LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
I’m not inclined to go back looking through my archives at the moment, but it almost feels like the column I’m about to write has almost become an annual thing over the years.
At least I know for sure that that this is not the first time that memories of picking strawberries there on Blair Branch on hot days in June has triggered this keyboard about this time of year.
I grew up on a little subsistence, hillside farm situated deep in the mountains of eastern Kentucky among the coal fields there on the Virginia line. By the time my younger brothers and I came came along, no family was going to subsist for long on what that little 60 acres, a mule, a draft horse, a milk cow, a flock of feathered fowl and a few head of hogs was able to produce.
So, even though my Dad, would have much preferred the farming lifestyle, he spent most of his work life where, as Tennessee Ernie Ford sang, “It’s dark as a dungeon and damp as the dew, where danger is double and troubles are few, Where the rain never falls and the sun never shines. It’s dark as a dungeon way down in the mine.”
Dad and Mom spent several years in the coal camps where Dad worked long hours and weekends along with thousands of other men, who were treated scarcely better than slaves. When the opportunity came for them to move back home with with my aging grandpa “Pap” Mose Adams, they jumped at the chance.
At that point in time numerous, small, mostly non-union “mule and pony mines” were springing up in small coal seams of no interest to the big conglomerates and most of these were owned by local entrepreneurs who understood that the available workforce needed time to both earn cash in the mines and work on the family farms.