Posted at 11.20.2018
The typical cave discovery tells us how people lived thousands of years back. Likewise a family's personal history tells the storyplot of the family but it also indirectly records society and how it affected them as individuals, as a family group, and as a community. Many families take great care to safeguard their family stories and pass them right down to future generations through recorded documents and oral history. This means that all future generations know about the struggles and hardships endured by their ancestors that shaped the first generations. Genealogy was frequently recorded by those who had inherited their wealth or social status yet others, who had inherited nothing, would often suppress their family history as a matter of shame. The Webb family boasts no family historian, genealogist, or biographer. Those that know about the facts have long passed and the few that remain can only just reveal equipment of fading memories. This paper can be an attempt to piece together the memories, stories, and historical data of the time to tell the storyline of my children.
With the construction of railroad lines in the first decades of the new century coal mining procedures and coal towns began springing up almost overnight. To accommodate the influx of staff mine owners had to offer housing and other luxuries to the families migrating to the newly established communities (Buckley, 2004). Nearly all Southwest Virginia's mountain residents lived settled sparsely in hollows ("hollers") between your hills, along creek beds, and on hillsides so many companies needed to entice staff from outside the region to move their families into areas that appeared unlivable. This is easier for companies mining in the Appalachian fields because the area accounted for over 90% of the total amount of coal mined in america during the 1920's (Buckley, 2004). The first success of extracting 'black diamonds' would be temporary as the onset of such tragic events as World War I and the Great Depression subdued king coal.
The start of coal town living was never discussed among my family. My grandfather was created just one year after the fighting in World War I ceased and he lived to survive many other tragic events in American history but never recounted any tales outside moving into a coal camp with his family. It is unclear where he was actually from as he never discussed his days growing up or his parents except to share his father's name in brief stories of glory the past. An interview with his youngest daughter didn't shed any light on his mysterious past. She recalls growing up in the same small town in Southwest Virginia but she struggled to recount her encounters growing up in a mining community. My mother had not been able to provide much more detail in support of confirmed the information I had formed already attained. Historical fact paints a good picture of their experience and could help explain why family history had not been more of a priority. It really is unclear whether the family purposefully chose to conceal this time around ever sold or not. The premise may have been to safeguard future generations from the dark days of struggle the family endured. Only those who have left this life know that answer and those folks who remain must speculate.
The coal mining towns were typical of industrial towns in other parts of North America and Western Europe. The houses were usually identical, functional and of simple design. The mining towns were representative of frontier communities. Initially there have been few amenities but as the towns grew conditions improved. Schools were opened in the mining towns immediately after families arrived in the district. Hotels, a post office, retail businesses, banks, newspapers and churches and sometimes and opera house or theatre were features of all the major communities. Lodges were important in many communities and the members performed a number of social and cultural functions in the towns (Buckley, 2004). The company store was not simply the local grocery store. It was often the center of life in a coal mining town. Every town had one, and everyone shopped there. The business store was usually located close to the railroad tracks in the city. Everything that a family may want or need could be bought in the store, from food to clothing, from hardware supplies and the miners' tools to furniture and appliances. My grandfather often compared the company store to our present day mall and would describe his days of shopping after having received just over two dollars for a whole days work.
I never remember hearing my children tell stories about hardship or struggle. In fact, I really do not recall ever hearing my grandparents or parents discuss tragedy and triumph, good conquering evil, or good vs. bad. It really is as if my entire ancestry had taken a vow of silence. There were no discussions across the dining room table, no meaningful conversations about future goals, no retelling of early family experiences. Even my earliest memories capture only a glimpse of the events that shaped our family's values. Because the days of my great-grandfather everything that seems to have been known was working and residing in a coal town. This is considered such laborious work but it appeared to appeal to my ancestors. The code of silence not only encompassed family values but permeated every part of family life and living. There have been never discussions about diversity of religion, gender, race, or nationality. Even the major events of the time did may actually strike the heart of our family. It is as though they had shut off the entire world around them and relished in a single another's presence.
My father was a stern man. He did not speak much but he previously an aura about him that did not require him to. Working around the house was expected and long hours were customary. Dinner had to be prepared and ready to serve as he arrived home from work and the menu always consisted of the family staple: pinto beans and corn bread. Although never spoken we understood that people didn't question our father. His rule was not a democracy and at times he ruled with an iron fist. As boys we were expected to do the 'manly' work around the house and our sister was likely to look after the home and figure out how to cook. I really believe education intimidated my father. He dropped out of school at 13 years rather than returned. He struggled to read and write and may have compensated by entrenching himself in his trade. There is only one senior high school graduate in three generations of males inside our family. Teenagers were expected to drop out of school, if possible, and go to work in a coal mines. In the last a century there have only been two university graduates in our family and those experiences were not celebrated. Education was never criticized openly but neither was it lauded in the eyes and ears of the kids.
