Sorry for the lateness of this post
Greeting to all and welcome new friends to the EastWing.
Labor Day Morning found Sister Sharolette and I walking, with iPads in hand, to the Days Inn Office. For the second time in as many days I saw the fog on the mountains. Not down to where we walked but half way up the mountain side you could touch the clouds if you cared to walk up there. I choose to go instead into the Days Inn Office.
The early goals that morning were quite simple. Pay the motel bill. Drink coffee at the breakfast bar. Get a decent Wi-Fi signal for the iPads. With the motel bill paid the attention turned to the freshly brewed coffee. It was not at all hard to find, just follow the smell. The Wi-Fi connection was perfect. Being in close proximity to the wireless router made all the difference in the world.
And so the morning progressed for me and Sister Sharolette, I drank the coffee and read the local news on the wkvi.com website. Sharolette, well she finally was able to make the FaceBook connection. So all was well with Old Sister’s morning. For many years, the oldest sister in our family, Thelma, called herself “Old Sister” whenever Sharolette would call her. Now with just me and Sharolette left in our family, she’s inherited the title, and wears it with pride in remembrance of the original Old Sister in our family.
We talked about the beauty of the fog on the mountain directly outside and across the street from the motel. Then right here as we watched, the second half of the magic act took place. The fog went away, right before our eyes, the fog just went away. Now I’m not sure where fog goes when you can’t see it anymore. But it must go somewhere, ’cause it comes back from time to time, when the temperature and humidity dance on the mountainside.
We met up with Johnny and Jaimie and we four packed up and left Paintsville of the purpose of which we came to the mountains. Going to Tip Top on Labor Day.
Not having had good luck the day before with a Bob Evans Breakfast, we choose a quick McDonalds drive thru. Johnny at the wheel, placed the total order , checked for completeness, and passed out hand held breakfast for all. Guess I’m kinda old school, but it does take some getting used to when you eat hash browns in the shape of a flat oval inside a little paper sack. Don’t know if they call ’em McTaters or not, but think I will.
Anyways, we ate breakfast traveling from Paintsville to Salyersville. A pretty dive on that high speed mountain freeway. A trip that used to take an hour or so, now is minutes. Johnny doesn’t poke along on the mountain high speed roads. But put him on the mountain back roads, he’s passed by the local turtles. By the time the McTaters were finished we approached the southern suburbs of Salyersville. My original “Old Sister”, Thelma, lived in those southern suburbs for many years out there on Burning Fork Road.
Most all the scars of the tornado that destroyed much of Salyersville on March 2, 2012 are gone. New buildings hide the trauma this little community suffered when the tornado walked the earth in Salyersville KY. The destruction was great. Even in the time of massive property damage, the hand of God shielded his mountain people from harm’s way . Not a single life was lost in the worst tornado in the history of Kentucky. The survival spirit of the people of Magoffin County is great.
It’s the first exit off the Mountain Parkway leaving Salyersville toward Lexington where you turn toward Royalton. The Mountain Parkway is a part of the Federal Interstate Highway System. KY 7 is a two lane mountain road winding along the path of least resistance in mountain travel. Mountain roads tend to follow the course of running water to the extent possible. But sooner or later the road must cross the mountain. Sometimes easy, and sometimes not so much so. Either way, it’s up one side and down the other.
The next turn is on KY 867 just before you get to Royalton. If you go to Royalton, then you missed the turnoff to Tip Top. Done that before too. Another two lane mountain road, destined to soon become an even smaller two lane road. It’s down the road, round the curve, cross the Licking River and make a decision while setting at a stop sign. Turn right and the road goes back to Salyersville. Turn left and the road goes to Tip Top.
We turned left. It’s called “going up Oakley” when you turn left at that stop sign. It’s called going up Oakley ’cause that’s the name of the creek, Oakley Creek. Once you start up Oakley you can’t miss Tip Top ’cause there’s only Carver and the next stop past Carver is Tip Top. Now Carver does not have a sign saying such. People just know when it’s Carver, and when you’ve past Carver, you know that too. Tip Top doesn’t have a sign either, but it’s like when you get to Carver, you know, and when you get to Tip Top you also know.
For the first time traveler going up Oakley it’s easier to know when you get to Tip Top. ‘Cause the road ends at Tip Top. No joke, the road just ends. It’s as if the paving machine just ran out of asphalt, and no more trucks came to refill the asphalt hopper. Tip Top.
I’ll always remember the very first time I took Johnny to Tip Top. Johnny was about 21 or so. His first comment after getting out of the Van we were traveling in that day. was forever special. “In my 21 years, I never thought I would, this quick in life come to the end of the road”.
And so on that Labor Day 2015, we too reached the end of the road at Tip Top. Parking is always a premium when the mountains get close. Tip Top is a real good example of how close the mountains can get. You can stand on one mountain and throw a rock and hit the other mountain. Been there done that. But not this day, it’s the Tip Top Coal Camp Reunion 2015, and we’ve arrived.
