The year was 1948, I was eight years old, and we lived on a mountaintop in
West Virginia. My coal miner father, Carl J. McKeever, was thirty-six, a hard worker, and dedicated to his family of six children to the extent that he would occasionally double back and work a second eight-hour shift down inside the mines. This was the year, incidentally, that a photographer for the Saturday Evening Post took dad’s photo and gave it half a page in an issue the next year on “The Bloody Price of Coal” (which dealt with mine safety, or lack thereof).
I was the fourth child and third son. Now, I need to say that Dad did not go to church, even though my wonderful Mom had all six of her brood in the local Methodist church every Sunday. Dad’s language would have made a sailor blush, and the whippings he administered to his children were legendary (and would probably get him arrested these days). Dad would often spend Sundays in front of the radio listening to preachers, something I could not understand for someone who was not living for God and made no pretense of it.
So, imagine my puzzlement when one Saturday Dad said to me, “Come on and go with me.” Nothing more than that. So, I accompanied him as we walked the path off the mountain down to the railroad tracks at the bottom. We walked past the tipple and bathhouse, past the company store, and on up the tracks toward the nearby town of Sophia, WV, perhaps a mile away. Not one word was spoken as I recall, and I had no idea what this was about.
In Sophia, we walked into the “dime store,” probably a Woolworth’s. Inside, Dad asked a clerk, “Where are your Bibles?” She showed him and we walked over. He said to me, “Pick you one out.” I was so stunned I said, “Sir?” He said, “Pick you out a Bible.”