Henry "HP" Malicoat is 67 years old and legally blind. He walks from his trailer in East Bernstadt to London on a nearly daily basis. Many times it's to get groceries at Walmart. On other occasions, he may try to dispute his social security benefits.

"I need three points for my social security and they won't give me no information on how to get those three points," said Malicoat. "That don't make no sense to me! They won't give me no papers, no nothing! I've been trying to get it since the 90s!"

He grew up in East Bernstadt. His father worked as a coal miner and his mother owned four stores in the area, including one called Watkins Wholesale.

"She owned about all of East Bernstadt back in the day," recalled Malicoat. "Her name was Marge Malicoat, my papaw's name was Wainwright Malicoat and my dad's name was Henry Malicoat."

Working for his family at a young age, Malicoat dropped out of school with a fifth-grade education.

"I couldn't learn nothin'," he lamented. "The teachers just let me sleep all the time! They weren't makin' me learn. I guess there was just too many students in the classroom, so they didn't pay attention to me! I wanted to learn! I wanted to read and write! I'd give anything if I could read and write!"

While Malicoat can write his name and knows the alphabet, he struggles with alphabetical order.

The businesses that Marge owned failed over time. Meanwhile, Malicoat's father was busy seeing other women.

"My dad took another woman and left with her. I was very very young. He left us with nothing," said Malicoat. "We moved out to Jackson County. Mom got awful sick on me. We put her into the hospital and we finally moved back to Cold Hill. I went with my dad to Nicholasville and worked on a farm."

At the age of 13, Malicoat cut tobacco down for his father. He claims that the experience "made him crazy."

"Dad would take my money, he wouldn't give me no money. That guy was worthless. I left him and went back home. I didn't like my stepfather, he drunk a lot. I didn't like being near alcohol. So I started doing wrong things, breaking into house. And then I went to juvenile camp and when I got out, I went to work at a farm on Harrisburg. So I straightened up."

Malicoat sought to restore his name, traveling throughout the United States working various jobs.

"I worked at UK for five years as a housekeeper; I was one of the best housekeepers there was. I lived in New York off and on for four years. 'Made a good name in Niagara Falls. I worked as a manager for a hotel. Before then I was in Chicago working in a steel factory. That's when I had that eye accident."

The reason Malicoat lost his vision seven years ago was due to an incident where metal had gotten into his eye in the 60s.

"I was a grinder and I got steel in my eye. I told the foreman and he said 'no you didn't, go back to work!' So after I got done workin', I went home. My brother came and picked me up. He was always out drinkin' a few beers, messin' around with women every night. He came and picked me up and said 'lord how mercy what's wrong with your eyes!' because my eye was red."

According to Malicoat, he would have lost his eyes then and there had he not gone to the hospital. Doctors told him to take a week off work, but the foreman had other ideas.

"I went to the foreman with a big patch on my eye. He didn't give me no time off or nothin'. He told me to get back to work! I got to where I couldn't stand it so I quit. I couldn't take it anymore, with how my eye was hurtin'," Malicoat said. He explained that since then, the steel has gone from his eye and made its way into his brain, robbing him of his vision.

Eventually, Malicoat returned to Laurel County because he couldn't find what he was looking for elsewhere.

"I've made good money and gone good places. But they weren't my home," he said. "This was my home, London, Kentucky! I just wanted to be somebody. I just wanted to be wanted somewhere. But I never felt wanted anywhere but home. I wanted to be around people. But my people never accepted me for some reason."

Of his three sisters, three brothers and one half-sister, Malicoat is the only one still alive today. He's had three marriages, but he doesn't keep up with any of his former wives.

"My first wife, she died. I was supposed to have two kids with her, but I don't believe they're mine. My second wife, she wasn't playin' with a full deck. I sent her back to Pennsylvania. My third wife's from Manchester. I hadn't seen my third wife in three weeks," he recalled.

Malicoat stated that he had kicked his third wife out of his home because she was using his money to buy meth. He hasn't had a good relationship with his sons either.

"One of my sons stole everything I had. I told him he better not come peck on my door because I'd bust his head. He and his girlfriend figured out how to have my SSI money deposited in her account, so they left me with nothing but $300," Malicoat said. The only income he has is supplementary security income and food stamps.

Occasionally Malicoat speaks on the phone with some of his cousins, but most of his interaction with others come in his neighbor, Lawrence Ward, whom he affectionately calls "Shack."

"Shack helps me do everything. He's gonna put wheels on my lawn mower again. He takes me everywhere I can't go. He's one of the best neighbors I've ever had. When I get too much free food, I share it with 'em. He's got his wife, his two daughters and his grandchildren with him. He's gonna buy him a place somewhere, and then I won't have nobody," said Malicoat. He doesn't remember why he nicknamed him "Shack."

However, Malicoat doesn't rely on Ward for all of his transportation. Numerous times in a single week, he travels on foot to London to pick up groceries or pay his bills.

"You ask me how I make it, I make it through God now," he said. "I just put my hands in God's hands and God shows me the way. I live day-by-day for Jesus Christ." Malicoat added that, while he is legally blind, he can still see to some degree, so he knows where things are in town.

Additionally, Malicoat is capable of cooking for himself. He said that cooking is muscle-memory at this point.

"I can cook good. I've always been able to cook good. I can cook the best steak you've ever eaten in your life. Your memories come back to you if you just try to concentrate on what you've always done," he said.

While Malicoat has the option of living in a retirement home, he said that he would rather die than doing so.

"I'd go crazy. I just couldn't handle it; being told what to do. That would be taking my privilege and life away from me and I would die. I like the privilege of being free, of doing what I want to do, of going where I want to go," he said.

If he does manage to get his social security, Malicoat said he'd want to get a horse as a companion.

"I'd love to have me a horse. I learned how to ride a horse when I was about 13, 14. I can make 'em bow and say good mornin' to you. I've even got the cowboy outfit. I got the snake skin boots. The cowboy shirts, the cowboy hats. I wear it all sometimes," said Malicoat.

Even if Ward and his family move away, or if his cousins pass on, Malicoat says he will manage.

"I'll find someone else, I always do," he said, "I just put my hands in God and let him lead me."

dcombs@sentinel-echo.com

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