Have you heard of the Hatfield-McCoy feud? I was born one mile from where the feud began. Mom was a Hatfield before she married Dad. The conflict was history by the time I came upon the scene. I first witnessed the light of day in Mudlick Hollow of Pike County, right in the middle of the rugged Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky.
At age four, while rocking my pet cat in the old rocking chair on the front porch of our shack, I witnessed a man, only twenty feet in front of me, shoot another man down. The bullet struck him squarely in the chest. The impact of the slug made him sick instantaneously, and he fell to his knees and puked. I screamed and ran into the house. I grew to adulthood before asking Dad what happened. The victim had been having an affair with the shooter’s wife. The man lived. The bullet barely missed his heart and lodged in his ribcage. The incident has been deeply imbedded in my mind all these years. It is as though it happened only yesterday.
A few years later, about five hundred feet from our house, a man was found lying in the middle of the dirt road with a shotgun hole through his stomach big enough to drive a team of Kentucky mules. Someone during the night stopped him along the road, placed a shotgun against his abdomen, and pulled the trigger. He was also shot in the hip. When he was found, he was lying on his right side with his hand curled up inside the hole in his stomach. The murderer was never found. But we knew who he was, an uncle (and perhaps even a second uncle). He later shot his first wife, and then turned the gun on himself. They both lived. He walked with a limp for the remainder of his life, as one side of his body was partially paralyzed due to the self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Second Wife Murdered
Later he drove his second wife to an isolated spot on a mountain road, walked her down the hill a few hundred feet, killed her, and buried her where she fell. Her body was found a few weeks later. He was sent to a mental institution but released a few years later—a free man.
There were strong indications he torched his parents’ house and later his half-brother’s. Both burnt to the ground. He was criminally shrewd.
A Knock On The Door
The last time I saw him was in 1962, in Ohio, when he knocked on our front door and asked to stay overnight and enough money to buy gasoline for his car. We kept him overnight, got him some gasoline for his car, and sent him on his way. He was rotten to the core from early childhood. He is now deceased. His ashes were scattered, just as he had scattered the lives of so many.
Such was life in the Appalachians. I disliked that part of Kentucky then, and I dislike it even now. Occasionally, I opt for punishment and return to visit my homeplace. The memories become even more vivid, and they haunt me with turbulence until I exit those mountains.
There were nine of us children, six girls and three boys. Times were hard. Poverty was common. We took a bath and changed clothes once a week. This bit of information may not be very appealing, but we bathed in the same wash tub and in the same water. Shoes were a blessing and hard to come by, so we went barefoot most all year except during the winter months. A few items of clothing worn by my sisters were made by Mom out of feed sacks.
The Outhouse vs. Duck Soup
The outhouse or toilet was about 200 feet from the house. What a day it turned out to be when one of my brothers threw seven of our neighbor’s ducks down the toilet hole. What a mess! Dad showed up about that time to use the toilet and found the ducks trying desperately to keep their beaks above the sewage. I was sitting on the mountainside singing a hillbilly song and observing everything.
When I saw Dad leave the house to use the toilet, I quit singing immediately for I knew something terrible was about to hit the fan. And it did! Dad found the ducks paddling around, as best they could, trying to survive the holocaust. He tore a board off and rescued them. They looked and smelled like they had just landed from outer space. But oh, my, did they ever enjoy their new freedom! Dad then turned his attention to Bobby, my brother, who committed the “neighborly misdemeanor.” He gave Bobby a whipping the likes I wanted no part of. He never knew I was sitting upon the mountainside until I told him years later. I’m still singing, but in low bass!
Our Dog “Trigger” & Red Enamel
Dad told me after I “matured” to adulthood, “Of all the children, you could find more mischief to get into than all the others put together.” And he was right.
For example, we had a dog by the name of Trigger. We named him after Roy Rogers’ horse. One day I took some bright red enamel and painted a ring around his posterior. When Dad came home and saw Trigger and his red ring, he immediately began to “chew me out”—I mean, real good. But during the course of the verbal discipline, he broke down and started laughing, after which he just walked away, never to talk to me again about the misdemeanor. Trigger carried the red ring for the remainder of his days. It served as his “tail light!”
