To a very large extent, we are given examples of how to live our lives by our parents. They may be good examples or bad, but the example is there. This writer was influenced greatly by the examples my Father, Fred Haller Sr., set. Through his strength of character and ethical, moral life, he forged a standard.
My Dad also shared his hobbies, hunting, story telling and photography with me, as well as with my younger sister and five younger brothers. Sometimes those hobbies were, perhaps, incessantly shared. At least, so it seemed to me. And so felt the others of the family. But we heard the jokes and stories every time someone as yet untold stopped by. And saw the slide shows ('slides are cheaper, just develop the film, no paper' he would tell us kids) every time that were as yet unviewed by them.
He graduated from Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University) cum laude in Mechanical Engineering. He was drafted, and served during the Korean War, at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. He worked hard, earned his way through both manual labor and technical work. If he needed something, he would work to get it.
By the time I was 11, I was using his old Brownie style camera. And developing my own 620 B & W film. And had started telling long drawn out jokes and stories. I bought my Ithaca Model 37 12 gauge with my paper route money, a year (in 1975) after I used the same resource to buy my first 35mm SLR.
But I sucked in English class (Bs), and taking pictures is, as everyone knows, just a hobby. I was really good in Math and Science classes (As). So I ended up (after a long and circuitous route through life) as an engineer that likes to shoot, camp, tell stories and take pictures, that has very strong principles that I share with my son through the example of being involved.
I have a good union job, and am active there. I earn my way with my skills as a machinist and inspector. I like to shoot, but I have not hunted since he and I last hit the field together. My son and I go out a few times a year to poke holes in stuff, like targets and cans. I use a digital camera, and let people see the slide shows on my computer. Or through Flickr. And the story telling has continued.
All those things helped prepare me for the March on Blair Mountain. As did my eight years of 'slacking' after I flunked out of Penn State, in my 19th year. And so Dad, Happy Fathers Day. I dedicate this series to you. And to your story of the guy in the circus parade that cleans up after the animals.
I have heard many different reasons for people to participate in this event. In my case, I see it as a DFH (Dirty F---ing Hippy) trifecta of the Environment, Preservation of Historical sites, and Labor Rights, all defended against the depredations of the greed of the wealthy and the corporations. As a DFH, I feel compelled to get involved with such a group of worthy causes. But I also have some personal experiences with the hills.
I was born and raised in south western Pennsylvania, and grew up in Washington County. My old school and church were both for a time closed and repaired because of mine subsidence caused by the lack of pillars left behind. A mine ventilation shaft painted the trees white in the winter with billowing plumes of moisture saturated air, like the breath of a giant coming out of mother earth on a cold day. As a child, passing that landmark in the woods beside the main road to and from both church and school, was something that is burned into my mind's eye.
Little did anyone realize back then that the symbol of man having his way with mother earth would be the cause of the literal collapse of both the moral foundation and educational backbone of my community. But that literal collapse was not a figurative collapse, because our community was able to come together to surmount those adversities. Temporary alternatives were found while the fixes were decided and made. The social fabric was maintained.
Not all communities are so lucky. With MTR, the communities disappear. The land disappears. The water, the soil, the trees, the wildlife, all gone. These are the loom that is required for a social fabric to be created or maintained. And so, a culture is destroyed. A community disappears. And the people move on, to a strange and new life. Without the hills that had united us, nurtured us, was our soul. Another mountain becomes a molehill.
As a kid, I spent a lot of time playing by myself in the sandbox or woods. I loved spending time at the crick (creek) down in the woods behind my parents house. I had very specific things I would eat. Others would make me vomit. A lot of smells made me sick to my stomach, others that would gag a maggot I can find alluring. I loved to read. I had a way with animals. I would talk to adults in a very bright and conversational way. I could not make close friends, never dated in school. I was a data sponge. I remembered almost everything the teachers taught. I never knew how people felt about me, because I did not know how to tell. I have a very high tolerance to pain, but my cloths can irritate me. My Dad thought I looked evasive when he talked to me, I would never look him in the eye. That is something he broke me of. Now I stare intently into peoples eyes without break or pause.
