The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

A Conversation With Elbert Childress

Interviewed By Scott Allan Jacobs © 1992

Issue: June, 1992

This interview is with Elbert Childress, a gentleman from the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia who came to Pennsylvania in 1957.

"Most of your ground down there was owned by the mining company. The last time I was down home, the houses I used to live in when I was a kid had all been torn down. They used to be stood up off the ground on like three foot stone pillars. Shoot, there wasn't even a stone pillar left. It don't even look like anybody had ever lived there. It was like somebody just wiped my life off the map.

This was called Anawalt, West Virginia. Just a little ol' holler that's all it was.

You'd just go out there and did what you wanted to as far as hunting. We didn't have no restrictions. You just took up your gun, if you had a gun, and go on out there and shoot what you. wanted. There wasn't no license, no game warden, there wasn't nobody around there like that.

We went fishing right there in the little ol' creek that run down by our house but there wasn't no fishing like you have up here. You had a little ol' fish there he might get seven inches long. It used to have three or four little ol' horns on its head. We'd call them horny-heads. You know, I don't know whether we ever really knew the name of that fish or not. They used to wash the coal dirt in this river or creek. Some days you'd go out there and that creek would be as black as the ace of spades. And then when the coal mines wasn't running, when they wasn't washing coal, that water was as clear as a bell. Just as crystal clear as it could be. But when they washed coal, they washed all that dirt right down the creek.

You can buy ginseng up here in these little Chinese stores. I don't know what the Chinese did with it or who bought it but all of us kids, and even my father, we used to go ginseng hunting in the mountains. You'd dig the root up and take it home and lay it on the roof and you'd let the sun dry it. This old guy who used to run the hardware store used to buy it from us. But it had to be dry. A lot of people would get a little brainstorm about sticking it in the oven. Put it in the stove and let it out. But it would turn black like on the inside, so when they'd take it to the place to sell it the guy would break a piece and if it was black he wouldn't buy it. You'd have to dry it out naturally on top of the house. They used to sell that quite a bit down there but now exactly what they bought it for I don't know. They claimed they made some sort of medicine out of it.

When you got up old enough down there like say I did sixteen, seventeen years old, you wanted to move, you wanted to get out somewhere where you could find something to do other than work there in the coal mines or work there in the corn fields all day just in order to have something to eat. It seemed like the more you worked the less you had.

I enjoy being around up here. I do. I like this place. This is a nice place. But I also like my home. I like down home. It's something I guess I'll never get rid of. Some people can be born at one place and stay a long time and just walk off and leave it and not even think nothin' about it. But I always did like the mountains and that's what I miss. Just being down there in the mountains where you can breath and where you can go out there and shoot your gun across the hill and nobody would never bother ya; nobody would say nothing to ya. You're sort of used to having a little more freedom as far as the outside than you do up here.