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.”
The Bibles were all King James Version, black, and very similar in appearance. But one stood out. It had a zipper around it. “That one.”
It cost $2.99 as I recall. I loved it.
I read it almost daily for years. My very own Bible. No one else in the family had their own. Dad did not do this for any of the others. Just me. And he never said why.
I kept that Bible and used it faithfully until we were living back in Alabama, near family, and one day while no one was at home, the house burned down. Nothing was saved, everything was lost.
These days the Bible I carry to church with me every Sunday–and keep in the car so it’ll always be available–is black with a zipper around it. It’s NASB, my favorite. I mark it up liberally, so some day someone in my family will own it. Not sure where I came across it a few years ago, whether online or in a store, but I bought it for old-times’ sakes, as they say.
It’s important for a kid to have his/her own Bible. And equally important for someone who loves them to come alongside them and help them understand. I’m thinking of Philip’s question to the eunuch in Acts 8:30, “Do you understand what you are reading?” When the answer was “how can I without someone to teach me?” Philip climbed up in the chariot and taught him. Good story.
Teach a child. It’s the very best thing you will do in this life.
Final word: That’s why the best teachers in church should be recruited to teach the little ones.
I am sure your family moved to WV for work as my father’s family did when they left Tennessee for Ohio in the late ’20’s. But, I was wondering if there is a back story of how that move came to be? Was your father a miner in Alabama? Many of my father’s family and extended family moved to Ohio and Michigan for work. Although, the “song of the south” lured almost all of them back in their later years to Tennessee.
Brother David, my dad and all his brothers were lifelong coal miners. There are lots of mines just north of Birmingham. Their dad and uncles were all miners, too. Dad started inside the coal mines at age 14. In 1947, the mines in Alabama were “laying off,” so Dad and some of them found work outside Beckley WV at a mining camp called Affinity. After they had worked long enough to save some money, Dad rented a company house and moved us up there. I had just started in the second grade (Nov ’47). We lived there until the summer of ’51 when that mines began laying off. That’s when we moved in with my maternal grandmother on the family farm. She’d been widowed 2 years earlier.
Dear Dr. McKeever,
Your story brought back memories of my first Bible. It looked just like yours – black leather, King James with a zipper around it. My parents gave it to me when I was 6 years old. I have treasured it for many years – I am almost 70. My mother directed me to Psalm 100 when she gave me my Bible & I still know it by heart.
Great. I have my grandmother’s Bible. She died in 1982, age 87. In it, she wrote beside Psalm 103:17 “one of Papa’s favorite verses.” What stunned me about that is her “papa” who would be my great-grandfather was a preacher of whom I know very little. So I was stunned to find that Psalm 103, which is my favorite psalm (I memorized it 30 years ago and recite it almost daily) was his too.
Brother, Joe. Thank you for the backstory of your family’s move to West Virginia. Many people have hard times now for various reasons…circumstances or bad choices seem to lead the list I suppose. But, regarding that era, I am amazed how creative, resourceful, and commited to family that people were. I am almost 70, and growing up my dad had health issues and could not work as he wanted to. Although there were circumstances, we did not go hungry because they were creative and committed to feeding and clothing the family. Of course, I had a praying, hardworking mother and the Lord’s blessings getting us through. Your story reminded me of times past and of those who have passed. Thank you for sharing.