No one told a good story like my Pappa John Evans. Maybe you knew him, most knew him as “Redneck”. That was way before Redneck had come to mean what it does today, thanks to Jeff Foxworthy. I would say he earned the nickname due to being a union coal miner or most likely by being a diehard Democrat. My Pappa, born in 1910, would have been 101 years old this past June if he were still living. But I met someone in the late 1970s that rivaled him in the art of storytelling and of course, there was a story between the two of them.
That someone was Kitty Keeton. Kitty was the great great uncle to my children through their father’s side. Kitty was born in 1897 and grew up in the same areas as my grandparents, Muren, Aberdeen, and Turkey Hill. He was a coal miner and later on in life a barber. When I first met him I was just a teenager still. He asked who my family was and he knew them all. He told me a story about how when he was at the Ayrshire Mines one day a bunch of kids were playing around on the tipple and dropped a chunk of coal that hit him on the head and just about killed him. If I remember the story correctly it took a chunk of Kitty’s ear off. One of those kids was my Pappa John. According to Kitty anyway.
Not according to my Pappa!!! I naively told him that I had met someone who knew him. He said who and I told him Kitty Keeton and that Kitty had told me the story about Pappa dropping the chunk of coal on his head when he was a kid. In my effort to keep this blog clean, I won’t tell you the exact words my Pappa had to say about this. But if you knew him, you can only imagine. It amounted to “That g___ s_____. He’s still telling that story and it ain’t true. It wasn’t me.” He ranted and raved and denied it. He said Kitty always swore it was him and it wasn’t. This back and forth went on for years. Whenever we wanted to hear a good story and get Pappa stirred up we would ask him about it.
Kitty wrote about it in his memoirs, not naming my Pappa.
In September 1920, I was out of the mine early and washed, again smoking my cigar and wearing rabbit fur hat, creased, while waiting for a friend from Turkey Hill vicinity—who I had got a job at the mine for him. He said if I would get him a job I had a free buggy ride. I was waiting to ride home, he wasn’t out of the mine at that hour. Two friends of mine, one of them living NW corner of Oakland City now, was wrestling near the tippler while coal was hoisted to the top and dumped on screens, and went in several bins, 3 to 4 inch lumps and large lumps. I saw a little board close, picked it up and was going to go up and when one was bent over give him a hot seat. I got to them and had chance to do the job but saw coal falling all around them and instead of giving one the paddle I slapped both of them on the shoulder and said, “You are in danger, coal is falling. Lets get back to a safe place”. We got back to the front of commissary and it seemed as if I was floating in the air. I knew where I was but wasn’t talking. They picked me up and put me on a cot under the wood water tank, that held water for our wash house. In the September afternoon it was hot and they lay me in the shade.
It was 3½ miles to Dads house at the foot of Turkey Hill. My Uncle Charlie had a car and he went for my dad. I saw both of them. I also saw two doctors named Deter and Winslow. They was there and friends told me later when I saw those two I frowned. Later I saw the white hair of Dr. John McGowan of Oakland City, our family doctor who doctored me for influenza in 1927 when so many died. Friends say when I saw him I smiled. Also I saw the ambulance stop and back up to pick me up. I was hit about 2 PM. After loading in the ambulance, a Wood spoke, one from Lambs, Oakland City. The next thing I remember was John Porter coming out to the ambulance and said to his Van Dyke beard father, “What in the hell have you been doing, looked like you took all afternoon”. His father said ‘The three doctors said the roads are very rough, drive careful as he can’t live anyway”.
He said “Get from under the wheel and hold a rag on his bleeding head and let me drive to the Princeton Hospital before he dies on our hands”. I heard all this and they started to Princeton on an old rocky, narrow road. No black top then. Near Frisco a woman was in the road, I see her, but I heard young Lamb tell her that she stopped in the road and stopped an emergency ambulance and he was going to see that she was fined. She said, ‘Mister I ran out of gas and the car stopped and I couldn’t move it”, He took the license number and I remember there were 7s and in her number.
I know they put me on an elevator to take me to the operating room. Then I can remember that a doctor walked up to where I was lying and said, “he can’t live through the operation”. Dr. McGowan, my old friend, wiped a tear from his eyes and said, “Not a chance”.
About that time, McGowan’s wife came towards me with an ether cone and the first words I had said, “Let me get my breath, you came too fast and took my breath. Come slower”. They were amazed. She stepped up and it seemed like I was falling fast.
Next I remember looking in the room of Blonde D. Haired, And the three doctors, Ziliak, Brazelton, & McGowan, and I said “Get me chamber–they possibly were, but I knew I needed it. The nurse fell out of the room when I said “I said I told you S of B to get the S—pot and I meant it. I mean get it”. It came and they found out that I was recovered and had my senses. Later I heard from Brazelton and Ziliak that they were surprised to hear me tell how to give ether and also that I knew what I needed and that my mind was OK. The three doctors and surgeons and Mrs. McGowan are all deceased for a long time now.
I was there two weeks to the day and 60 years this next September 20th.
Gail was brought down there at 7 PM and McGowan told her to stay the night and that I would not live through the night, Next morning my father and mother came in to see me and asked how I felt. I told them that I would he home in a couple of weeks, Later I heard from them that just after seeing me that McGowan said I couldnt make it. They said, “why a little while ago we were up to see him and he said he was feeling OK and would he home in a couple of weeks”. Just as we went in, he drank a glass of water and threw it up across the room. Then they started running away and said, “Now I know he will die”.
The nurse sure got a tongue lashing because she left water on the table where I could get it. I would have paid $100.00 for a glass if I could have it. Only a swallow was all I could take. My Aunt Bertha got to the door that morning and waved at me, they wouldnt let her in.
Shortly after, a man who hauled from the mines came thru the door and said “Boy oh Boy, I never thought I would see you again when you was hit. It was a chunk of coal like your two fists closed, and I hid on the pond bank”. I said, “Is that right” and rang the bell. When the nurse came I said ‘Escort this gentleman out, if my aunt can’t come in, he shouldnt be here”. She really unloaded on him as there was a sign on the door saying Absolutely No Admittance. Anyway, I came home in two weeks as I said I would.
My Pappa John died in 1994 at the age of 84. Kitty died in 1982 at the age of 84. Each still swearing by their own version of the story.