Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Goldie Sparks, October 26, 2015

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:02 - Personal history before moving to Jenkins / Husband's funeral

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Partial Transcript: To get started, I'm just gonna give what's called a tag, just a little introduction that'll be on the recording in case the label ever falls off, everybody'll know what it is.

Segment Synopsis: Komara begins by asking about Sparks' personal background such as her date of birth. Sparks states that her family had always worked for the railroad company and that some of them still did. Komara asks Sparks to talk about her husband. Sparks explains that her husband was a WWII veteran who had been transferred to Fort Knox, Kentucky while she was working at Reynolds Metal Company with airplane parts in Louisville, Kentucky. However, after Komara asks if Louisville is where Sparks met her husband, Sparks replies that this was not the case, describing how she met him back in high school while making pies and how he paid her $100 for her pie to try to get her to let him take her home. Sparks explains that her husband first dated her friend and laughs while recounting how they both sent letters to him when he returned to the service to see if he'd write them the same reply. Sparks recounts how her husband had gotten wounded while in the service. Sparks mentions that her husband worked in a cornfield before talking about his funeral. Sparks explains that her husband belonged to the Free Masons, so she had a veteran's and mason's funeral for him. She talks about wanting to have the funeral at her home since the family cemetery was dirty. Komara asks what Sparks' husband's name was. Sparks answers that his name was Charlie Sparks, but he went by the nickname "Chad" at work. Sparks adds that she also had a nickname, "Bowl," given to her by her cousin. Sparks explains that her name was incorrect on her birth certificate and she had to have her family members sign that she was the person on the certificate to get it fixed. She also talks about having to find her husband's birth certificate after his retirement since his mother only had a church document that she thought was his birth certificate.

Keywords: Birth certificates; Freemasonry; Freemasons; Funerals; Personal history; WWII; World War II

Subjects: Appalachia; Appalachian Region; Appalachians (People)--Kentucky--Social conditions; Birth certificates; Freemasonry.; Jenkins (Ky.); Letcher County (Ky.); Veterans.; Women--Appalachian Region; Women--Employment; World War, 1939-1945

00:10:51 - Arrival in Jenkins and employment / Involvement in the Order of the Eastern Star

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Partial Transcript: And, tell me about how y'all came to Jenkins.

Segment Synopsis: Komara asks Sparks how she and her husband came to Jenkins, Kentucky. Sparks replies that they came in on the L&N railroad. Sparks explains that she and her husband only stayed a couple of nights, after getting off the train at Jenkins, at one place before moving to what they called "Mudtown" in an upstairs room of a now torn down hotel that was used by miners for bathing. Sparks mentions that she and her husband got acquainted, around this time, with her daughter's namesake and her husband before the latter couple moved to Pikeville, Kentucky. She adds that both of the two people were originally from Huntington, West Virginia and she's unsure if the woman is still alive or not. After saying she might be able to track the woman down, Komara asks Sparks why she and her husband came to Jenkins. Sparks responds that it was because of her husband's job working with electric poles and recounts her experience of accompanying him on one of his 24 hour shifts. Komara asks Sparks how her husband got a job with Consolidation Coal as an electrician. Sparks answers that he had a job waiting for him. Komara asks if Sparks's husband ever went underground or if he only did electrical work. Sparks responds that he did both and that they tried to knock out his black lung. Sparks explains that she kept the papers about wanting to bring her husband out from underground and they were instrumental in obtaining social security funds. Komara asks where Sparks and her husband got married before they went to Jenkins, asking if it was in Louisville. Sparks replies that it wasn't in Louisville, but in a court house in Lexington, Kentucky. Komara asks what Sparks did when she first came to Jenkins. Sparks laughs and says she didn't do any work other than helping out people through babysitting and other things. Sparks re-mentions how her husband was a mason and how he wanted her to join the Order of the Eastern Star, but she was scared of it at first. She explains that she was scared because she didn't know anything about it and it was so secretive, mentioning a friend whose husband belonged to it and shared her fears. Sparks jokes about how she was told she'd have to wear red underwear and ride a goat for her initiation, but she ended up joining after realizing this wasn't true. Sparks talks about being appointed as a Martha [a person who shares the lesson of faith and trust in God and everlasting life] for six or seven years in the Order of the Eastern Star.

