With the probable exception of the television and radio media, I believe most people are glad the recent election is over with and that we can now finally prepare for Christmas without the rhetoric that comes with the political campaigning process.
While nearly everyone has their preferred holiday, for me, Thanksgiving has to rank as my favorite. We all love Christmastime, especially if it proves to be a snowy one, but I don’t believe the stress of Christmas is something everyone favors, despite the gleam that accompanies the gift openings of children.
I have friends who go all out for Halloween and visit every haunted spectacle that is available in the form of ghost houses and trails, while other more religious friends prefer the tranquility of Easter as their favorite holiday. Still, there are those more patriotic chums who prefer July 4th, Memorial Day and Veterans Day as times to reflect upon and to celebrate.
Thanksgiving, I believe, is a time when families return to the traditional ways of doing things, which I feel we have gotten away from. For instance, many families no longer share the dinner table together, nor prayer. I know I’m being old fashioned, but Thanksgiving is the holiday I believe to be more family-oriented, especially if one takes the time to reflect upon the blessings that we have and those of which we’ve most likely taken for granted.
I have a photograph of my mother standing at the end of what was my family’s dinner table; it being a picture taken prior to a family gathering for what can only be called a Thanksgiving feast. Mom — with her checkered apron tied around her waist — in the picture has her arms extended in a welcoming gesture that is befitting to any mother who had worked feverishly since daybreak to provide a “spread” that includes everything from ham and turkey to dumplings to the potato salad and right on down to mom’s home-canned beets, which she always opened at Thanksgiving. “It just doesn’t seem like Thanksgiving without the beets,” Mom would say.
While I agree with my mother’s statement, I must add that it doesn’t seem like Thanksgiving without the football games, either. Coupled with food, family and friends, the gridiron games accounted for a great Thanksgiving Day, as we now prepare for the COVID-19 college bowl games.
Here’s wishing you and yours the very best of holidays. However, as always, I will again try to provide you with some local history that you may find of interest.
To begin with, I need not tell you what the coal industry has meant to all of West Virginia, especially in our southern coalfields. What I can let you know is that Thanksgiving Day should always have a significant meaning to Logan Countians because last Thursday’s holiday marked the 116th anniversary of the first hauling of coal to be loaded on a railroad car in Logan County.
To be exact, it was Thanksgiving Day 1904 when a fellow named Tom Gilpin, an assistant tipple foreman at Gay Coal and Coke Co., together with Don Ellis, a resident of Logan, hauled the first load of coal in a horse drawn wagon to a sidetrack near where Logan City Hall now exists. The coal was loaded into a railroad car and then shipped out of Logan County. This was the beginning of the development of Logan County, as soon afterwards coal mines began to spring up in various locations and continued to do so even more after the railroad reached Man and the rest of the Triadelphia area.
A story I uncovered in a Logan Banner news article described Tom Gilpin as living at Mt. Gay and having five sons — Sam, Lonnie, Bill, Earl and Francis — all employed by Gay Coal and Coke, which was named for its owner, Harry Gay.
Gilpin, who was employed at the company for at least 30 years, told a Banner reporter, “It is a pleasure for me to know that I have helped in some small way to develop Logan County’s chief industry. I can honestly say that a man never could be treated better than the officials of the Gay Coal and Coke Company have treated me.”
The railways reaching Logan opened up the coal industry, and the coal industry opened up the migration of immigrants from nearly every European country to the coalfields where men were needed to risk their lives daily bringing forth the coal that would fuel the factories in producing everything needed for America to win two world wars. Ironically, it was many of these immigrant coal miners who became American citizens and who also left their new-found country to fight in those wars. So important was coal to the nation that employed coal miners during World War I were protected by the federal government from being drafted into military service. Still, many coal miners found it important to join the military, and many sacrificed their lives in doing so.
The reason I write today is not just because of the coal-hauling anniversary but to point out that after all of these years of men dying and being crippled up and sickened with diseases like silicosis and black lung, it is still the only real industry we have. So, it only stands to reason that when someone like Al Gore, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden condemn the use of coal across the globe, our people, especially in southern West Virginia, who traditionally have been staunchly Democratic, are going to respond with a resounding “Go to hell” vote.
It also is only logical that when someone like Donald Trump comes to West Virginia and promises to bring back coal jobs to the industry by lifting restraints that have hampered the profession and cost many jobs that have helped lead to a declining population, West Virginians are going to declare the president as a new found Appalachian hero.
Let’s face the facts. We, as a state, are first in too many “bad” categories and last in too many “good” ones. Isolation in these hills and mountains have always been a problem in the economic sense, but in so many other ways we are blessed, as Nature truly abounds — just ask any visiting trail rider.
Unfortunately, the politics of the past were simple. State and even national figures and candidates of the past made cameo appearances and left plenty of money for Democrat leaders to spread throughout the county in the form of vote buying. Since vote buying is really a thing of the past (as well it should be), the Republicans and especially the Trumpians have proven that even in a traditionally Democratic state like West Virginia, which in 1972 gave Republican Richard Nixon over 60 percent of its votes against George McGovern, can vote independently despite a conservative Democratic majority.
President Trump made several visits to West Virginia before he was elected president, which saw him receive over 80% of the votes in his first presidential bid in our Mountain State. Of course, those visits resulted in most of his endorsed candidates being elected here four years ago and once again this year, as he led the Republican ticket.
Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about the fact that coal mining eventually will come to a sad ending, regardless of who gains the presidency in future generations. And since my father and grandfather were coal miners and several of my uncles and many other family members mined coal, as well as nearly every crippled up neighbor I had while growing up, it is sad to think that my grandchildren are likely not going to benefit from what once was the most important energy source in the world — and there has been no industry replacement.
With all of the coal that has been taken from the hills of West Virginia, and especially with all of the sacrifices made by coal miners and by other mountaineers who were quick to join the various branches of the military in defending our great country in every military endeavor, it just seems to me that we — as West Virginians, mountaineers, hillbillies, or whatever one wishes to describe us as — deserve a whole lot more than food stamps for the unemployed.
It doesn’t have to be another Toyota plant, but we need your help, Mr. President. You might say we’re counting on you. Of course, I’m addressing Joe Biden, not Donald Trump.
Perhaps I should just treasure the lump of coal I’m getting in my Christmas stocking.
Dwight Williamson serves as magistrate in Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.