Pieces of Me – Keystone Tipple

January 21, 2014 Travis Dewitz

Guest post by Amy Gentry

We Are Much More Than Stereotypical Views

Many people have misunderstood West Virginia and our way of life for many years, McDowell County in particular. I have lived in McDowell my entire life, excluding a few years that I lived in Mercer. Many people in surrounding states are misguided in their thoughts and feelings about our community. A lot of people see us as illiterate red-necks that are poor and stupid. This is very hurtful to many of us, as we just wish we could show you the true nature of our community. Everyone has their fair share of residents that are not up to par, but the majority of our people are honest, hard-working people who have depth to their very being. We want to tell our story…..our way of life…and share the things that we hold dear to our hearts. West Virginia is not a far off country as some people see it. We are much like everyone else, even us who live here in little old McDowell County.

Our County has been pinpointed by some as the worst place in West Virginia, but I beg to differ. Have we been left behind somewhat? To a certain extent, yes we have but we have our own version of riches here. If someone in our small community is sick, that person is placed on a prayer line by a church somewhere, I can guarantee you. In no time at all, there are people all over McDowell County on their knees in heart-felt prayer for someone they may not even know. Take a drive through Northfork, Keystone, Crumpler, Welch, etc. and see how many people smile at you and wave as you go by. Unheard of as it may be, we don’t have to know you to show you hospitality.

The Story of My Father

My Father grew up in Eckman, WV as did my Mother. At eleven years old my Mom received her first kiss from my Dad, and that would spark a relationship that lasted for many years to come and one of the saddest love stories ever told. Their relationship is a testimony of true partnership, love, and dedication. It brought new meaning to the marriage vows, especially the line “For richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health till death do you part.” I can only hope my marriage will be as beautiful as theirs was.
My Dad was one of 9 children. His Mother was taken with dementia when he was only two years of age. His Father raised the children, which I’m sure was quite a task. My Dad had only an eighth grade education due to not having an endless amount of clothing and shoes, and as we all know, kids can be cruel. His sisters took care of household tasks such as cleaning, washing, and tending to younger brothers and sisters. Many people would think that the lack of education would make for a less than favorable adult. My Dad may not have been a doctor or a lawyer, but he had plenty of knowledge, morals, and common sense that somehow seem to be lacking in every area of the United States today.

The Only Sure Thing on Earth Is Change

When I was small, he drove coal trucks for a living. Every evening he came home black as night, driving that huge monster of a truck. He would take me and my sister for rides in it and it was awesome. Sitting in the cab of a coal truck is like being on top of the world and though I was so small, it is a memory that I will hold forever, small pieces of me. At this point in my childhood, we didn’t have a lot but we had everything we needed. At Christmas one year he sold his truck, his only transportation to get to work to buy toys for us. He walked to work, because in his heart, he believed that is what a man should do for his family. He would have given up every possession he had just to see us smile on Christmas morning. They just don’t make them like that anymore.
Years went by and as I grew older things started to change. My Dad, with his 8th grade education went to Keystone Tipple every chance he had and refused to take no for an answer. He knew one day he would get the job. Lo and behold, my Dad who had more persistence in his little finger than I will ever have, got the job. He ran an en-loader and filled the train cars with coal. He would come home covered in coal and smelling like ivory soap but the smallest traces of his day were always left behind. He had callouses on his hands and coal around the rims of his eyes but he wore coal proudly. His family would be taken care of and that was his number one goal besides his walk with God. Life was good.

A Glimpse of Growing Up in The “Holler”

We attended church at the Old Fashioned Full Gospel Church of Northfork. My Dad, my aunt, my sister, many others and I always had a song to sing. Our faith in God was strong, but would later be tested to the limit. My sister and I played outside on hot summer days surrounded by the protection of majestic mountains covered in green. We didn’t worry about being taken by some stranger because there were no strangers. We picked black berries and strawberries and apples from the tallest trees. On rainy days we played in the mud holes and rode four wheelers until we were so covered in mud we couldn’t see.
In the winter our mountains, meadows, and hills were covered in deep snow as far as you could see. We built snowmen and forts for snow ball fights and if you couldn’t find your gloves…. socks would do just fine. Snow boots could always be replaced by any shoe if you covered them with a plastic bread bag and duck taped it around your upper leg. Sleds were made from sheets of cardboard all you had to do was tape a black garbage bag to the bottom. Sure we could have bought all these things, but we were taught how to make do from parents and grandparents who had to. How funny to look back on that. Mommy always had vegetable soup on the stove so when we came in our stomachs were full and so were our souls.