Keywords: Black lung; Black lung disease; Coal workers' pneumoconiosis; Consolidation Coal Company; L and N Railroad; L&N Railroad; Louisville and Nashville Railroad; Martha; Marthas; Mudtown (Ky.); Mudtown, Jenkins (Ky.); Mudtown, Jenkins, Kentucky; Order of the Eastern Star

Subjects: Appalachia; Appalachian Region; Appalachians (People)--Kentucky--Social conditions; Coal mines and mining; Coal mines and mining--Appalachian Region; Coal mines and mining--Kentucky--Jenkins; Coal mines and mining--Kentucky--Letcher County; Coal mines and mining.; Jenkins (Ky.); Letcher County (Ky.); Order of the Eastern Star; Women--Appalachian Region

00:21:13 - Personal and family health issues

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Partial Transcript: Then I had this sick spell and I had--I went back one time.

Segment Synopsis: Sparks discusses health problems including vomiting, falling, pneumonia, breaking her ribs, and breaking her foot. Sparks mentions that she has been a Shriner [of the Shriners] since around the time she joined the Order of the Eastern Star and she asked for them when she had gotten ill. Sparks explains that her foot accident came while her husband was being operated on for cancer. She then talks about having surgery done on her knee and the therapy she did. Sparks discusses having to have tumors on her eyes taken out. Sparks talks about how she still goes to church and never misses, telling a story about the church bells. Sparks mentions that she was going to go to the most recent meeting of her lodge, but she couldn't because her grandson had a heart attack. Sparks also talks about another recent happening concerning a little boy finding his grandmother and mother dead, and her grandson puncturing his lung after falling. Komara asks Sparks if her husband had lung cancer from working underground. Sparks answers that he did, but he first had colon cancer. She says that he got in really bad condition before his death, his lungs got bad and he had to have a feeding tube put in.

Keywords: Cancer; Churches; Falls; Health; Physical therapy; Shriners; Shriners society; Surgery; The Shriners

Subjects: Appalachia; Appalachian Region; Appalachians (People)--Kentucky--Social conditions; Church.; Falls (Accidents) in old age; Health issues; Jenkins (Ky.); Letcher County (Ky.); Women--Appalachian Region

00:33:59 - Mudtown

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about--tell me about your house in Mudtown. Your first house when y'all moved there.

Segment Synopsis: Komara asks Sparks to tell her about her first house in Mudtown. Sparks replies that she wouldn't believe the kind of mess that place was and describes some of her neighbors and surroundings there. Sparks talks about her doctors around that time, her difficult labor, and her tonsil surgery. Komara asks Sparks if it was a duplex she lived in while in Mudtown, with the nurse on the other side. Sparks confirms this and explains that this was a company house with no bathrooms or running water, saying you had to use the fire hydrants or whatever there was for any water you needed. Komara asks if there was an outhouse and, after Sparks says there was, Komara asks if it was a double-seater shared with the other side of the duplex. Sparks confirms this. Komara asks if there was electricity in the house when Sparks moved in, asking if there were just drops. Sparks replies that there was electricity and it was just drops. Komara asks what the floor plan of the house was like and how many rooms did it have. Sparks answers that there were two rooms upstairs and downstairs with a little back porch and a long porch in between the duplex that was separated by banisters. Sparks mentions that she and her husband paid $2000 for the house, later re-purposing some closet space for a toilet and a bathtub. Sparks talks about her brother and his wife who would come by and visit before he got killed. Sparks also talks about how her older brother has cancer, but he outlived his wife. This brings her to discuss her church since her brother is a deacon there. Komara asks if her brother was her only sibling. Sparks answers no, that she had six brothers and two sisters. She then talks about her sister, her brother whose wife left him, and her nephew who got shot in the back. Komara asks what the Mudtown neighborhood was like when Sparks lived there. Sparks replies that her neighbors were friendly people, and describes how the roads were really muddy before they were hard-topped. Komara asks what was in Mudtown besides the houses. Sparks responds that there was a hotel at the foot of the hill, but that was really all there was other than a beauty shop. Sparks talks about a little boy who stays with her and how he's been helping out a neighbor, which leads her to talking about some of her other neighbors and how close they are despite not being related.