Sister Sharolette and I walked up into the crowd as Johnny and Jaimie parked the car. While not yet recognizing a single person , somehow they all seems family to me. David Rowe and his wife, Nan were the first ones we recognized. Both David and Nan grew up in Tip Top, fell in love, married and moved to northern Indiana a long, long time ago.
On several occasions back in the very early part of this century, David asked me to go with him to the Tip Top Reunion. I always had a reason not to go. David’s younger brother Mike Rowe begged me to go to the Tip Top Reunion with him, time and time again. Once again the reasons not to attend were always easy to find. Too much work at RHCO Inc. headed the list. Oh what I’d give to have gone just one time with Mike. What a trip it would have been. May not have gotten back to Indiana for a week or so.
Very shortly after arriving one of those responsible for maintaining the interest in the Tip Top Reunion, Adam Manns, approach. We shook hands and Adam asked if I would talk to some people from the University of Kentucky about my life in Tip Top. Oh sure, be glad to.
The University of Kentucky is documenting the coal camps that were in eastern Kentucky during the first half of the last century. Both written and oral history is being compiled. Each coal camp to have its own web page to display the information unique to the site.
Adam took me over and introduced me to the U of K folks. They turned on the video camera, the audio recorder, gave me a bottle of water, and we were off the races. 45 minutes later I asked the man in charge how long did he want me to tell stories. He said as long as I had stories to tell. Told him that he didn’t have that much time, and besides I’d really came to visit the Tip Top Reunion, and so I rejoined the party taking place on the shady side of the mountain.
Depending on how steep the mountain and its proximity to the rising sun, the sun may not shine all the way down to the bottom of the mountain until well after noon. So was the location chosen for the Tip Top Reunion. The shady side of the mountain.
The highlight of the whole trip to the Tip Top Reunion was meeting up with 5 cousins from the family of Cole. Cousin Herlis Cole is the patriarch of the Cole Clan. This is the Cole Cousins I’ve talked about before. When I was living at Tip Top, more Cole cousins than I could count on all my fingers. Now one hand can count ’em all.
Sisters Shirell, Wanda, Judy and Brother Herlis and his wife Madeline were the reason Sharolette wanted to attend the Tip Top Reunion. This Family of Coles made our trip worthwhile. We laughed, talked, hugged, took pictures, sang and prayed as a family.
Twelve noon, a short prayer and luncheon is served on the mountain side. Authentic food from the mountain people makes for a most delicious meal. The meal also brought back memories of other meals long ago eaten when BobbyRay and three sisters lived right up the hill behind where we sat. A time when all the hills of Tip Top were covered with houses. A time when most every day we shared our evening meal with two or three or four of the Cole Cousins. Just how ever many that happened to be hungry when we were. Sure loved that bunch of cousins then and still do now. I’ve missed those cousins living close by ever since I left Tip Top.
There’s a monument bearing the surnames of all those who ever worked in the Tip Top Mine. Standing reading the names on that Granit Slab, it could well have been a listing of clients of RHCO Inc. I did not see a single name I didn’t already know and was truly surprised at how many of those surnames were in fact tax clients of my company.
We cousins stood by the Granit Monument for picture taking, first one, then the other, then the group, and then another. It was during the picture taking that I met a second cousin. The son of the oldest baby girl born into the Family of Cole, Mabel had a son, Jackie Back. I met him for the first time at the Tip Top Reunion.
Another good reason to have made the trip to Tip Top. Not only do we get to see our cousins from the Cole Clan, we meet part of the second generation of the Cole Family. Now I hardly know any of the second generation of the Cole Family, but I bet there’s a lot. Maybe someday I’ll meet ’em all, hope so.
The sun came over the mountain top at about 2 in the P.M. and the perfect Labor Day weather at Tip top turned to the hot side. Real Hot. Real fast. The Tip Top Reunion went from full party on fun, to see ya next year, gotta get out of this sun. The party ended as the sunshine bathed the mountains in the bright light of ending summer. It had been so long since I’d played in the Summer Kentucky Sunshine at Tip top, I’d forgotten that we played early morning in the shade of one mountain. Stayed inside or under the house during the time the sun shown down on all. In late afternoon, the opposing mountain provided shade of more outside activity.
Yes, under the house. Just think about it. When a house is build on a steep mountain side, the house is built level. That means one side of the house touches the mountain and the other side is supported on posts of some type, wood or rock. The playground space under the house was a favorite place for me and some of the Cole Boys in the summer heat.
While standing under a tent, Cousin Herlis lead the Cole Family in singing “If We Never Meet Again This Side of Heaven”. It could have been real easy to cry by the end of that song. With a final round of hugs, and more hugs for all our cousins, we got back in the air conditioned car and drove north toward the homelands of Indiana.
With only one more leg of the trip to go, Johnny and I still had a football meeting that Labor Day Evening somewhere in Ohio with the BuckEyes . I’ll let you know who won that game.
From the EastWing, Checking Out & Checking In, Telling Stories to U of K, Hugging Cousins, Sunshine On The Mountains, Indiana Here We Come.
I Wish You Well,