A Six Letter Word

Later, my Dad was diagnosed with cancer and the struggle began. We watched as his hair fell out, and he wasted away, so skinny and so frail. The strongest man I knew was becoming oh so weak! Finally, he was unable to work. Our community pulled together and we received cards through the mail signed anonymous that contained checks for sometimes hundreds and sometimes five dollars, but people were willing to sacrifice to help “Shorty Luster”. Trucks showed up on Christmas morning from his co-workers at Keystone Tipple carrying present after present for his children. This is why I love McDowell with a passion all these things are pieces of me.

He recovered sometime later and my hard-headed Daddy returned to work, only to find that his body had been depleted and weakened to the point that he could no longer maintain his work load. My mom was pregnant with my little sister and it took a hard toll on my Dad. I was fourteen, and my older sister was nineteen when our baby sister was born. My Dad was very unsettled because he was worried about how to provide for his family but maintained his faith in God that we would be fine. Once again, a scan would reveal the cancer had come out of remission. As he lay in the floor with my baby sister, she would stroke his hair and be left with handfuls of it….a cruel and brutal reminder of the disease that was eventually going to steal our Father from us. We watched as our Mother shaved what was left of his hair…..and we all wept silently. She was with my Father until the very end.

The Soul Never Dies: Memories of My Father

Finally in 2004 when my Father was only 48, God called him home, but before he did my Father had one last request of me. He yelled for me to come to his room and asked me to sing to him….to which my reply was “What do you want me to sing Daddy?” He said “Amazing Grace.” I was so overwhelmed with grief that it took every ounce of strength I had inside of me to force the words over the edges of my lips and my sweet Daddy done his very best to sing them with me. Later he experienced that Amazing Grace as he made his journey home. I miss him so, but his words, his morals, and his strength are still with me.

Every time I drive by Keystone Tipple my mind goes back to a place in time that made me who I am today. I can smell ivory soap from his daily bath and brillo pads from the many nights I scrubbed Daddy’s work bucket for the next day. I can still see him down over the hill running the en-loader as we headed off to the store to buy the things we needed thanks to him. The smoke still rolls out of that old smoke stack, a cruel reminder that time marches on. McDowell County may not be what it used to be, but we are reminded of the beauty it holds by the small things. The people honestly care for one another and lend a helping hand.

Beauty Captured by a Camera but Felt With The Heart: The Nature of McDowell County Natives

When I first came across Travis Dewitz’s photos I was a little offended because I did not understand the intentions behind them, blame that on the pride we all carry in this community. I can now appreciate the beauty of them because they tell a story of pride, family, hard times, and history. Coal is falling all around us, and there is not much left and that saddens me. It is the essence of my very life story. I wish others could know the way we feel about it here in McDowell and how we cringe at the mockery and comments about our home. Everyone has a story, my roots are deep in coal dirt and I am proud of that.

Some people are ashamed of hard times in their lives. I am not. I refuse to hide what made me “Shorty Luster’s” daughter. People think of coal and see dollar signs, filth, global warming, and much more. We see our past, present, and declining future but refuse to go down without a fight. I personally see my sweet Daddy working hard to provide for us. McDowell isn’t just a county in West Virginia it is a beautiful story with much wealth in history, love, hospitality, and community. It doesn’t take a million dollars to make us happy. In the end when we are lying on our death-bed I can guarantee you that we won’t be contemplating how rich or poor we were, the size of our home, or the street we live on, but whose lives we touched and who touched ours.

The most precious things in life cannot be bought only felt. I have often thought about poverty and questioned which is worse, financial poverty or soul poverty? The richest man alive can’t be made happy if his soul is in poverty, deprived of love, companionship, and spirituality. Yet the poorest man alive can still be happy if his soul is rich with love, companionship, and spirituality. Life is more than a dollar. Money has made this world a cruel place to live in. This world is crying out for people to love one another, to accept one another and I’m very proud to say I was raised in a small town, in a county that seems to have been forgotten by the entire world yet we love on another here. I hope to spread that love. So here’s to all the people out there who haven’t forgotten that love conquers all.

This is a comment that I left on Mr. Dewitz’s website and I feel it best expresses the opinions of most people who live here: “Some see sadness and depression…we see beautiful mountainsides in the fall, vast blankets of snow in the winter, gorgeous flowers and deep green grass in the summer….and though some feel trapped within our valleys…we feel protected and free. When spring comes…vines wrap themselves around what’s left of broken down, abandoned homes…fragrant honey suckle fills the air…and our children play freely in the backyard without fear because we grew up with our neighbors…..and that is true peace, beauty, and freedom. We are not depressed….we are still trudging forward…even though things have went down around here. We continue to climb…and we are good at it because we were raised in the mountains. Beauty and happiness cannot be bought and paid for…it is not expressed by material things that are shiny and new….it is found in the character of people and in the condition of the soul. We see beauty in ashes….even if they are coal ashes. That is OUR story.”