I never remember relationships being very important in our family. Affection was not shown openly and never discussed in the occurrence of children. Those that were married appeared to love one another but didn't use words to express their fondness. It was simply understood that their devotion coexisted. This insufficient communication carried over in all the relationships within the family. Seated to have a meaningful conversation was not something anyone considered doing. Somehow, as children, each folks knew that significant communication had not been valued by our parents or grandparents. Parents simply had a way of taking a look at a kid that communicated it was time to fully stop and toe the line or suffer the results. The consequences were frequently administered by the males in the family and all of them had a difficult time maintaining control and would often discipline with techniques that might be considered child abuse today. For example, I could remember my grandfather laughing while he was telling the storyline of throwing large rocks at his boys after they had gotten into trouble. He was laughing as he remembered hitting them with the rocks.
My grandfather survived the fantastic Depression but I do not believe he was unscathed. He was an adolescent at that time and forced to give up his childhood and enter the workforce at an extremely early age. He would tell stories of being 13 and employed in coal using picks and donkeys pulling small cars in water up to his chest just to make enough money to help feed his family for the day. For so long as I could remember my grandfather was an alcoholic. He drank from the time he woke up in the morning until he fell asleep at night. I believe he wanted to stay away from the scars from so a long time of hard living. Unfortunately, each generation that followed mirrored his reluctance to speak about the issues that made life difficult. He previously become complacent living in a coal town and his children had become content since it was the only life they knew. In a way he served the family as he previously been served by the business. Each of his children lived in homes which were similar and each of his boys worked extended hours in the coal mines starting around age 13. The girls stayed at home to keep the house, tend the garden, and preparing meals for their brothers.
I never remember our family discussing religion but it must have been important to our community because there are six churches within an area that is only 0. 2 square miles (Bureu, 2000). Each hollow has its small church with many of them still functioning today despite having a population of just over a thousand residents. Religion was a taboo subject although nobody in the family ever forbade it. There is a sense that no subject was worthy of discussing openly as a family. This would fall in line with the ideology of our own earliest remembered ancestor Andrew Webb. Church and the idea of God were not promoted nor denied amidst us. The attitude resembled the same attitude of the character John Walton from the tv set series The Waltons. The men inside our family were very good-natured and wise, but also fearless, prepared to stand up to challenging and tell it like it is. This personality sometimes causes him to get very brash, even towards his children and wife on occasion, and they can also enter the mindset of a workaholic when heavily stressed. They were somewhat non-religious although there have been brief moments when God was known as Creator.
The code of silence established by my ancestors runs deep inside our family. The existing generation will not communicate any differently than those before us. Frequently the family can be found together in the midst of tragedy and then the visits are short lived. Family reunions haven't been important. Although the majority of the family lives in the county communication is almost nonexistent. Even while gathering information because of this paper I came across it difficult to speak to relatives about us history. We'd never discussed such things and the thought of having to require information about our ancestral past was daunting. There are times I am very aware that my attitude and communication style, or lack thereof, closely mimics that of my ancestors. It is a daily struggle to do things differently and the one that sees moments of victory and defeat.
I work daily to better talk to my children. It seemed easier when they were younger children. As they get older it becomes more of a task for me personally to communicate because I really do not have any activities to compare it to. My dad never talked if you ask me rather than allowed his children to see him cry. My children have observed their father show a range of emotions. It has not necessarily been an easy task and one which takes thought on my part. I am careful to explain to them that thoughts are an all natural and healthy way to market self care and are every part of being a man. I also explain that there are times when feelings aren't appropriate and really should be subdued until a far more appropriate time showing them. This is something I could never remember my grandfather or father ever discussing. Their lack of doing has made raising children more difficult and stressful. The major difference in our home when compared with what I know of in my parents' home and grandparents' home is a willingness by my wife and I to speak to our children when they have questions. If they aren't asking questions we could. This keeps the lines of communication open and hopefully will instill in them a greater sense of family and increase their world view.
At the age of 18 I enlisted in the United States Army. There is a passion in my own heart to go beyond what I knew growing up. I knew there was more to the globe around me than coal. My only experience with other cultures came from brief encounters in school and television. I used to be fortunate to really have the chance to enlist and move beyond your box that had been built by my great grandfather and propagated by those who follow in his footsteps. A whole " new world " was checking before me and my life has been enriched by the experience. As I look back I am dumbfounded. My parents had never spoken of other cultures or about how we should interact with people of some other race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. I often hear people use the word culture shock when being thrust into another type of culture for the first time. That is something I did not experience after enlisting. I had never been with us people of color, Mexicans, Latinos, or Puerto Ricans but I did so not experience uneasiness in my own new environment.
