Coal Miner’s Son

Ronald Clayton Crider was born 85 years ago on the 21st of March, 1934, in the tiny coal town of Coxton, in Harlan County, Kentucky.  Hardly a town, Coxton is a Census Designated Place, or CDP.  As a CDP, it has no real legal status.  This means it isn’t really a town, but just a place that most of the residents agreed, at some point, to call the area they lived in. I don’t know how many people lived there in 1934, but there are only 258 today, so maybe it wasn’t too hard to agree on a name unless there was some family feuding going on.

Harlan-Coxton.jpg

Out of the 540 Kentucky cities, towns and CDP’s, Coxton is rated 535 in per capita income, and 452 in population. Median income is $16,407. There will not be a quiz, just a bit of data to show this is a very small place that is one of many dying coal towns in Appalachia.  The only cultural feature noted in Coxton was the old post office, which is now closed.

Harlan back when
Small 3 bedroom home in Coxton that sold for $35,000 in 2018. 928 sq ft. Note the Basketball hoop.

In looking for notable births and deaths, the only person listed for Coxton is a guy named Wallace Clayton ”Wah Wah” Jones.  He was born in Harlan on July 14, 1926 and died July 27, 2014 at the age of 88.  He played for the University of Kentucky where he played varsity football, basketball, baseball and track. He was twice All-SEC in football, his coach, by the way, was Bear Bryant when he coached for UK. In basketball, he was a three time All-American and four time All-SEC. He led the Wildcats to 2 NCAA Championships, in 1948 and 1949.

Wah Wah Jones
Wah Wah Jones when he played for UK Wildcats

Wallace Clayton Jones was also a member of the 1948 Olympic Gold medal winning team with coach Adolph Rupp’s “Fabulous Five”, the same 5 guys than ran the table at UK. During his four years at Kentucky, the basketball team had a combined record of 130-10 and won the SEC championship every year…Most believe him to be the greatest athlete to ever come out of UK. Now, I know that is something Uncle Ronnie would love to see repeated again today.

Yes, yes, I hear you, Harlan is not Coxton, but it is only four miles away and I’m telling the story, you knew I was going to sneak a little history in here. Harlan was the big city and during the heyday of coal mining, had a whole 4,000 people living there in the 30’s.  Today there are only around 1,600.

I know that was a long winded way to work in UK basketball and another guy named Clayton, a Clayton that to our family is much more famous and important than old Wah Wah. They both came from a tiny, out of the way place in the Appalachian mountains and both made their marks, one as an athlete and one as a family man that provided far more than just food for the table.

Uncle Ronnie was noted as being called Clayton in the 1940 census. Clayton must have been the favorite name for babies in the 30’s, like Jackson or Liam today. (Clayton was actually the 188th most favorite name back then…you knew I would look it up). The family was living in Harlan/Brookside, another small camp town a bit further east of Coxton.

1940 census
1940 Census of the Boy and Mary Crider household

His father Bony, (I don’t know why he went by Bony when he had such a cool name like Carlos Bonaparte Crider, but that’s another tale), is noted as working as a miner and made a whole $600 in 1939 working in the mine. I’ll guess it all went back into the pocket of the mining company that provided their home to rent and the camp store to buy groceries and other necessities so you pretty much just borrowed the mine company’s money and gave it right back.

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As a little comparison, a neighbor, John Hayes, made $884 working as a gas station attendant.  Of course Bony only worked 35 weeks that year, while John worked all 52. I did the math for you; John made $17 a week and Bony made $17.14 a week.  How’s that for a big incentive for spending all day down in a dark, damp, explosive hole working on your black lung portfolio. Bony made it to 92 though, so there must be some good genes there.

Bony and Mary Crider’s family

In any case, the Crider’s of Harlan County were in no immediate danger of pushing the Rockefeller’s or Vanderbilt’s off the list of richest families in America back then. Back in those days, coal miners fought hard, bled and even died to unionize for better wages and safer working conditions.

An example of company owned housing This house rented for $6 a month
Example of company owned housing. This “house” rented for $6 a month.

Harlan County was known as “Bloody Harlan” for many years, with long, deadly strikes into the 70’s and even 80’s.  Today there are no union mines operating in Kentucky, the last one shut down in 2015 after 100 years of mine workers striving to make their lives better. Watch the movies Coal Miners Daughter, Matewan or Harlan County War to get an idea of what went on the in mining communities of the past. Or just ask Uncle Ronnie.

While Kentucky is beautiful, in looking at a future like that, it may be no surprise that the Crider’s, like many other families in Kentucky including mine, began migrating north to find better jobs and pay for a better way of life than coal and tobacco farming could offer.

Harlan union negotiations, early 1970’s

I remember Ronnie telling some stories about finding trouble in Frenchburg (Janice Profitt), but I don’t know exactly when he moved there, that’s a good question for Uncle Ronnie…he’s sitting right over there, go ahead, ask…and make a note for me. I know they were still in Harlan in 1947, as that is when his brother Charles was born.

Harlan 1940's
Harlan 1940’s

 

Downtown Harlan today.

I do know he married the love of his life, my wonderful Aunt Janice, whom he was married to for 62 years, in the mid-fifties. Then along came my Crider 1st cousins; Rhonda, Jeff, and Tonya.