Keywords: Churches; Company housing; Duplexes; Family; Mudtown (Ky.); Mudtown, Jenkins (Ky.); Mudtown, Jenkins, Kentucky; Siblings

Subjects: Appalachia; Appalachian Region; Appalachians (People)--Kentucky--Social conditions; Church.; Housing.; Jenkins (Ky.); Letcher County (Ky.); Women--Appalachian Region

00:51:02 - Performing in plays / Working at the war factory

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Partial Transcript: And then for--to make money for Shriners, we did plays.

Segment Synopsis: Sparks brings up that the Shriners used to put on plays. She explains that people that came in to the building got a meal and then they'd put on a play. Komara asks how old Sparks was when she started performing in the plays. Sparks laughs and says that she was old, then talks about singing and dancing in the plays. Komara asks Sparks if she dropped out of school in eighth grade. Sparks confirms this and explains that this is when she went to work in Louisville, but she wasn't old enough to work at the warplane factory so she first worked at the bakery, five and ten cent store, and then at a magazine factory. Komara asks what Sparks did at the magazine factory. Sparks replies that they folded things and she hated it because, at the bakery, she had to do something similar there. Sparks explains that she thought the magazine factory was the dirtiest place in the world because the sticky paper would get in your shoes and stuff like that. Sparks talks about her brother working at the bakery, then the railroad, and then the state, mentioning him saying how awful it was that you work all these jobs but social security only pays for one of them. Komara asks Sparks to tell her about her job in the war factory. Sparks explains that she had a book and she would record the numbers on the parts when the train brought them in. Sparks adds that she worked as a welder for a while, but she smashed her finger so the company gave her the other job. She talks about how she never broke her nails, even though they were long, and explains the process you had to go through if you left your badge at home. Sparks describes taking her husband for a tour at the factory after he was discharged from the army to show him what kind of work she did. Komara asks Sparks what her husband thought of the work that she did. Sparks replies that he didn't know what to think and she jokingly asked him if he knew, when the planes were flying over, that she had something to do with that. Sparks mentions that she won a lot of awards for jitterbugging and dancing when she was younger, adding that her father didn't let her do those things when she was younger. She tells a couple of stories about things she did with her cousins and siblings.

Keywords: Bakery; Dancing; Employment; Factories; Factory work; Factory workers; Magazine factory; Plays; War factory; Welding

Subjects: Appalachia; Appalachian Region; Appalachians (People)--Kentucky--Social conditions; Factories; Jenkins (Ky.); Letcher County (Ky.); Plays; Women--Appalachian Region; Women--Employment

01:06:29 - Gardening and canning

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Partial Transcript: So your family farmed in Lee County?

Segment Synopsis: Komara asks if Sparks' family farmed in Lee county. Sparks replies that they did and they owned a few acres there. Komara asks Sparks if she kept a little garden when she moved to Jenkins and Mudtown. Sparks responds by explaining that they rented a space in the holler above the coal mines for a garden. Komara asks if she paid the company for this and what kind of things she grew in the garden. Sparks responds that she paid the company for it and grew things like potatoes, turnips, and tomatoes, adding that it varied on how well they did. Sparks mentions that they had a lettuce bed and some cucumbers in their yard in Mudtown and talks about tater onions. Komara asks if Sparks kept any animals in the plot she rented, like chickens. Sparks replies that they had a dog, a hunting dog and a cat at their house. Komara asks if Sparks' husband actually hunted with the dog and asks what he hunted with it. Sparks responds that he did hunt with it; he hunted rabbits, squirrels, turkeys, and deer. Komara asks if it was common then for people in Jenkins to hunt. Sparks replies that it was and describes her husband's deer hunting. Komara asks if Sparks kept any livestock in Mudtown. Sparks answers that they didn't keep anything like that. Komara asks if Sparks canned the produce she grew in her garden. Sparks responds that she canned all the time, canning beets almost every week. Sparks says that you'd think she'd love corn since she was raised on a farm, but she doesn't like it, describing her mother baking corn in the oven when she was a child. She says it was the same with chicken and onions, saying it's funny how your tastes change over time. Komara asks what other kinds of things that Sparks would can. Sparks replies that she also canned pickles, making them sweet or sour. Komara asks how Sparks canned, whether she used a pressure cooker or cooked on the stove top. Sparks replies that for some things she used a pressure cooker and for other things she used a regular canner. She adds that she also canned green beans. Komara asks if Sparks remembers, when she canned, if she used jars that other things came from in the store or if she just bought empty mason jars. Sparks replies that she sometimes reused jars from the store and she got them usually at the grocery store.

