When the war ended, all the coal mine whistles blowed

Posted by | July 3, 2017

My father was a coal miner back in the…well, he went into the coal mine when he was 12 years old, and he came out when he was 47. And he worked through the First World War, well he worked, that’s all he ever done, ’till he came to the farm. But he worked through the First World War, but he was down here in the other one.

Everything was rationed back there, just like in the Second World War. You had to take sugar, you had to take cornmeal, and a whole bunch of stuff to get other things, you know. And tea and coffee and all that was rationed. But my dad went in when he was 12 years old. ‘Cause it was a big family of them and he had to work.

Well, bread was ten cents a loaf. And when you could get a dollar—you couldn’t get a dollar hardly ever—but if you got a dollar you could buy something with it. And you can’t now but whenever you made a dollar, and you’d save to get groceries, well, then you could get stuff; but we baked our bread and churned our own butter and had our own eggs and all of that.

We grew gardens and fields, you know, with corn and stuff like that, but I’ve lived with my parents and all my life, and I’ll be 91 in March, and never forget your mother son—that’s right I don’t care—well, your dad too if he’s some people’s man. I feel sorry for the people who do get them and don’t want them and I don’t believe in that.

The teachers were strict when I was in school. If you whispered or turned in your seat a little bit, I don’t know. I can remember once, I whispered, and I remember that teacher ‘till this day. She bent my thumb back like this and whipped me here with a ruler. And you wouldn’t do that now nowadays in school, y’know.

And I was 10 years old when the First World War stopped. And we had to gather, I don’t know what this is ever for, but they had a nail cagier, they used to have nail cagier back then, and we had to save all the nutshells like hickory nuts, walnuts, or anything, but what they ever done with them, I don’t know.

Frontispiece from 'The Story of the Great War,' by Francis Joseph Reynolds et al., 1916.

Frontispiece from ‘The Story of the Great War,’ by Francis Joseph Reynolds et al., 1916.


But when the war ended, all the coal mine whistles blowed, the school bells rung, and the peoples’ wonderin’, well they hadn’t heard yet that the Armistice was signed. They was wonderin’ …and then they all celebrated. But I was ten years old when that ended.

I had an uncle over there in the war. It was rough, they was in those trenches y’know, and things. My mother made taffy and sent it to her brother for Christmas, and he got it, he said and then he sent me a piece to read in church and I knew two verses. “In Flanders field the poppies rose,” and something about crosses rose on rose, but I remember that.

When we was havin’ church I always went to church, and he sent me a doll baby from over there, but he never got back. And I had a cousin over there. They never knew what became of him.

The coal mines had to put out coal and that made the production but my dad was a coal miner and he went from loading coal cut more. And that’s what he did. When he was in the coal mine, mother would put a fire in for the winter so you could have something to bake bread with.

We always had a cow and when my dad was in the coal mines he had ten acres that he would farm. And we always had a cow and chickens and had hogs. That helped with the butchering and things and Mom always kept a garden and we used to churn butter and sell it to people and back then you’d skim the cream off the milk and save it to make butter.

People’d come and buy it for the skimmed milk, you know, and they say it’s better than the stuff you get now. Well there’d be little bits of cream floating in it. Things ain’t like they used to be. Food’s not like it used to be. Sugar, and they got so much dope in the stuff you don’t know what you’re eatin’ and what you are.

Well, my sister was older than me and she was boss, but I didn’t really get in trouble but for Halloween—we’d throw corn and we had a thing with a wooden spool and you’d wrap a string around it and I think you used rosin on it like on violins; and you’d set that on someone’s window and that would make the darndest noise.

And I’ve never trick-or-treated, and you weren’t allowed to be on the streets all hours of the night, and my parents were strict. They knew where their parents were and their parents knew where they were. Wasn’t like some of the families are today.


Emma Barnhill
Guysville, OH
b. 1908
interviewed 1998 by Jesse Brown, Countdown to Millennium Oral History Project, a cooperative effort between Ohio University and Rural Action


Leave a Reply

+ 4 = 8

↑ Back to top

This collection is copyright ©2006-2018 by Dave Tabler. All visuals are used in accordance with the Fair Use Law (Per Title 17—United States Code—Section 107) and remain the property of copyright owners. Site Design by Amaru Interactive