Janice and Ronnie
Young Janice and Ronnie

By 1959 Ronnie and Janice are listed in the Dayton Ohio phone directory with him working at Specialty Paper as a helper and living at 1033 Miami Chapel. Same with 1960, but they had moved to 1011 Miami Chapel, so they lived right next door to Janice’s mother and father at 1010 Miami Chapel.

A lot of my memories with the Crider’s are from when they lived on Orange Ave in Moraine. Almost every Saturday night was spent either there or over at Mamaw and Papaw’s house with the adults playing cards…I should say the men folk played cards. The women were only invited to the main table when the men folk were down a person.  They spent their time chatting, crocheting and trying to ignore their children for a few precious minutes.

I always think of Uncle Ronnie as the quiet uncle…unless he was in the middle of a card game or apparently when watching the UK Wildcats…I saw the Facebook video Uncle Ronnie. Then all bets were off and he was as loud as a wildcat himself.  I guess he had to be to be in order to be heard in the middle of the loud mouths of the Profitt’s, Benson’s and Little’s. I won’t even get into the Egelston’s. For the life of me I couldn’t understand what was so exciting about winning a hand of 500 rummy that would make the whole dining room erupt like the Browns won a Superbowl.

When he was hunting or fishing though, he was as quiet as a church mouse. He’d give you the stink eye if you happened to be hunting close to him and snapped a twig or rustled a leaf. The military should have done a scientific study on him before they came up with their stealth technology, they could have saved a lot of money.

Slayer of fish

There was always competition out hunting. It seemed like it was always some combination of dad, Ronnie, one of his brothers, Charles I think, Densil, Jeff and me. While everyone had their day from time to time, Ronnie set the bar, if nothing else by his sheer determination.  He just wasn’t going to come out of the woods or off the river if he knew someone had him beat.

I remember one time squirrel hunting with dad, Densil and Ronnie.  I had managed to get 3 out of one big hickory and Uncle Ronnie only had a couple. I was standing next to Densil at the bottom of a draw as it was getting late for finding squirrels, we went out before the break of dawn and waited for them to wake up and start feeding. It was getting towards mid-day and we were kind of done for the day.

Densil’s cracking jokes and instructing me in the manly arts when he looks up on a ridge and see’s Ronnie bent over in a squat, his shotgun at the ready in front of him. Densil points and says “look at that Ronnie up there, he knows you have him beat and he’s not going to quit until he at least gets one more.”

If you know Densil, you know what was next. He picks up some rocks and starts hucking them up towards Ronnie.  One hits high in a tree and dribbles down through the branches, like the sound a squirrel makes when he is “cutting”, or chewing bits of a nuts shell off. Ronnie jerks just his head towards the sound of the noise and freezes, scanning every square inch for signs of a squirrel.

Densil is cracking up, and hucks another rock in another direction. Ronnie swirls around and freezes, head moving slowly back and forth, scanning.  Densil is almost in tears, trying to be quiet, stifling his laugh but sounding like Muttley, the cartoon dog from the 60’s.  He hucks one more up the ridge and the jig is up, Ronnie’s too savvy a hunter to believe the same kind of noise is coming from 3 different directions. He looks down towards the bottom of the draw and spots us, pointing a finger at us like “I see you shit heads down there” and just gave up and headed down towards us.

He always wanted one more squirrel, rabbit, pheasant, channel cat, bass, red eye…whatever we were going after.  If he didn’t limit-out he simply felt like he wasn’t done yet. The thing to understand is that he wasn’t a sore loser or wished poor hunting on anyone else…he was just the Energizer Bunny of hunting and fishing and didn’t know how to quit.

Those are a few things that stood out and impressed me about Uncle Ronnie as a boy and young man.  The thing that most impresses me after just shy of 60 years of looking back on Ronnie and his gang of Criders is his quiet, unconditional love for his family.  The love for his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren is obvious and returned by them all.

I’m convinced he has the patience of Job just by remaining married to Aunt Janice for over 6 decades. After all, she had both Egelston AND Profitt in her just to start with. Add to that her own special blend of practical jokes and orneriness offset by her wonderful sense of humor and love for her family.

Beware, behind that smile is trouble.

Some of my very favorite moments are sitting around with Ronnie and the rest of the family telling stories about the good old days during my all too short trips back to Ohio. I love to watch him get animated in the middle of a good tale and get to laughing so hard he can barely finish.

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Story time!

Of all the uncles I was in fairly regular contact with, he was the quiet, gentle one. Now, that bar might be another one you could just step across with very little effort when Uncle Densil is cracking a bawdy joke or Uncle Bob is flexing his Hula Girl tattoo while revving his Harley, but I seldom heard him cuss and yell as much as my dad, a trained professional.

Janice and Ronnie
Mr. Rogers?

Now, I’m not saying he was an angel and didn’t have his moments like every father does.  If we were all running wild around the house or neighborhood and I heard a “Jeffery Keith Crider” I was running for cover to keep away from any collateral damage from a hide-tanning gone wild. In my family you ran and hid anytime you heard a full given name, even if it wasn’t yours.

Uncle Ronnie, you are a wonderful example of a man, husband, father and uncle. I hope if Kentucky is still in it today you have a big screen TV to watch during this interminable happy birthday tale. I hope to hear many more stories, Happy 85th!

 

 

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