May we never forget where we came from or be ashamed of who we are lest everything we believe in be in vain. May our children play till dusk dark while chasing lightning bugs to put in a jar to later serve as a night-light. May we continue our phrases such as “It is blue cold out-side!” May we keep our accents and traditions and never be ashamed because other people do not understand. If our way of life is forgotten so will hundreds of wonderful human beings who were born and raised here. We are important and we add color to the world. 

In memory of Arnold Ray Luster

© Amy Gentry 2014

Links to my Best Work – Instagram / Commercial Photography / Photojournalism

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Travis Dewitz

My name is Travis Dewitz and I am from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. My specialty is commercial photography with a love for expressive portraits. My work is Conceptual, Emotive, Editorial, Surreal and Eclectic. I am passionate about fashioning new worlds through photographs as I extend my visions beyond the realm of the camera. I have incredible vision, which you can see in all of my photos.

Comments (95)

    • Bertie

      Sounds like truer words were never spoken on the life you lived and what you got from what your father provided!!! May God bless you!!

    • Sonia Reed

      Hey there any. My Daddy was born in Crumpler,cherokee hollar specifically. Both he and my momma are buried on beartown mountain in montcalm. I still have alotta family up in that hollar,i sure do miss it!!! Thank you for sharing this!!!!

  1. Patty Deskins

    Amy I want to thank you for sharing your story,I had my 24 yr old son read this also. He looked up at me and said Mom I forgot where I came from. We moved from McDowell County to NC when he was in 7th grade. We don’t get to visit the way I would like to. Your story brought me alot of memories of when I was a little girl and my Daddy working in the coal mines. I hope it is okay for me to share your story cause it is a lot like my child hood. Again thank you for reminding me and my son where we come from and the walk sown memory lane.

  2. Lisa Blankenship

    I also grew up in Southern West Virginia, Wyoming County. My dad was also a coal miner, as was the rest of the family.
    This is a beautiful story that people who did not grow up this way, would not understand, but those of us who did, it brings back so many good memories. Thank you for the story. I know I am not the only one who feels this way.

  3. Elaine LaCaria

    Well said and very moving! Most of us that still live in the county are here because we choose to be here…not because we have to be here. We certainly have our problems and many modern inconveniences but it’s home. The people make it home. I’m glad we chose to stay. I see people doing their part in their own way every day to make this a better place. We have to be part of the solution in building our infrastructure and jobs especially for our young people after high school and college. We are the solution because no one understands us better! God Bless the county and God bless you for sharing your beautiful story!

  4. Evelyn Sue Hanes Forsythe Seals

    I loved this story and the pictures. I grew up on the hill behind the bank in Keystone and every day I walked out my door I saw that tipple. I haven’t been back. There in 27 yrs. Miss that front porch swing soo much. I live in HampshireCounty now but I’ll never forget my life in McDowell County were I was born and raised. Good memory!!!

  5. liz brewster

    Amy I wasn’t from McDowell county. I was from Tazewell. We lived in Red Ash. What a beautiful tribute to your father. We pretty much were raised the same way except we were not allowed to go to church without a big fight between Mom and Dad. Thank you for sharing

  6. Renee Bolden via Facebook

    Wonderful story and photographs. Thanks for sharing, Dewitz Photography – Travis Dewitz.

  7. Sam Goldie Freeman

    Very well said. This touches home for me in many areas. I am one of those “holler” kids and I am very proud of it. Very well said and very touching.

  8. Santina Marie Pruitt

    I absolutely love this story it brought tears to my eyes, McDowell county is our home no matter what people think about it we have our memory’s and in our heart and mins they will stay

  9. Ann Shirley

    I love this,it is so true. I was born in McDowell County and still have family there. As the saying goes, “There is no place like home”. I miss the people there and the beautiful mountains. Congratulations, well said. God Bless you…

  10. Phyllis bowling

    Amy, your story isso well written and as others have said it brought home memories to me. Ionly lived in McDowell County from 8th grade through graduating High School and Imoved toMichigan. I left to be, able to find work. But I never lost my accent or my love of the mountains and the wonderful neighbors and friends I left behind. The most caring, loving and sincere people come from West Virginia. My stepfather was a hard working, God fearing coal miner and the best stepfather ever made. We never had a lot of money but he always made sure our needs we’re met. You have left a wonderful story to honor your father and I am sure he is proud of you. God bless you.

  11. Donna Marshall

    18 years of my life in McDowell Co/Coalwood. Beautiful story Amy. Im so proud to still have friends that I went from the 1st grade to the 12th grade with, they are scattered across the country and every one of us are proud of our heritage. Not many people in this fast paced, mobile society can say the same.

  12. Theresa Morgan

    A beautiful true story, It brought tears to my eyes, thinking of my own Father.I’m proud to born and raised in McDowell County.

