By Stephen D. Bowling
I depart from my usual format to urge each of my readers to do a favor for our descendants and for me.
Many years ago, my grandmother, Carrie (Watts) Combs, went back to school after more than fifty years. She took part in the GED program here in Breathitt County to receive her high school diploma. She had to drop out of Riverside High School in 1941 because she had to walk from Big Meadow Branch of Leatherwood at Watts to the Riverside School, a distance of about four miles.
As part of the GED program, the instructors asked the participants to practice their writing skills as often as possible. I asked “Mamma” to do something productive with her practice and write her remembrances. I had her simply record whatever came into her head as it came to her. What resulted was a family treasure completely filled with personal thoughts, and descriptions of events and people that would have been lost had it not been for her little notebook.
From this notebook, the everyday life of an average community comprised of our people comes to life. She wrote of cousins, uncles, brothers, sisters, and family friends. Below I have selected a passage that exemplifies the value of memories to those interested in genealogical materials. I have added anything in brackets for clarity:
“I remember my grandfather, Billy Combs. He passed away in October of 1954. The exact day I do not remember. I can remember going to the home of Grandpa Billy and Ethel [Ethel (Combs) Francis Short, Billy’s daughter]. At that time Ethel only had two daughters, Myrtle and Faye. They lived on Plughat. Grandpa was a crippled man. He had a foot that was drawn slightly and he had to walk on his toes. After we moved to town, he used to come and stay two or three weeks at a time with us. He used to say “Dad Dimmit” all the time. He always loved to play the card games “Bid Pitch” and “Five-up” all the time. He used to chew tobacco and sit on our porch and spit over the banisters. He was always there to help us kill hogs. His favorite piece of the hog was the tail. I can remember that Mom [Dosha (Combs) Watts, wife of George Washington Watts] used to cook that piece for him as soon as the hog was cut up. He was very tight and never gave me as much as a nickel in my life. He spent his last years with his son, John L. and Eva Combs. He used to quarrel a lot but we all loved him and loved to see him coming down the road.”
This is one of the best examples of genealogical materials that I have ever found. Not only does this type of project record vital family history, but it also brings back many memories. Sometimes events, people, and names that were forgotten for years come to mind.
Many people have a misconception: “Who would want to read about my life.” Honestly, many individuals do. Some of the most outstanding examples of history are examples of people’s “memories.” Green Trimble, G. W. Noble, Cora Noble, and many others have left us with a long recorded history simply because they took the time to sit down and write their experiences. Other examples of this type of work provided even more information. Excellent examples of this type of historic preservation are the journals of the McAffee Brothers, Sam B. Watts, and others.
It is important to remember we have a limited time here on Earth to write our autobiography. After death, our legacy is left to history, time, and the well-meaning intentions of historians like myself. I am currently aware that several Breathitt Countians are working on their memoirs. We must record our thoughts and memories. Many have expressed interest in the process of recording memories so that all posterity may appreciate and remember the events of the past.
And now my plea to you.
Tell your stories to your family and grandchildren, but be sure to record them either on paper, film, cassette tape, or digital files. Then the most crucial part is to make them available to others. Many places can assist in this process, including the Breathitt County Library and Genealogy Center.
All I ask is that you write your story the way that only you could. I am making myself available to anyone interested in recording their memories for use by genealogists and researchers. I will assist in any way possible to ensure that together we can record the rich history of our beloved mountain home.
© 2022 Stephen D. Bowling