Writings from Kentucky: Growing up in Blackey by 2dCousinDave

By Sharon Brown (Sharon) on April 8, 2010

The terrain and the people of Kentucky are so varied, those of us who grew up here never have the same stories to tell. Wonder of wonders, though, I recently met a gentleman who grew up only a handful of miles from where I was born. We were probably there at the same time, walking those same dusty roads, and climbing the very same mountains. Here's a story from our All Across Kentucky Cubit, written by my friend Dave. Please leave a comment for him on the threads that follow, and you are welcome to visit our Cubit.

Growing up in Blackey, KY

by 2dCousinDave


I grew up in Letcher County, in a little town named Blackey. It was a booming coal town in the '20's but was hit hard by the depression and never really recovered. We moved there in 1947. Blackey is located on the North Fork of the Kentucky River and many of the buildings in town backed up to 2010-04-08/Sharran/1b7865the river bank. Railroad tracks ran through the middle of town and the L&N ran long coal trains, day and night. Empty and noisy going up and long and loaded coming back. We had a coal tipple right in front of our house and coal dust hung in the air day and night. There was no such thing as a white shirt or white sheet. You could get them clean, but you could not get them white.

My mother washed on Saturdays. That meant that after school on Fridays I, and most of the other boys my age, had to carry water from the river, across the tracks and up the path to our house. There were three wash tubs to fill so I made many trips. Then I had to gather kindling. The tubs were set up on bricks or flat rocks in the yard (there was no grass) and on Saturday morning I had to build a fire under two of the tubs. How well I remember my mother standing over those steaming tubs with her stick, poking and sloshing. I'd give most everything I have to see her do it one more time. 

In those days all the big coal mines in our area had played out and the small truck mines weren't hiring, so able bodied young men could either head for Ohio or Michigan or join the Army. In 1958 I joined the Marine Corps and stayed on active duty for 22 years. I was offered many opportunities. I went to college, then earned a commission2010-04-08/Sharran/65a11e as a Marine officer and a few years later, went on to law school. When I graduated from law school I took the Kentucky bar examination. Although now retired, I am still a member in good standing of the Kentucky bar. 

The depot shown in the photo here is long gone. But here's a picture taken about 1953 of a swinging bridge over the Kentucky River in the upper end of Blackey, just above the point where Rockhouse Creek runs into the river. They used to have baptizings in the water below and we used to line the bridge to watch. That's me in the foreground and two of my sisters further out on the bridge. 

Today I live in Virginia and my visits2010-04-08/Sharran/5d9445 to Blackey are fewer and somewhat bittersweet. 

I try to go back the last part of May each year. But now, instead of crossing the bridge into Blackey, I drive on a few more miles down the river, park and walk up a little hill to where my mother is resting in a peaceful little cemetery overlooking the Kentucky River. 

Every time I make that climb, I think of the words Karl Davis wrote in his wonderful song, "Kentucky":

"...When I die I want to rest upon a graceful mountain, so high, For that is where God will look for me."

Related articles:
Appalachian mountains, cemetery, coal dust, coal tipple, coal towns, growing up in Kentucky, Kentucky, laundry days, river baptisms

About Sharon Brown
I am a retired arts and humanities teacher who grew up in the Appalachian mountains of southeast Kentucky. I taught in Louisville, then eventually moved to far western Kentucky where I retired 4 years ago. I am an artist and a writer, and my favorite subjects to write about are the mountains and wildflowers of eastern Kentucky. They are very nearly my favorite subjects to paint, too. Truth is, I left my heart back in those mountains.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Just found this wlfwmn Feb 19, 2014 11:47 PM 1
Blackey bailey Nov 26, 2012 8:01 PM 1
You can't go back! Ridesredmule Dec 16, 2010 10:47 AM 2
Blackey CajuninKy Aug 26, 2010 9:54 AM 32
Wonderful article, thank you! PollyK Apr 10, 2010 11:42 PM 6
Home sweet home Seray Apr 9, 2010 9:51 PM 0
Great article! 1AnjL Apr 9, 2010 2:58 AM 7

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