  13. Addie Letner

    i cryed reading this my parent are from mcdowell county davy w va my dad died of cancer in 78 at the age of fifty my aunt always talked about the tipple very proud of the person my parents raise me to be and my 7 sisters and brothers thank you for this!

  14. Addie Letner

    i cryed reading this my parent are from mcdowell county davy w va my dad died of cancer in 78 at the age of fifty my aunt always talked about the tipple very proud of the person my parents raise me to be and my 7 sisters and brothers thank you for this!

  15. Anita Williams


  16. Mary Thornsberry

    Thank you Amy Gentry…..I was born in McDowell County and my Daddy was coal miner also and was killed in accident in the mines at age 41……..loved your story.

  17. brenda Thompson

    I am awed. Thank you. I have visited Harlen Ky, coal mining town. I have never looked at it from your point of view. I am so thankful you have shared your story. Each town has it’s story I am so glad yours is so wonderful. God bless you and yours

  18. Lisa Stumbo Bennett

    This was so heart touching. You have told a story that everyone in McDowell County can relate to. Our fathers was our hero’s and even though mine has passed he is and will always be my hero. The strongest and gentlest person you will have in your life. My dad didn’t have a high school education but he had a superior common sense education and taught each of us how to be independent. I am proud to be from McDowell County and very proud of the right upbringing my mother and father taught me..

  19. JanetFrawley

    I was married to Shortie’s older brother, Dukie. I remember Shortie and his Mom,Betty and his dad,George Burley. Those pictures really brought back memories from over 40 years ago,when we would drive down from Indiana for a week-end visit! You have done a beautiful job on this writing! Hang on to those memories of your Dad and he is never really gone!

  20. Tabitha Rose

    Very rarely do you come across anyone who is not only proud of their upbringings but also voices it. Amy, you have voiced it; moreover, you said it beautifully. Everyone from McDowell County, WV should be proud to have someone like you say just how we all feel. Congratulations!

  21. Rebecca VanSutphen Larson

    My entire family on both sides grew up in McDowell…I’m crying right now, because of so many things that your story magnifies. This is my story also… thank you so much…I never tried to verbalize it. You have done so beautifully.

  22. Rebecca VanSutphen Larson

    My entire family on both sides grew up in McDowell…I’m crying right now, because of so many things that your story magnifies. This is my story also… thank you so much…I never tried to verbalize it. You have done so beautifully.

  23. Rebecca Williams

    Amy told the story of many, many McDowell County residents. I am so proud that one person can express the many thoughts and feelings of so many! THIS is a GREAT article and well overdue. Thanks Amy!

  24. amy gentry

    Thanks so much everyone for reading, sharing, liking, and leaving your comments! I love everyone’s stories about home, even if its McDowell. Home is in the heart no matter how far you go. I am so thankful that it has touched so many people.<3

  25. Melanie Harman

    I grew up with your daddy in Eckman and knew he was a man proud of his heriitage. I am proud to be a McDowell county native! This story you wrote Amy is beautiful. You should have it published.

  26. Betty Abbott

    Beautiful story! Moved to Premier WV (McDowell Co) 1936 at 4 months old. Graduated from Welch High 1954. Worked at Citizens Drug Store my junior and senior year (thanks for the photo). Left there in 1959 but left my heart in WV and McDowell County! Enjoyed a visit there this summer. My house is still there (in good shape for it’s age).Thanks for the memories!!!

  27. Bobby Ray

    I will be 79 on jan 31st really liked all the kind remarks. my dad was a McDowell co coal miner all his life, he died in 1968. I left there in 1953 to join the navy. living in Pensacola florida now. hope to hear from someone from McDowell county soon by e-mail. we lived in Squire all my young life.

    • Marlene Summers

      I am the widow of John Summers class of 55. I enjoyed the reunions and had more fun than at my own reunions.

      John left Welch to join the Army in 55. We came to Pensacola in 75. He passed away in 2008.

  28. Anna McNew Rutherford

    I was raised on the other end of McDowell County, Berwind. there was no better place to be from than McDowell. Our town has a reunion every year at Princeton. What fun it is to renew long ago friendships.
    What a beautiful story Amy. You are so right McDowell got left out years ago. Thank you …

  29. Still Here


    While I love that you have beautiful memories of McDowell County, I can’t help but point out the obvious. You left here. Why is that? This beautiful place where you can depend on your neighbors, where your father found economic prosperity, where your family lives… you left.

    Like many others, one day, you woke up and realized that McDowell has a past, but no future. A county that made no effort to build on it’s rich natural resources is now an industrial wasteland because technology marched on the backs of men like your father; my father.

