Turning the Pages

By: Paige Cline

Due to a lot of circumstances, like no transportation and no good places to dance, the location of our house and the age of our sister Audra, we often had many of her friends at our house at night. 

We had a pretty large entryroom or hall, and I can remember sitting on the stairs leading to the upstairs bedrooms and looking through the banisters to see the Byron Roses, the Harry Gunters, the William Lewises, the Maxine Greenes, the Billy Laymans, the Mildred Roses, the Maxine Byrds and many more laugh and dance to the top tunes of the day. 

I also remember my sister paying me a few cents to keep the Lucky Strike Hit Parade on the radio on the Saturday nights that she would be out with her friends or on a date. I would keep a list of the top ten tunes so she would know the number one song was for that week. 

Although our house was plumbed and had an indoor bathroom and everything, we had a water well in the back yard. It was an effort to keep the water free from the tiny black cinders that would rain out of the smoke that steam engines would generate while struggling with a particularly heavy train of coal. 

Occasionally a bucket would come loose from the chain and fall into the clear, cool water several feet below. Our daddy decided that there must be about a million buckets in there rusting away and should be removed, along with many other foreign objects. For this job, he hired Mr. Hut Cox, a local jack-of all-trades and master-of-none. I got one look at Mr.Cox and wondered if the situation would be improved by his presence. 

Anyway, Hut must have retrieved twenty buckets in various stages of rust and deterioration. There were also jelly glasses and cups that had slipped from the grasp of too-small fingers. I think the one thing that improved the quality of the water most was when Hut removed himself from the well. Hut, at his best, was never a vision of sartorial splendor, but now he was a sight….wet and muddy from head to toe. But he was a good man, and patient with kids. He was paid for his efforts with a little cash and a big meal. Yes, Mom made him clean up a little, but he was invited to eat at our table. 

Speaking of trains and our well, when a train would have to stop at the crossing for a while, many of the trainmen would climb down from the great puffing, hissing engine for a cool drink from the well. 

It’s funny that such small children could stand almost within touching distance of those iron and steel monsters without fear. But we were taught respect for them early in life. 

I can recall lying in bed at night, perhaps having trouble dozing off, hoping that a train would come chugging up the river. The more noise, the better. And nothing will ever duplicate the sound of a steam whistle off in the distance. No other single noise can evoke a deeper and wider range of emotions. 

It can be sad for leaving or happy for coming home. It could arouse curiosity about the riders on the coal cars and where they were going and where they had been. It was a common sight to see “hobos” perched under the end of the coal hoppers bound for goodness-knows-where. Maybe they didn’t even know themselves–or care. 

When we moved on out the street, we watched as the Kentucky Side grew from a few families to a substantial residential community. I used to sit for hours watching the log train pick up its load from the log yard where Fred Huffman and Kenna Blackburn would later build houses. The steam crane would wheeze and puff as it dragged the logs near the track, pick them up and deposit them on the waiting cars. The log train engine had a distinctive, high-pitched whistle which was unmistakable and we knew when it was coming. The men were experts at their work and it was fascinating to watch them maneuver those huge, unwieldy logs. 

Just about everyone has a Kentucky Side, a neighborhood, a hollow or just a wide place in the road. Someplace that is the very heart and soul of their youth. It is more obvious when you get older and are looking back. But your kids are going through that period now and will one day look back, as we do now, and remember the neighborhood of their childhood and tell their kids what it was like back in ’15, when they were growin’ up. 

As to the way the Kentucky Side got its name, I’m pretty sure it went like this. My dad’s family lived in Mingo County. And, since Williamson was the county seat, they were there regularly. The town was located on the Tug River which separated West Virginia from Kentucky. And, since part of the town was in Kentucky, folks having business across the river would refer to ” going across to the Kentucky Side.” When we moved across the Guyandotte, my dad would refer to that as the Kentucky Side. 

Works for me.