There was something deep inside of me that made this new experience right. I cannot clarify where it originated from or who had instilled this inner strength in me but I believe it was this inner strength that made this major life transition successful. That is a strength I take with me into the counseling field. Through counseling I am able to once more experience a journey into a variety of different cultures. I really believe I am also able to listen to others as they tell their story. I spent an eternity listening but believe through my activities in the military my listening skills have been honed so that I could truly hear what people are saying. My activities strengthen my belief that we am not judgmental towards those I counsel. I avoid reading client histories before a meeting because I really do not want to make rash judgments about who the individual is. I have found that the individual is nothing I expected and only vaguely resembles what I read in documentation after our initial meeting. I do think that another strength I bring to the counseling field is my willingness to study from others. I do not see myself as being master of anything but a student of most things. One skill I took from my ancestors that increases my success in the counseling field is my work ethic.
My work ethic might be the best tool passed down by my family but it addittionally lends itself to great struggles and stress. I sometimes allow myself to be studied benefit of by others in order to complete an activity. My basic belief is that people should prefer our brother in matters of life and success. This isn't necessarily our biological brother but more a mention of the people around us. Periodically I am silent and should not be. The silence creates a wall between the client as well as co-workers. Accompanying the silence can be an inner critical voice that is often harsh and unrelenting. This causes me to question interventions I take advantage of with clients and to doubt the abilities I have gained through experience and education. I am also not readily accepting of my own heritage. Personally i think like I fight daily to prove to myself and the earth i am not following in the footsteps of these before me because I really do nothing like where they are. This could build a problem when working with families that have children rebelling against family norms. I would see myself being more sympathetic to a person seeking to turn out from under a bleak ancestral tree. I would also be more tempted to be happy with surface problems and prevent digging deeper with clients and their own families to access the underlying issues. This might be inserting a Band-Aid on the mental health problems rather than facilitating solutions.
Having brothers that followed in the footsteps of the ancestors made choosing an alternative path more challenging. To my knowledge I am the only real male in our family to ever graduate from senior high school. Everybody else dropped out to work in the coal industry by the time they entered their freshman year and most before leaving elementary. This would make me the first male to sign up in college or university and the first member of our family, male or female, to graduate with a Master's Degree and really the only member of our family working in a profession that will require licensure. Breaking away from the generational pattern has not been a simple task. I thought we would stay in the same community that we grew up in and our family name is not prominent or known for contributions to raised the community. An advantage is the fact I am very acquainted with the culture in our area but I've been privileged to see a number of different cultures and study from them. I owe this success to my decision to enlist in the military just after finishing high school. This didn't allow me time to stay for that which was acceptable locally and it challenged me to go outside my comfort zone. The reward has been an expanded world view.
I have experienced other cultures that lots of in my own community will only know from books and movies. As I write this paper I am reminded of the character Peter Petrelli from the tv series Heroes. He's a dreamer that always believed he was designed for something more than the existence he knew. I too have believed i was destined for something more than coal towns and mining. Innately, whether we voice it or not, as human beings we've a prefer to make our lives matter, to count for something. Yet, as the desire is there, it could be very challenging to determine how to produce a difference and feel quite happy with our offering to humanity. Recruiting providers to the area is difficult and frustrating. Those that do opt to work in the area often choose to leave after only a short stay or they simply don't realize the culture. I am able to incorporate my experiences in other cultures with a whole knowledge of the indigenous culture. With an elevated knowledge base I am able to work at passing on to my children an increased knowledge of other cultures while respecting the culture of these ancestors. This ensures a lasting legacy for future generations of our family that choose to stay in this community.
At the age of 40 I am much like my dad. I am a stern man and would like to be always a man of few words. My partner of 17 years, my opposite, compliments me very well and is the main reason I do not rule my house with an iron fist like my dad. We fit together like gears in a wheel. She does however prefer the more traditional roles for girls and would much rather stay home to cook, clean, and take care of our two children than work. Next to my partner my two sons experienced the greatest impact on my entire life. Seeing them born really reinforced my belief that we have to be responsible, hard working caretakers of a very precious treasure. I wanted them to observe that education was important therefore i returned to school after i was well into my 30's. My wife and I want them to know that family is important so we execute a lot of things together as a family group. We speak to one another and all of them daily because we wish those to value communication within the family. Mather, Black, and Sanders (2007) wanted to dispel the mistaken belief that folks from the Appalachian region had boxed themselves off from mainstream American culture. They point to stereotypes and fictional Appalachian tales "invented by local color writers" (Black, et. al. ) as the foundation of confusion about the folks living in the region. We work everyday to ensure our kids understand their culture but we also cause them to become be open to different cultural experiences so their lives will be richly rewarding.
Black, D. , Mather, M. , & Sanders, S. (2007). Standards of Surviving in Appalachia, 1960 to 2000. Washington: Populaton Reference Bureu.
Buckley, G. (2004). History of Coal Mining in Appalachia. Encyclopedia of Energy, 1, 1-12.
Bureu, U. C. (2000). U. S. Census Bureu American FactFinder. Retrieved July 30, 2009, from American FactFinder: factfinder. census. gov