, and took, and took, and didn’t give anything back to the Native Americans.
[I learned a few Native American ways] I can build a fire when it’s raining, and camp. I know how to stay dry in the winter, how to fish, how to make fishhooks, and stuff like that.
[My grandparents] worked on the farm, and Granddaddy served in the military, both bad wars, World War I and World War II, [where] the German’s shot him right down through the top of his helmet. He was shell-shocked. It didn’t kill him or anything, but we got his helmet, and it’s a big, old, deep cone shape. He had a little problem with that. He got hooked on morphine. But now, he was a good granddaddy. He taught me how to make wooden shingles for roofs. Him and me played croquet just about every evening after I got home from school.
He taught me how to shuck corn, and oats, to stack oats after you take a scythe with a basket, make the shock and set them out in the field. He done everything by hand because that’s all he had. He had two oxen, and Buck and Berry was their names. They pulled plows, and the farm equipment, and everything, and when I was real little I used to ride on them.
They was good people, good grandparents.
I didn’t know my grandparents on my Dad’s side. He was a coal miner, so they jumped around a lot [from] coal camp to coal camp. One day, they just got tired and left. They left the family. My Mom said when I was born, he did see me two or three times, and just loved me to death. Of course, I was so little, I can’t remember. I don’t know much about them, but now I did have three ancestors in the Civil War that was Delays. My Great-Great-Grandpa William T. Delay was a private in the 18th Virginia Company H Cavalry, him and his brother, Charles. And their other brother was a Second Lieutenant in the 25th Virginia Infantry Company H, and he was killed in Sharpsburg in the war.
High school was always the same part of your life, going to school and meeting new friends, and then your old friends that you’d gone to school together with from the 1st grade. I played football and wrestled in high school. So you know, I just was like any other typical kid going to school.
I went in business for myself mowing yards, and this probably was before I graduated. I started mowing people’s yards in the community, and bought my first vehicle like that. Then after high school, I went to work for my uncle doing carpentry work. He taught me the trade of carpentry, and I been doing that ever since.
I’ve been doing carpentry work now for over thirty years. I was wanting to go in my Dad’s footsteps, and I asked him to help me get a job in the coal mines. He said, ‘Son, if you can stay out in the sunshine, that’s where you need to be. You don’t need to be underneath the ground, in a hole in the ground.’ He worked for a pretty good company. They had a bathhouse so I didn’t really see him all blackened, and coal dust, and stuff, until I got a little older and started driving, and sometimes I’d go over yonder and pick him up, if the old vehicle wasn’t going to start. So I seen him dirty [then]. He been in a couple little rock falls [in the mines], but nothing major. He was always in equipment in the cages, and that protected him a little bit. He did have a heart attack in the mines in later years, but they got him out and to the hospital. He was all right then, and both of [my parents are] still living. You might as well say [they are] eighty-three, both of them. They’re about a year apart, but they’re the same age about three or four months out of the year.
I’ve run spads [and worked] some underground for coalmines surveying for entryways and stuff, mostly at night shift. Where nobody was working in there, you’d here that old mountain a-moaning and a-groaning, and you’d think it’s going to fall in just anytime. Now, when the equipment’s running, you can’t hear anything like that. Dad took me in the mines several times, and showed me where he worked, and what he done in the mines. He said, ‘We’ll go up to the Number 2 belt head.’ We got on the little Charlie on tracks, and he told me to keep my head down. Of course, I was young, probably around thirteen or fourteen, and you don’t listen very good when you’re that age. I kept on inching my head up, and directly a roof bolt caught me in the head. (Laughs) He said, ‘And now, next time you’ll keep your head down, won’t you?’ Oh yeah, it smarted a little bit.
When we were growing up we took Grandma and Granddad to Florida for the winter to get them out of the snow, and out of the cold weather. I liked other parts of the country [and] I’d visit ever state in the union, if I could but, West Virginia always been home. [I] always looked forward to the mountains after I come out of Florida and Georgia, wanting to see them again. It’s just like getting a big bowl of ice cream or something, you know? It’s a sight. I mean, you’re driving through the plains, and you just start seeing these little hills rolling up, going toward the sky, and the farther you go, the better they get.
When I was growing up, neighbors helped neighbors, and you don’t see that much anymore. The little group of friends that I got, we still help each other. If they need a little building built, or shed, or the house roofed, we all gang up and have a big cookout and do it. You don’t really see that in any other part of the country. People call us mountain people, or hillbillies, or whatever, and then they kind of down us sometimes. I don’t like that, because we’re just as smart as anybody else in the nation. And we live off the woods, and we live off the land.
It makes me mad. To me, they’re just showing their ignorance because they don’t learn about who we are and what kind of people we are. We’re the same people that they are. You know, just because I live in the mountains, and y’all live in the deserts or in The Rocky Mountains, or California, or wherever, we’re the same bunch of people, and when the nation gets in trouble we all pull together. There were more people from West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee went to fight in all the wars we had, and more of them came back because we knew how to shoot, how to live.
I’m a hillbilly. The greatest race of people on the earth. (Laughs out loud.)
When my grandparents died [was one on my hardest times]. My family is a pretty healthy family, and I was in high school when they died. They were the closest people to me in our family that died. I’d say that probably was the first hardest time, because I was always, always over there. We lived close by them, and I was there every evening helping them do stuff.
[My happiest time was] probably when I graduated from high school. (Laughs) Then I didn’t have to get up early in the morning any more.
[Civil War re-enactment) I live close to the Carnifex Ferry State Park Battlefield, and I had been going out yonder and watching them do re-enactments. This one year, I decided to see if I couldn’t join in on them. Well, I got the bug. It’s a pretty good feeling when you aim a gun at somebody legally, pull the trigger and don’t get in trouble for it unless you do something stupid. They’re real guns, and we shoot black powder. I’ve been in it now for ten years. I’m the Captain of the 36th Virginia Company A.
We try and keep the history up so it won’t repeat itself. A lot of the teachers now don’t teach about the history of the Civil War, but it’s our history of America. When they were fighting the Civil War, each state was their own country, more or less. The people that lived in the states, that was their country. The country of Virginia. The country of North Carolina. The country of South Carolina. The country of New York. The country of Pennsylvania. That was their states, but it was their country. They believed in their states.
We see a lot of [interest by young people]. We’ll be cooking over an open fire, and they come up and ask us if the fire is real. And the food we got on the fire is it real? Do we sleep in tents, and sleep on the ground? Yes, we do. We try to portray it as close as we can. Now, we didn’t live back then and the only thing we got is the history in the books. When I was younger, there were still people that lived during the Civil War, and they taught us what they done, and how they’d do it. And so we can’t repeat exactly what they done back then, but we can get awfully close. Our clothes and everything as period correct as we can.
[I want to be remembered as] a good, honest person. I try not to lie to anybody, to do the right thing [and] treat people right.”