Growing up in the wild mountains of West Virginia posed many interesting opportunities for a precocious boy such as myself. I was the youngest of the passel of kids, and of course I was lovingly referred to as “the pet pig.”
My mother and father had but two children, my brother and myself, but our family grew by leaps and bounds following the unfortunate and untimely death of my paternal Grandmother, Virginia "Bunny" (Thompson) Burns. She died of a massive heart attack at the age of 42, leaving behind five children under 18 and a few others that were still at home. I have but one real memory of my Grandmaw Henry (called that because my Granddad’s middle name was Henry) and that was of Christmas 1980 (I was three at the time) when she was feeding me candy out of a green depression-style glass candy dish. Of course, everyone in the family has told me of interactions with her, and they eventually became a memory of mine through stories as well, but the Christmas candy is the only real memory I have of her.
Below is a photo of my Grandmaw Henry with my cousin Emily.
With the added mouths to feed compounded with the single income of my father, some might think that we did without and that our opportunities were diminished, but the way I see it, just the opposite happened, it gave us character and the wherewithal to face any obstacle that came at us. Perhaps we are among a select few children of the 1980’s Appalachians that still know the old ways of living. We grew up knowing how to butcher hogs, grow a garden, home can food, carry water from the spring as well as how to deal with using the outhouse.
Below is a photo of us kids about 1980. I'm the little boy in the green.
Some might say that we were impoverished, but we didn’t see it that way at all and in many ways we had it better then than we do now. We never went hungry, mom and dad always made sure we had plenty to eat which was no small feat considering the number of mouths they had to feed. When we had a little money, we all ate really good. I never remember having to do without anything, and even frivolous items that I saw in various stores, if I told mom and dad I wanted them, I usually got them, if not then and there, then soon thereafter as soon as they saved up the money. We were not lazy either, we worked a lot. Seldom was the time that I remember when someone in the “Burns Clan” wasn’t doing something to make a little money, whether it be chopping wood, selling fence stakes, raising hogs to butcher & sell, cleaning up old brass items to sell for extra cash, even collecting scrap metal to sell to the salvage yards.
Another photo of the Burns brood, taken about 1979.
Stories abound in my family and it is my intention to share a few of them with you on this blog, mind you these are my recollections, someone else in my family may have different memories than me, but these stories detail the way I remember growing up.