I keep maps. I collect maps, sort of. I respect the knowledge available to those that can read maps, and have two "analog" (magnetic needle) compasses in my Jeep, with all those maps. Before I went down to Marmet, I downloaded 11 USGS topographical map "quads." Just to have the best Info I could. I even bought a $20 West Virginia Atlas and Gazetteer when I stopped for gas in Charleston. For those not into maps the way I am, think of a map of a state in an atlas, except the atlas is a lot of detailed pages for just one state. Dirt roads and all. But not as detailed as the USGS topos. I like contour maps, profile maps, Mercator Projections, globes, you name a map, I know what it is and why that one is good for this application, but bad for that.
When I was 47, I read an article on the ABC News website one April day. It was about kids that were really smart, had no social skills, and got bullied all the time. It looked interesting, I knew something about those particular aspects of life pretty well. I read about kids with this form of autism called Asperger's Syndrome. They had other things that seemed relatively common to them. A good list of some of those things are in the first of the preceding two paragraphs. The second of those gives a good example of a "special interest," an intense and deep knowledge of every aspect of a subject, and a desire to know even more, common in Aspies.
Epiphany is too shallow a feeling to explain my understanding of who I am, what I am, and why I am the way I am that I realized when I clicked on the link on the page to a brief explanation of what AS is and how it exhibits itself. (Divine Copulation)n!
So now I have a better understanding of what makes me tick. It is a relief to know that I am not: an alien (Spock, I called that a lot by most that got to know me); a genetic throw back; a genetic advance; a robot (Data, I called that a lot by my ex); a retard (called that a lot when I was in school); or just some kind of especially f---ed up kind of crazy. I also got called Cliff, as in Cliff Clavin of the show "Cheers."
I just happen to be a person that is genetically predisposed to have a couple of things I am really really really good at, and a whole lot that I suck at. Those good things are my memory for facts and equations along with the ability to make initiative "educated guesses" on very little data and out of the box problem solving. Hence, Mentatmark. See here for an explanation of mentat in Science Fiction. I suck at "People," having not been able to get past reading expressions and understanding unspoken communications. Before I was born, the word was 'crastination.' However, I raised the bar by such an extent that a whole new class of crastinator was created, the Procrastinator. Some would call that a weakness. I call it my life.
I spent the first year and a half of the 80s doing crappy minimum wages jobs. I got fired from a car dealership when I developed a sever rash from the rust proofing chemicals I was using. I was at first denied unemployment, but won on appeal. And I got enough money to buy my first motorcycle, a 1972 Kawasaki H2, the three cylinder 750cc two stroke. Also known as "The Widowmaker." And also enough to invest in some lighting for a traveling rock band doing Hair Band music. And so began my life in show business.
Or whatever it is called when you are the Lightman/mechanic/truckdriver/roadie of a group of egotistical musicians that play everywhere from Fort Gay WV (across the river from Louisa, KY) to Manhattan and St Thomas. Most of that being in the hills of SW PA, WV, NW VA, and SE Ohio. But whatever you call it, it was good experience for the March.
I moved into Grafton, WV in about 1983, with a bartender that worked at a bar we played in regularly. She had three rules, No band members, No married men, and no one under 25. I had one rule, No Pregnancies. Hey, it was (we thought) before AIDS and Herpes. At least I was not married, but I was the other two. She had her tubes cut and tied, and we did not find out that the surgery did not work for a couple of years. We got married at Valley Falls State Park in West Virginia about six months and a week after our son was born, and about six months and four days after I came back from renting jet skis out in St Thomas, USVI. I did "The Right Thing," after some serious soul searching. But that soul searching was completed in those first two days after Christopher was born.
After the mines in Barbour County, near Philippi WV closed down and the drinking age was raised to 21 in WV, both around the same time, we had to close the bar we were running and look for other work. There was none to be had in the area. We ended up in Erie, Pa. By the time I turned 30, I was on my way to getting into the General Electric Apprentice Program. I graduated the top of my class, not just among the Apprentices, but all those graduating from Penn State Behrend campus that semester. But I still suck at "People." I decided to use my powers for Good, instead of Evil, so I went into the hourly ranks, surprising all in management. Over the years, I became very active as a union member, steward, and independent activist.
This is the first of this series. I plan to go back to the previous entries and flesh them out, now that I have time and internet access. The next one, "Arrival in Marmet," will be updated and reposted by tomorrow evening. The days without an entry will be covered also.
And so continues the trek...