Keywords: Animals; Appalachia; Canning; Canning methods; Canning vegetables; Gardening; Gardens; Hunting; Pets; Plays; Rented gardens

Subjects: Agriculture--Kentucky--Lee County; Appalachia; Appalachian Region; Appalachians (People)--Kentucky--Social conditions; Canning and preserving.; Factories; Farm life--Kentucky--Lee County; Gardening.; Jenkins (Ky.); Lee County (Ky.); Letcher County (Ky.); Plays; Women--Appalachian Region

01:15:11 - Shopping at the company store / Fun in Jenkins

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Partial Transcript: Speaking of stores, um, where did you used to shop when you lived in Jenkins, when you lived back in Mudtown? Where would you shop?

Segment Synopsis: Komara asks Sparks where she used to shop back in Jenkins and Mudtown. Sparks answers that she usually shopped at the company store and had to learn how to shop using scrip instead of money. Komara asks if Sparks' husband was a salary man or if he was paid in scrip. Sparks replies that he was paid in scrip when they first came to Jenkins and he used it more than she did because she didn't know anything about it. Komara asks Sparks to tell her about the company store. Sparks answers that they had everything: clothes, furniture, food, etc. She adds that anything special they needed delivered was also done through the company store, and docked out of your paycheck. Komara asks Sparks if she ever ordered anything through the mail and what catalogs she liked to use. Sparks replies that she ordered dresses and shoes through the mail sometimes and she used Sears Roebuck and another small one, the name of which is inaudible. Komara asks where Sparks did most of her grocery shopping and if she remembered shopping at the meat market. Sparks replies that she did most grocery shopping at the company store and she does remember shopping at the meat market, noting you had to have everything registered back then. Komara asks if it was hard to get things during rationing. Sparks answers that it was and you had to have your book with stamps. Komara asks what kind of things people went crazy over when they could finally get them. Sparks responds that it was hose in Louisville because they had to paint their legs when they didn't have any hose. Komara asks if Sparks ever made any of her own clothes. Sparks replies that she did, noting that she made most of her daughter's clothes, including her wedding dress. Komara asks Sparks to walk her through what would be an average day around the house for her in Mudtown. Sparks explains that she would be cutting grass, scrubbing floors and porches, babysitting, and she'd sit and drink her coffee. Komara asks what Sparks used to do for fun in Jenkins. Sparks answers that she used to go to the movies and five/ten cents stores. Komara asks what kind of movies that Sparks used to see. Sparks responds that it was mostly cowboy movies and stuff like that, saying she likes them better than what is available now. Komara asks how often Sparks went to the movies back then. Sparks replies that she went to the movies about once a week and adds that she often attended Sunday school at her church. Komara asks what else Sparks did for fun other than the movies. Sparks responds that they would sometimes go picnicking with another couple and went fishing sometimes, describing almost getting caught by police for [presumably] trespassing.

Keywords: Appalachia; Churches; Company stores; Domestic housework; Domestic work; Fishing; Grocery shopping; Homemade clothing; Housework; Movie theaters; Movies; Picnics; Rationing; Rations; Sales catalogs; Scrip; Sunday school

Subjects: Appalachia; Appalachian Region; Appalachians (People)--Kentucky--Social conditions; Church.; Company stores; Grocery shopping; Homemade living; Jenkins (Ky.); Leisure, consumption, and culture; Letcher County (Ky.); Rationing; Sales catalogs; Sunday schools.; Women--Appalachian Region

01:26:58 - Activities in East Jenkins / African American and immigrant families in Mudtown

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Partial Transcript: You mentioned going--you mentioned the grocery stores in East Jenkins and the movie theater, um, what did you go to East Jenkins for?