    While growing up in McDowell in the 80’s was not the end of the world, children there now are subjected to meth addicts on every corner. Hookers openly working on a residential street without law intervention. Homes that have depleted beyond livable conditions, crammed with several people. Homes with blue tarps to stop the rain from coming in. Trailers where unsafe, makeshift wood stoves pipe smoke beside the roof. Step back to your homeland and watch the children come off the bus with tape holding their glasses together, and get into their caregivers car where an infant is not restrained by any carseat.

    McDowell has the highest rate of foster children, abuse, and neglect out of ALL of West Virginia. 46% of the children there do not live with their biological parents.

    When I read writings like this, I can’t help but feel angry with who wrote it. These areas NEED attention. They NEED the publicity for people to donate to charities helping our children. Many children would not have a Christmas if it weren’t for the generous outside donations that county welfare receives.

    Even forgoing toys, many children there do not have access to clean water. Coal mining has contaminated once functional wells, and there are no grants for public water. CHILDREN are getting cancer earlier and earlier. Children who will never see the 48 years your father had.

    To help the people who are STILL HERE, caring for family members, waiting on opportunity to lead them to a better place, please tell the whole story. Don’t sell the county as anything but what it is in the present: the 28th poorest county in the entire United States of America, barely behind many American Indian reservations who do not use currency in their tribes.

    • Debra Taylor

      That paper site that has all the information about how bad off Mc Dowell County is, was wrote by The Assoc. Press. .Are they from Mc Dowell County? or even our state? It was published from Charleston,WV. What does the person in Charleston,WV know about living in Mc Dowell County? People read where your information is coming from.Anything can be slanted.Those of us that lived the life know the real story.For those of you that are ashamed of where you are from,just shut up and go on your way, and we still love you.

  30. Louise Keene Emond

    Tears ran down my face as I read this. What a wonderful tribute to your Father. I grew up in McDowell County, in a little place called Sandy Huff, and I am proud to say I am McDowell County born and bred. Thank you for this wonderful story.

  31. amy gentry

    To Still Here….I actually do still live here….I am still here too. I only lived in Mercer for a short period of time. I’m so sorry that you are angry with me for sharing my story, but its true. It’s a tribute to my Father. Yes, there are bad things here, just like anywhere else. My point was that in the middle of hard times there is still beauty here. I see beauty every day. I am at the bus stop every day to put my son on the bus and get him off the bus. Everyone seems pretty fine to me. My church donates to children in need. I donate clothing and toys to children in need. I’m sorry that this upset you. This was for my Father and family as my Dad has been gone 10 years in July.

  32. amy gentry

    While this story did focus on the positive, I never denied that some people here do not have a lot of money. The point I was trying to make is that we have something that money cant buy. Riches in love and family. Another point I’d like to make is that there are broken families everywhere you look. Again, I am sorry you are angry. My story is about looking beneath the surface.

  33. Sug Laxton

    I so identified with this. I was born in Asco, McDowell Co. I was raised in Fanrock, Wyoming Co. I had to keep wiping my eyes so I could read. My father died of cancer, black lung in 1965. He was a proud hard working man, who seen to his families need, and yes even sacrificed for our wants. He only had a 4th grade education, but he could add a column of numbers as fast as you could enter them in to a calculator. He went to work in the mines when he was 14, married my 16 year old mother when he was 19. When the word went out that he had cancer. Cards rolled in from all over the state some only had $5, but we knew that $5 was $50 to that person that sent it. Also he would have been the first to send $5 to someone else in need. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story.

  34. Ashley

    McDowell County does have its problems. But so does every state its just more noticeable here because the area is so small. Coal Companies come in, take the coal and leave and never put anything back into the community. My dad was a Coal Miner for 20 plus years and the only reason he quit was because he got badly injured.
    This area is a good place to live yes it does have its bad qualities but some of the nicest people you will ever meet live in McDowell County
    Hopefully one day this county will come back to life.
    McDowell County especially Welch used to be Booming Maybe that will happen once again

  35. Richard Johns

    yeah i was raised in panther wv. i loved to play in those mountains swing on grapevines get a nickle every school day for recess ride my bike by the tug river bieutiful in winter time christmas was my favor it time of year family from all over would visit them were the good old days in the 60s i loved it there will always be a special place in my heart for mcdowell co. wv.