A Coalminer’s Son
I feel for coalminers and their families, for we nine children were born and lived in the Appalachian Mountains, and Dad was a coalminer for 20 years. His back was almost broken when part of a mine fell in on him, and he had to wear a steel brace for months. His spine was never straight again. He lost some of his best friends in coal mine accidents, including a very special preacher-friend. I have often said that I’d steal before I’d work in a coal mine.
Mom canned everything she could get her hands on during the harvest season, including beets. One year, some of the beets soured and fermented and she fed them to our chickens, not realizing the results. The chickens ate them and became so intoxicated they all “passed out”—flat on their backs, with their legs straight up in the air.
What a “fowl” mess that turned out to be! And what a “hang-over” those chickens must have had later. I’m not sure whether their next batch of eggs was fermented or not. Wouldn’t have made any difference, for we would have eaten them, anyway.
Moonshine And Prizefighting!
Dad was also in the bootlegging trade when I was a youngster. I remember so vividly one of Dad’s moonshine hangovers. He had it bad—I mean, real
bad. The floor had one-inch cracks between the boards. He was too sick to get out of bed to puke, and almost too sick to hang his head over the side. His stringy vomit oozed down between the cracks of the floor and permeated the ground below. Termites decided to avoid our place! (I warned you at the beginning that some of this material would be descriptive. Hang up now, if you wish.)
About that time, some of his drinking buddies showed up on horseback. One of them dismounted his “beast of burden” and came into the house to persuade Dad to get up and go with them. Dad told him he wasn’t going anywhere and to be on his way. The man continued to insist that Dad get up and join them. He wouldn’t give up, at least not on his own. That was it. Dad couldn’t take it any longer. He had lost his cool. He jumped out of bed and threw the man against the wall and gave him a beating the likes I have never seen. He might have had a hangover, but he was still my favorite prizefighter.
The poor fellow was so black and blue and purple you would have thought he was on his way to a Halloween party. He staggered back to his horse and somehow managed to remount—just barely, however. He’d had enough, so he and his buddies “rode off into the sunset”—oops, I mean sunrise.
Booze vs. Jesus
Let it be known now before you gather a negative impression of Dad that he surrendered this lifestyle when I was about ten years old in favor of living for Jesus. The night he was baptized (immersed) in the creek, just outside the schoolhouse where he heard and responded to the Good News, he threw away his pint of moonshine whiskey and pack of cigarettes, never to touch either again. He was a good man and a hard worker. Bless his heart! He even did some preaching in those rugged mountains. Mom worked from early morning till late night seeing that we had enough to eat. I was in the military when Dad finally moved the family to the southern part of Ohio. That was a wise decision.
Education wasn’t stressed in those Kentucky mountains. My formal education consisted of the 7th grade. My teacher refused to promote another student and me to the 8th grade when she caught us looking up dirty words in the dictionary. It was later on in life that I educated myself, mostly through self-efforts. A big part of my occupational experiences has been in the journalistic field as writer, editor, and publisher. Additionally, many years have been spent in the psychiatric arena as alcohol and drug counselor, Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist, and teacher.
The Pulpit vs. Freedom
I served as pulpit minister for a number of churches. I gave up pulpiteering years ago in favor of freedom in Messiah Jesus. The spirit of man can survive only in an atmosphere of freedom, and it is difficult if not impossible to be free while enslaved to some sect or denomination. I love my freedom too much to allow some church or religious party to tell me what I can and cannot teach, what I can and cannot believe, and how I can or cannot conduct my daily affairs.
My allegiance is to a Man called Jesus, and it is to Him that I will give an account. It is in Him that I will stand or fall. And He is able to make me stand. I will never grow too old to acknowledge and listen to valid counsel from others, but I will never become so senile as to renounce my will in favor of religious slavery—no, never again.
“Mad Church Disease” & Reformation
I’m a free man on the loose, trying hard to find a cure for “mad church disease!” Care to join me in my “medical” church research? Together, with the Lord's help, we may find a cure for this morbid condition.
My principal ministry is reformation. This is where the good Lord has planted me, and this is where I must take root and grow—with His approval and blessing. There are many songs that have never been sung, many voices that have never been heard, and many hearts that have never been touched. If I’m chosen to sing one of those songs, I want it to resound! If I happen to be one of those voices, I want to be heard! And if I’m one of those hearts, I want to be humbled—but only to the glory of my God, and then only if His favor rests upon me.