A few days ago a spry old man from the coal fields told me his story. I didn’t catch his name, but let’s call him Jerry.
Jerry was born in a coal camp near Mingo County, one of eight children. His father spent 25 years in the mines before succumbing to black lung. At a young age, this man knew he didn’t want to work in the mines, so when he was old enough he joined the military.
In the military, almost every man Jerry met expected our boy would be an ignorant bumpkin with a propensity towards moonshine and incest, given what they had heard about those “coal-mining hillbillies.” However, when the brass handed out promotions, they went to him first, and and he quickly found himself in a position of responsibility.
After fighting in what he called a “horror of a war,” he returned to the states, where he began working as an insurance investigator. This work took him all over the country and he said he always tried to represent mountain people well wherever he went.
Jerry was particularly proud of one exchange he had with his boss, a New Jersey man with unfavorable preconceptions about Appalachian people. After working with him for some time, his boss once asked him: “You work harder than any of these other guys. I underestimated you. Where did you get your work ethic?”
Jerry replied: “the coal camp.”