Miler - Granddad.jpg

The author’s paternal grandmother Nancy (“Ma”) and grandfather Charles.

GRANDPARENTS. Chapter: “Gunsmoke” 

 Mother told me how Grandmother Martha Tate James—“Ma” for short—cared for Dad as she could, occasionally sending him to the homes of various relatives. Ma was said to have been beautiful, but the only pictures we had of her were when she was older, not smiling her thin lips for the camera. Mother said Ma was suspicious of men who courted her after Grandpa was killed. Ma turned away suitors by telling them, “I can ride better than you, I can shoot better than you, and I don’t need your money.” Word of that got around.


Two years after Grandpa was gunned down, Robert Andrew Mason, who stood confident and handsome in the scratchy old photograph in Dad’s memento file, came courting.

He told Ma, “I can ride better than you, I can shoot better than you, and I don’t need your money."

So Ma married Bob Mason. They gave birth to my Uncle Clyde, who as a young man went to the World War I front in France where he got gassed, which wasn’t the way people fought in Harlan County.


HARLAN COUNTY COURTHOUSE. Chapter: Making the Team

I headed downtown to sit with five guys perched on the coal monument at the corner of the Harlan County Courthouse. The view from the wall made it easy to see who was going in or out of Green-Miller Drug on the opposite corner of First and Central.

 “How ya doin’?” I asked Rustbucket as I checked the granite cap of the wall to make sure it was clear of anything that could stain my pants.

 Hunched over, glancing occasionally at the drug store door as he dangled his feet against the hard-sealed coal blocks, Rustbucket spat a brown stream of Mail Pouch chewing tobacco into a Coca-Cola cup. Bulls-eye. “Not bad, Jaybird. You?”


JENNY’S CLIFF. Chapter: “Interesting time” 

Swirling leaves in its wake, a car rounded toward me and moved to the center of the road to give me ample space at the edge of the sheer drop. As I headed alongside the small cliff on the bulge of the first curve, a voice called my name, leading my eyes to Jenny Lee, sitting on the brow of a rock face about twelve feet up from the road.

Whoa. “What are you doing there?”


IVY STREET. Chapter: “First Sweat”

Just when life seemed predictable, the sun rose on me – from an unlikely place – next door, at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Handley. A quiet couple who liked to sit on their screened-in side porch in the warm season, the Handleys could see our playthings tumbling down our side slope into their yard, yet they never complained. They never ordered us off their property the way Mr. Cutler did when he was drunk and didn’t want the neighborhood boys playing “Whoever Gets The Ball Gets Tackled” on his lawn.

Mr. Cutler’s yard had the advantage of being flat, being on the part of Ivy Street that levels out at the bottom of Ivy Hill. One summer afternoon, when four of us climbed his apple tree to pick some fruit, Mr. Cutler strode onto his porch and shot a rifle in the air. We dropped out of the branches as a group and didn’t play in his yard after that.