  36. amy gentry

    Thanks so much to everyone for all your kind words and stories. I love them all! Speaks volumes about the people here. If you would like to share any of your stories please visit my blog at http://www.piecesofmemcdowellwv.weebly.com….you can send them to the email I shared there and I will post them! Lets get our small town stories out into the rest of the world. 🙂

  37. @ Still Here !!!! Who do you think you are ? are you kidding me ? McDowell County is who we are … Depend on our neighbors ? yes we still do .. do you trust your neighbors with your kids ? Coal Trucks & Coal Miners is what made people like you.. Woke up 1 day ? yea we all do that every day .. we have drugs , hookers , meth , crack every where & you don’t .. You don’t have street corners with drugs & hookers ? where do you live ? ..do you have that big red easy button in your world where everybody pisses gold & shits rainbows ? I don’t think so .. We are who we are & VERY PROUD OF IT !!!! AS you said you left here in the 80’s, so what do you know about us ? You know nothing about the floods , poverty & asking your neighbor for a cup of sugar or a stick of butter ….sleigh ridding behind a 4 wheeler & building fires in your back yard .. When your sister or brothers kids are sick we pack up with our kids and we go HOME >>> we cook, we clean, we do what we have to do & I guess WEST BY GOD WVA .. will go broke when it come to us & our BLUE TARPS .. that’s WHO WE ARE & HOW WE ROLL .!!!!! Im so proud of you Amy !!!! not McDowell County .. WE are MACDOWELL DOWELL COUNTY .!!!!!

  38. Wow, still here really got their bloomers in a bunch! Your a glass half empty kinda fella ain’t you. It is people like you this state can gladly do without! Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Amy’s words are simply beautiful. She speaks the truth of how she has seen it through her eyes not yours. You are the kind of person that is bitter and never will see what true beauty is. Apparently respect is something you were never taught as a kid. I feel sorry for you. When an individual as your self has nothing better to do than take and bash someone else’s views on their life then it’s not them or the county that has a problem. It is you. Learn to love yourself and maybe one day you can enjoy your life as much as Amy has and still is!

  39. Doris Williams Gillespie

    I so enjoyed reading this story of love. I was born a coalminers daughter too. I came from a big family of 9 kids. My Dad worked hard to take care of us. This story brought back so many memories. We never had much but we had love and that’s what counts in the end. Thank you even though it made me cry it is the truth. You can never find a better group of people than those in McDowell. Fine homes and cars is not what it’s all about. Many times I have wished to go back home again and live in that old house and be with my family and friends in McDowell county.

  40. Still Here

    I’m not sure where it said that I personally left here in the 1980s, because I did not. I guess that’s why I used “Still Here” as my name.

    The point I am trying to make is that the photographer you questioned in your post before, showed what McDowell County is at it’s roots. It’s poor. It’s defeated. It needs help. Photographs and stories about the problems are what sparks interest in this community. McDowell is not the only place in the world where children play outside, even today. Our neighbors in surrounding counties still enjoy these luxuries and their statistics are far better. In fact, in neighboring Grundy, Mountain Mission school children frequently walk to the movie theater, to Walmart to shop, to church.. and the unique thing about this school is that Mountain Mission tells the whole story when they are fundraising. That the area is poor, but has it’s beauty. People respond well to that, with big checks and government lobbying for a better tomorrow. Buchanan is much like McDowell, rich in natural resources and little else, but they’re making that trek uphill, while we’re at a standstill..

    It’s important not only for outsiders to realize this, but our youth, as our youth has little opportunity here. When you look at towns outside of Welch, like Bradshaw, Iaeger… many of the youth there has nowhere to work. Sugar and butter is fine, but who is going to buy it with no income? Most economically suppressed areas at least have some minimum wadge jobs available where they can work and learn a trade at the same time. You have to agree with me that this essential function severely lacks in McDowell. There are only so many people the Pic Pac can employ.

    From this, we have record breaking numbers of addicts and dealers entering a world they might not be in with opportunity. Who can blame them? Granddaddy broke his back in the mines, and his lortabs sell really easy for youngsters.

    Only 50% of the adults in McDowell earn the foundation for employment- a high school diploma. Combined with the 8th worst mortality rate in the entire United States for all ages, how can we peg this area as anything but the homeland of nice people who need hope? Who need a reason to live for tomorrow instead of the past?

    When you look at these photos, you see memories. And that’s beautiful. But the generation of now, who never seen two hundred people in the streets of Bradshaw on the 4th of July, who are banking on getting a job underground when experienced miners are already laid off, who are growing up in flood ravaged homes… they need to be told the whole truth.

    You have the talent. Tell the whole story.

  41. Teresa Brown

    My older sisters and parents and grandparents were born & raised in McDowell county. I have many fond memories of my childhood going to visit my grandparents. Great story! Proud !

  42. Amy Gentry

    Thanks so much to everyone for all your kind words and stories. I love them all! Speaks volumes about the people here. If you would like to share any of your stories please visit my blog at http://www.piecesofmemcdowellwv.weebly.com you can send them to the email I shared there and I will post them! Lets get our small town stories out into the rest of the world. 🙂

  43. amy gentry

    Thanks for the comment. You also seem to have talent. You write about your passion as I wrote about mine. My mission was to speak about my life and my Father. Your mission is to draw in charity for us who live here. That’s a wonderful mission. Make something of it.

