Saturday, April 24, 2010

Football heroes of 1910

I'm pretty sure this is the only record of anyone, on any branch of my family tree, ever having had any kind of athletic prowess.

The guy third from the right on the front row, sitting on the ground and looking off to the side (as if he's gearing up for his next opponent) is my mother's father, Harry Toothman.

This is a picture postcard that was pasted into a scrapbook about his life that my grandmother put together after he died in 1966.

I was less than a year old at the time, so I never knew him, though my older siblings tell me he was the perfect grandfather: he read to them, took them fishing, and famously assured my then-eight-year-old sister "We won't tell your grandmother about this" when the pineapple upside-down cake they were transporting to a church bake sale slid off my sister's lap and onto the floor of the car.

I'll be writing more about him and about the material in this scrapbook in the weeks to come (fair warning to those of you who are sick of these family-history type posts). But I've been amazed at how much stuff from the scrapbook resonates with me, on many levels.

Morris Harvey College later became the University of Charleston (WV).

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sixty-five years ago today

On April 18th, 1945, my Dad was interviewed by Armed Forces radio in the Po Valley of Italy, about his job with the 91st Infantry Division. After the war, he requested a copy of the recording, which arrived on a shellac 78 rpm disc...and which, long-time readers won't be surprised to hear, my dad kept all his life.

This is the original interview, to which he added a short introduction some time later, when he transferred it over to audiotape.* I'm not sure when he did this, though his voice still sounds quite young to me, so I imagine it was at least thirty or forty years ago.

Happily, he did get to "go home where it's quiet" soon after this recording, since V-E Day happened less than three weeks later.

*And thanks to my brother, Mark Hathaway, who had the foresight to digitize the whole thing a few years ago! Good thing Dad's techie gene got passed down.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


The terrible news out of Montcoal, WV, this week about the mine explosion there has me thinking--again--about my relationship with the coal industry.  Not that I have one, in the sense of an economic or even a philosophical investment, but you can't live in West Virginia without establishing some kind of relationship with Big Coal.

I discovered this very quickly after moving here in 2007.  To be honest, I imagined coal mining was a part of West Virginia's past; I didn't know until I got here how huge a part of its present it is, and how deeply everyone in the state is implicated in it, and how reliant we all are on the industry's success or failure.

While the rest of the country has been in deep recession, West Virginia--at least at the governmental level--has been in the black; fittingly, the "black" is due to the coal industry, which is thriving even as other jobs dry up.  My own employer, West Virginia University, is in pretty good financial shape (relative to other state universities) because the state is in decent economic shape because the coal industry is still making big profits.  So, my hands are black from coal, too.

Just last week, Tom and I went to the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, where we saw an exhibit about the Monongah Mine Disaster of 1907.  I wrote about that event a bit in an earlier blog, but suffice to say that having seen the terrible images from that event--now over a hundred years old--and the images from the current disaster are a reminder that the more things change here in coal country, the more they stay the same.

There's no such thing here as being "neutral" about coal, as far as I can see, though there are lots of ways to be ambivalent about it.  You're either a "Friend of Coal" or a "Friend of the Mountains."  There's a car in my neighborhood that has bumper stickers from both of the linked organizations on it, which always baffles me--I don't see how it's possible to have a foot in both camps.

Needless to say, there's a class divide that accompanies the split, too.  For many West Virginia families (including my own, as I'll write about in a later blog), coal mining is the one "sure thing" in a place where there are few economic certainties.  And even though many of those families have suffered at the hands of the coal industry, either directly or indirectly, through job loss, injury, or environmental destruction, many of them are still fiercely loyal to Big Coal.  And who could blame them?  As the coal industry goes, so goes the state.  To work actively against it is, at least in the eyes of some, working for your neighbors' demise. 

And yet, many of those same folks will lament the ways in which mountaintop removal mining is destroying the state's other vital natural resource:  its landscape.  I can't imagine that even the most ardent supporter would have failed to find something deeply troubling about a comment made by a guy my dad knew, who worked as an engineer for Massey Energy.  In defense of mountaintop removal mining, he said something to the effect of "All that new, level ground is gonna be a great asset to the state of West Virginia after mining operations have ceased."  You can build shopping malls on it!  Farm it!  Pave paradise and put up a parking lot!

Everyone in the state is dirty, from Governor Manchin, who--when confronted with the number of safety violations against the very mine that exploded this morning--replied in coy lawyer-speak, "That's what I've been told," to Don Blankenship, the crazy-assed CEO of Massey Energy, who has called carbon-emissions limits "a hoax and a Ponzi scheme," right down to me.  I've got an "I Heart Mountains" bumper sticker on my car, but I still profit in some way from the success of the industry.

And of course, it's not just West Virginians who are dirty.  Want to know what you relationship with Big Coal is?  You might be surprised at what you learn when you click here.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter ephemera

Hard to believe it's Easter weekend with high temperatures in the mid-eighties.  After February, though, I'm not going to complain about our apparent transition directly from winter to summer.  So, happy "spring," all.  Next week we'll be back to the fifty-degree drizzle that seems much more traditionally springlike around here, so I'll take the warm weather while I can.

In the meantime, to celebrate the day, here are a couple more recent postcard finds: