Huntington, West Virginia
My parents met while riding in an old house trailor to a convention of Jehovah's Witnessess in St. Louis, Mo.
in the late 30's. Dad and Mother were both "special pioneers" ( 1935 to 1944) in the service of Jehovah and neither
of them had much money, so when the "Zone Servent" Carl Hibshman offered to take them to St. Louis in an old house trailor,
they, along with several other pioneers, gladly accepted. They struck up a friendship and were married in
1942. My mother, Pauline, had four daughters from a previous marriage, the youngest being four years old. They
moved to Winchester, Ky. and I was born in 1943. We moved to Lexington, Ky. for a short while where Father worked
briefly for the Greyhound bus Company. Mother and Father did a lot of moving around while I was a baby as they tried
to start new congregations of witnesses. They spent many years seaching for those "sheep-like ones." We later
moved to Huntington, W.Va. in late 1945. Father was desperately searching for work at this point with many mouths to
feed. The second world war had just ended, the great depression still fresh on everyone's mind, and the economy
was slow to recover.
We moved into a very small house on 28th Street. Father, Mother, my four sisters and myself all cramped into two bedrooms.
It was an old house with a metal roof and small rooms consisting of a living room, a “middle room” and kitchen,
all downstairs. Upstairs were two bedrooms, about the size of a postage stamp, and a bathroom with a commode and bathtub.
In the small backyard was a fruit cellar and storage house built into the side of a sloping hill. The storage house was converted
into a laboratory with electricity and gas where my Father made false teeth for the neighbors and others who would come looking
for cheap dentures. As I grew up over the years, there were many strange toothless characters who would trek up that hill
and sit in the makeshift lab while Father painstakingly made their teeth from scratch. It was a time of survival and many,
if not most of the clients had no money. More often as not, Father would trade false teeth for food, or clothing, or something
he deemed as equal value. I remember our first lawnmower was payment for a partial plate, and a gas heater for the lab was
another. Canned goods of pickles and beets, corn and green beans, pecks of tomatoes, sacks of potatoes and watermelons were
a favorite trade commodity as well. When ever there was actual cash changing hands, we would all celebrate. Cash meant a new
comic book, fresh meat for dinner or kool-aid enough to last the whole summer.
In 1948 my brother Tony was born. The girls and I all loved our new brother. He brought smiles and cheer
to the family. It became obvious, however, that Father was becoming more and more worried about how to feed
and clothe his family. He was unable to care for us all from the meager existence that making false teeth afforded him.
He was also worried because he did not have a license to practice denisty, and was sure he would be caught if he kept
making false teeth from the back-yard laboratory. It was then that he decided to take his business on the road.
Living in West Virginia were countless poor ones scattered through out the mountains and gulleys. People who lived without
gas or elelctricy. People who had no indoor plumbing or means of support. People who grew their own crops for survival.
Some made gin and whiskey in hidden stills and sold their wares to locals who in turn would drive to neighboring towns and
states selling and distributing the “white lightening” moonshine.
Father decided that he would travel those back roads and cow paths making teeth for those needy ones and trade as before,
for food, livestock, etc.
He would load up his dilapidated old LaSalle touring car with supplies and head for the hills, staying for weeks at a time.
He used to pick out a road that led through the mountains and knocked on every door along the way, advertising himself as
a Doctor of Dentistry. He took along samples that he would show perspective customers, of which were abundant. Those pearly
white porcelain teeth shined atop the pink acrylic gum samples and convinced many to buy, or trade. Some wanted teeth but
needed some of their natural teeth removed. Since there was no dentist for miles, Father decided he would pull teeth as well
as make them. So began the odyssey of starting at the bottom of the mountain, pulling teeth all the way to the top of the
mountain and making false teeth for the same ones as he came down from the mountain. Father always had an eye for business.
The Ghost of Sugar Hill
On one such journey in the fall of 1954 he took me on a mountain trip with him. I will never forget that experience
for as long as I am alive.
We labored up a steep and uninhabited mountain for many hours that first day. Twice we had to stop to put water into the
radiator of the old LaSalle as we slowly climbed towards the top of the mountain. We meandered past the abandoned
coal mines and empty houses of the once prosperous settlements, the old dirt roads covered with black ash that had once
given life, now death. Stories of Black Lung Disease was whispered in the mountain air by the ones that remained
and stories of survival were forever lost in the darkness of the mines.
Just before evening, we came to an old log house with weathered gray timbers and white smoke escaping into the cool air.
As we stopped in a clearing in front of the house, steam spewed once more from the radiator and the car motor suddenly died.
“ Well, that does it!” I heard Dad say. I raised up from the back seat where I had been sleeping. There, several
yards away, was an old house with a patchwork roof of tar and tin, a large porch with a porch swing, an old
washing machine, piles of wood and two skinny dogs sitting still as statues. Before Dad could get out of the car, a tall bearded
man came out of the house, an old straw hat on his head and a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. He stood on
the porch for a second when another person with long thick blonde hair and a shotgun joined him. Neither of them spoke.
Father got out of the car. “ Hi there....how you doing?” Father took several steps toward the couple on the
porch. “ I’m Doc Pouch and that’s my son Johnny. Can I speak with you a minute?” The man in the straw
hat motioned for the yellow haired one to lower the shotgun. “ Sho', come on up.” The man smiled and I noticed
most of his front teeth were missing. Father turned to me and winked. “ Come on son, let’s stretch a minute”
he said as he inched his way through the chickens in the clearing, all the way to the porch.