  44. Crissy

    Still Here, idk what type of story you thought or think this is,,,,this isn’t a debate,,,,its not a charity case,,,its simpliy a true story about growing up in McDowell county,,,,your comments are falling on deaf ears,,,why? because we live/lived it, we know, your comments should be directed else where there is no place for that here,,,,i couldn’t bring myself to finish the first comment (book) you wrote cuz you are rambling on about things that most of us already know and as far as telling whole story that was “OUR” whole story,,,i’m sure you have a story but we really don’t care to hear it cuz to me you seem like a whiner, someone looking for a hand out just like a lot of other ppl n that’s whats wrong with America right now ppl think the world owes then something and want everybody to help oh poor me woe as me,,,i say get up off your rump n make something of yourself n stopping looking for charity, always got one fool in the bunch that read so much more into what it really is smh

  45. Crissy

    If more people were attracted to the area and knew our story maybe it would cause more tourism. Tourism is bringing in money for McDowell. Many small restaurants have opened and many people are renting out houses to them. They love our ATV trails. Instead of asking for a hand out, we could actually make our own money. Thats more respectable than begging.

  46. I am very upset at the comments by still here, amy told her beautiful story of her and her sister with her father. amy told of the love they all shared as a family growing up in McDowell county wv, she told it with love and compassion, and it touched me to the tears!! amy is family and I am her aunt Rhonda and she still lives in McDowell county so (still lives here) do your homework before commenting anymore!! we that grew up as coal miners children have a love of community and neighbors and friendships that last a lifetime. we all like to look back on our childhood memories for a moment in time, without remembering the poverty for just a moment!! this story lets you do that but there always has to be one person who tries to ruin it for us all!! I wouldn’t trade my childhood growing up in the county for anything. growing up there the neighborhood raised the kids, all the parents watched out for us as kids out playing and having a care free day!we didn’t worry about a pervert in a van coming to steal us because there were several eyes watching to see we were safe, how many places on earth can you say this and it be true? I will close with the phrase “I am glad to be a coal miner’s daughter”…

  47. Bobby Christian

    i was truly touched by amy’s story because shortys’ dad was my first cousin. he is the only one that we let cut our hair we we where growing up. That is agreat family I am proud to say I am part of. Once people interact with mcdowell county people they get the feeling they are God abiding people. I wished I had stayed in mcdowell. I still love all of my friends that I grew up with in mcdowell.Verlin married my neice, tammy.

  48. news flash

    atv trails? believe that’s already been done in much more accessible williamson wv! where would people eat?! stay! thats a joke… there will never be a tourist market in mcdowell… maybe if someone found a unicorn in mohawk.. lol loved the blog but good points were made here.. our community needs a lot more help than praise

  49. amy gentry

    Actually, there are several small restaurants in Northfork and one in Ashland. There is the Ashland resort and the house next to me is a rental for tourists that come in all the time. The trails are packed all year round. People are building small cabins for people to stay in and my father in law and several other own the land up here and have several cabins that many ATV riders rent. http://www.offroadcoloradotrails.com/Hatfieldmccoy.html

  50. Jim Stamper

    Great story!! I was born and raised in Davy, hung out in Welch as a teenager. Oh yeah, loved and lost in McDowell County and although I now live in North Carolina, West Virginia will always be home.

  51. Wink Dillard

    I really enjoyed your story and can relate to most of it. My dad was born at Bottom Creek and raised in Eckman. He quit school at 10 years old to work in a mine. He never went back to school but was one of the smartest person I have known. He met my mother to be and settled in Northfork. He worked for the Keystone Eastern Fuel mine where he became a section foreman. I have many stories of Northfork and McDowell County.

  52. Miranda Gentry

    That’s was the most beautiful story I’ve ever read. And I’m glad to know somebody other than myself sees it for all that it is and not what others try and lie and say it’s not… it is a wonderful place with wonderful people and I’m more than proud to say I’m from there and all my family is there…you did an amazing job and it tucked my heart keep up the good work I can’t wait to read the next one…

    • Amy

      Thank you! I’m working on something else….between tending to kids 🙂 I appreciate all the kind words.

  53. Thank you for a thoughtful, moving, and well-written article. I re-posted it on my Facebook page, and on the page for the Elkhorn Inn & Theatre, here in McDowell County.

    • Amy

      Thank you Elisse, that was very kind of you. I’m so honored that it was in the 51st Coal Edition of the paper. I’ll have to stop by and meet you some time. I drive by there almost daily. 🙂

  54. Carol Lilly

    Amy, you have done a super job with these pics and stories. I did not grow up in the coalfields, but was from southern WV, not too far away. Some of my fondest memories from college are of friends from Welch and that area.