Segment Synopsis: Komara points out that Sparks mentioned the grocery store and movie theater in east Jenkins, asking Sparks what she went to east Jenkins for. Sparks replies that they would go to see a show if they wanted and she would sometimes trade things at the east Jenkins food shop. Sparks mentions a woman she knew who used to sell paint, paper, and other things, describing seeing her at the hospital after she fell as well. Sparks mentions another woman she saw there, explaining that she used to hem the woman's husband's pants a lot since he was short, and babysat her child. Komara asks if it was common for people from the Jenkins area to shop in east Jenkins. Sparks replies that it was, saying anybody could shop there if they wanted to. Komara asks if there was anything that Sparks could get in east Jenkins that she couldn't get at the company store. Sparks responds that she would go get toys at the store in east Jenkins and things like that. Komara asks if Sparks and her husband drank alcohol. Sparks answers that her husband didn't when they first got married but he did later on, but she never drank. Komara asks if Sparks' husband ever went into east Jenkins to buy alcohol. Sparks replies that he didn't because they didn't sell it there, usually they'd go over to Virginia to get it and other things. Komara asks Sparks if she remembers any African American families from back when she lived in Mudtown. Sparks responds that she remembers one family where the husband was a preacher. She recalls that there was also a baby that would be brought to her crafts club, remarking that the child could sing and was a sweet person. Komara asks how much contact the black families had with the white families back in the day. Sparks responds that when she first started in Louisville, the black families had to ride in the back of the bus and they had their own school in Jenkins. Komara asks if it was true that Sparks didn't have much contact with black families when she first moved to Mudtown. Sparks affirms this. Komara asks if Sparks remembers any European immigrant families. Sparks answers that she recalls there being people from Europe but she didn't actually know any of them. Komara asks what some of the biggest changes Sparks has seen in Jenkins are. Sparks replies that there stopped being shows and things after the coal mines shut down because there wasn't any money in the area. Sparks talks about social security and taxes.

Keywords: African American families; African American mining families; Alcohol; Alcohol consumption; Appalachia; Economic collapse; Economic stagnation; European immigrant families; European immigrants; Grocery shopping; Mudtown (Ky.); Mudtown, Jenkins (Ky.); Mudtown, Jenkins, Kentucky; Poverty; Shopping; Social security; Toy shopping

Subjects: African American coal miners; African American families; African American families.; African Americans--Appalachian Region; Appalachia; Appalachian Region; Appalachians (People)--Kentucky--Social conditions; Grocery shopping; Jenkins (Ky.); Letcher County (Ky.); Poverty.; Shopping.; Social security.; Unemployment.; Women--Appalachian Region; Women--Employment.

01:36:45 - Mudtown house / Problems facing Jenkins

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Partial Transcript: So, when did you sell your house in Mudtown? Or do you still own it?

Segment Synopsis: Komara asks when Sparks sold her house in Mudtown or if she still owns it. Sparks responds that she still owns the land around it, but the house is gone. She explains that she hired a man to tear down the house but he stole all of the stuff in it instead of tearing it down, however, she never pursued anything against him since she felt sorry for him. Sparks describes some of the things she lost that were in the house. Komara remarks that she was so interested that Sparks worked for the war factory in Louisville. She asks Sparks what it was like to leave her job there to come and keep house in Jenkins. Sparks responds that after she got pregnant she knew she had to stay around or couldn't work far so she just decided to stay around. Komara asks Sparks if there is anything else she wants people to know about historical Jenkins. Sparks answers that she wishes they'd put in more restrooms in places and build more grocery stores because they have to go too far to get everything they need. Komara says she has no more questions, but asks if Sparks has any more stories she wanted to discuss about living back in the day. Sparks talks a bit about her family moving back to Jenkins but there not being any work in Jenkins and how the hospital was closed.

Keywords: Appalachia; Economic stagnation; Female factory workers; Hospitals; Mudtown (Ky.); Mudtown, Jenkins (Ky.); Mudtown, Jenkins, Kentucky; Poverty; Theft; Unemployment; Women factory workers

Subjects: Appalachia; Appalachian Region; Appalachians (People)--Kentucky--Social conditions; Jenkins (Ky.); Letcher County (Ky.); Poverty.; Unemployment.; Women--Appalachian Region; Women--Employment.