  55. Debra Taylor

    I was raised in Mc Dowell County, the far end- PANTHER.My Dad was a Coal Miner and Mother taught school.I had the best childhood ever.It is so hurtful to hear people put down where you live and they have no clue what it is like.Panther is a beautiful and l would not change a thing.I am proud I am from Panther.I love your story.I try to show my pride on a page I have “Autumn Leaves”You did a GREAT JOB ! Thank You !

  56. Randy Skeens

    Thank you so much I was born in Welch but my heart is still in Mcdowell County

  57. Randy Skeens

    Thank you so much I was born in Welch but my heart is still in Mcdowell County

  58. Meg Mills

    What a heartfelt, soul filled story. I loved reading it….thank you for sharing your beautiful words.

  59. Patrick Mc Kell Sr.

    Very beautiful story. My wife was born in Mc Doowell county and we have been back quite a few times. Your story is right on the ball and so honest. Money as reined this world and politicians who are hell bent on destroying the coal industry in the name of “Climate Change” there is no such thing but people like Al Gore have made millions with their lies and who live in 5000 sq ft homes and fly in personal jest yet lecture you the coal miner that you are destroying the earth.
    Stay the way you are and may God bless all of the good folkks of West Virginia and especialy Mc Dowell County.

  60. Lynn

    I am from McDowell County and am very proud of it. My dad was a coal miner and the hardest working man I have ever known. This is a wonderful story and brought back so many memories. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us.

  61. Mary Gaddis-brown

    I was born in Jekinjones. We moved to Maryland when I was 5 yrs. old and moved back when I was 10. Lived there and attended the little one room school in Skygusty, then on to Thorpe then Gary until graduation. My parents moved from Munson to N.C. in I believe in 1978 and lived here until they took their heavenly journey home. Yes, I was a coal miners daughter and I can say that with pride. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

  62. Ellen Wood

    Very well said. I lived in MvDowell for 6 years , worked there for 32. I cannot
    Say enough about the wonderful people. In the best of times n the worst of times
    They stood tall. Taught me alot if lessons about what is important. McDowell
    Will always hold a special place in my heart.

  63. John Casali

    What a wonderful, heartfelt commentary on McDowell County, WV, and you have so admirably honored your father with your story! I greatly enjoyed my early childhood years in Kimball.

  64. Sherry Croy

    Wonderful story ! My Dad was a tipple operator at Keystone all during my time of growing up in the 60sand70s. So many memories

  65. Errol Houck

    I was raised n a place like that in Virginia, In an old log cabin with only a stove in the main room, a stove in the kitchen for my mom to cook on, walked over a mile from school to home when the weather was warm, had on electricity, used oil lamp for light. Best time.of my life

  66. home of the rocket boys!

    862, 827 baby I love the county… Home sweet home. Fuck the rest

  67. Elaine Hill

    I have just come from a Caudill Family Reunion in Bluefield, Virginia.

    My dad was born in Eckman, W Virginia. Born in 1916. ROBY M Livesay. He later became a career U.S. Military Army medic. He made such a good life for his 3 kids.

    I just visited Eckman and Pocahontas, Virginia (where my Grandma was from) for the very first time. Yes, their life was hard.

    Thank you for writing this story of your family. You touch my heart.

  68. Thank you for telling “our” story. I too was raised in a holler and was the daughter of a coal miner. My daddy worked for over 35 years underground doing what he knew to raise six kids., he too was taken by cancer. Everything you wrote rang so true to my own life story. Growing up in WV we never felt that we were poor, to us that was a normal life, we didn’t know any different, because we were rich in so much more. We had lots of love from two parents who made sure we knew it and we always had the necessities with extras at Christmas. I had a wonderful childhood. The best anyone could ask for.. Times were hard at times, but so much simpler. I sure miss those days and even though I live 700 miles away, WV will always be home, my roots are also in that dirt. Thank you!

  69. Harold Williams

    Your work in McDowell County is really special. Thank you for sharing these images.

  70. Charlene Stuart Adderly

    Beautiful story. I am probably one of your oldest readers from Arlington, McDowell County, WVA. My daddy was also a coal miner but had to come out of the mines because of his legs and eventually started working at Northfork Lumber Company and was an A-1
    carpenter. My story is similar to yours but earlier. He was born in 1896 and died in 1974 at age 78 at Welch Hospital. My mom died when I was two and my dad raised 8 children by himself with the help of other hired help and never remarried. With his wisdom and love all 8 of us (5 boys 3 girls) graduated Elkhorn High School and I got a degree from Bluefield State. My five (5) brothers served in the Armed Forces and we all remained close and eventually we all wound up in Los Angeles, California where I and one brother now live and one brother in Las Vegas, NV (others are now deceased). We all loved West Virginia and still talk about it and the good times we had there. By the way, I was born in 1939 (No. 7), and an 81 year old Black woman. I still have friends from WVA and we talk often and use to have High School Reunions in Charleston until recently.

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