Glen Alum was a large camp nestled between high mountains of green trees that seemed to reach to the highest of heavens. The wealth that lay inside of these mountains was the livelihood of the people who made this godforsaken place their home. The houses in this camp looked all the same, except for four. These were the homes of the bookkeeper, the superintendent and a couple of boarding houses for company men who lived there during the week and went home to their families on weekends and holidays. The unpaved road was just large enough for one car; if another one was coming the other one had to move to the side for both to pass. Above the road, on the side of the mountain, was the railroad track. The shifter came once a day, with gray smoke filling the air, to take the loaded cars filled with coal to another destination. One huge company store determined our parents shopping for groceries, furniture and other domestic items. This was a place where the children could go and buy a Popsicle, an orange crush in the dark brown bottle, or, what I usually purchased, was a Hershey bar and a small bottled Coke-Cola. We would sit on the rails on the big porch of the store and listen to sounds of the tipple running the coal into the cars, consume whatever we had bought at the company store and talk about whatever.

The uppermost part of the hollow held the black people, whom we didn't have much to do with, nor did they with us, the next section held people from different parts of the world such as Poland, Italy and Hungary. Sometimes they spoke in languages we could not understand.   How they arrived in this place was a mystery to me! In the main part of the hollow were the people who came because of the jobs the coal company had to offer. And then there were those in the lower part who were just born in Glen Alum. How they arrived here is still another mystery. This place was full of mysteries.

The older folks, including our parents, would get together for parties on special occasions at the schoolhouse, which was the newest in the county. During the summers everyone would get together for fish fries down at our own little sandy beach on the Tug River. The children entertained themselves throughout the year. In the winter we would sleigh ride down the snow covered road in front of our houses and in the summertime, when we weren't going to our "beach" at the river, we'd go swimming in the pond on top of the mountain above the area where the black people lived. We weren't allowed to go by ourselves. Always, a large group or all the kids had to go together. Then on days when we didn't want to climb the mountain to the pond, we would play in the creek that ran out of the mountain. Where the creek began we never knew.

Up above  the area where the people lived who spoke the foreign languages, there were huge cement pipes, in which water ran through, that we would dam up with rocks so that we could have "deep" water to play in and on top of the pipes we would have a picnic.

We loved to go to these pipes to play. We had to go past the foreigners' houses to get there. All of us children thought it so enthralling to hear them talk. We enjoyed sitting on the porch of Mrs. Dovin, our Polish neighbor, and smell the wonderful scents of her homemade breads that were baked to a golden brown in the wood-burning cook stove. We listened so intently whenever she got angry with her son, George, and talked in her native language. We could always imagine what she was saying. Then, there was Mrs. Lendearo, who was Italian. We thought she was mysterious because she spoke to us in Italian and she wore a white kerchief tied around her head. Whenever we would pass by her house we'd always speak and say something to her, just to hear her speak Italian. We never heard her speak English.

Then, there was Martin, the Hungarian. He was an old man always dressed in a gray blue cardigan with black buttons - the type of sweater that old people wore, blue work pants and always a white shirt. His shoes were the black ones, like boots, that come only around his ankles. They were laced up with black shoestrings around little silver hooks. On his head, which sprouted very little hair, he wore a well-worn, brown dress hat.

Martin lived in a two-story house with a huge crawlspace underneath. Although the house had many rooms, he lived in only two. There were about ten steps a person had to climb to get onto the porch which had banisters with thin wire stretched from the roof to the floor. Entwined on the wire were vines and beautiful morning glories of purple and white. This wall of flowers shaded the porch and darkened it, making it hard for us to see him as he sat in one of his wooden chairs reading the Williamson Daily News or whittling with his pocketknife on a block of wood.

Inside the house was also dark and dreary which showed that it lacked the touch of a woman. It was always very neat though. Upon opening the door to his sitting area and bedroom combined, I smelled the sweet scent of Prince Albert. A small wooden table in front of a paned window held the round can of tobacco, cigarette papers, and a cigarette roller. Martin always had one of these cigarettes in the corner of his mouth. The kitchen was the second room. It had an old Kelvinator, probably the first to be made, a table with wooden legs and a white enameled top, a cabinet and a sink that was attached to a wall wallpapered with old, yellowed newspapers dating as early as 1930. The floor was covered with cracked linoleum.

Going out of the kitchen through a creaky screened door was a covered wooden walkway to the chicken house. The sides of the walkway were also lined with the green vines. On either side of the walkway were Martin's gardens of vegetables and herbs, surrounded with sunflowers of big yellow blossoms with black centers.

My mother always told me to never go into Martin's house by myself. She never gave a reason, but just said that little girls shouldn't go to a man's house alone where there was not a wife. I was frightened wondering why my mother felt that way. What could this man possible do to me? He was always so friendly.

"Where you go today?" he'd ask with a little smile.

"To the pipes, Martin. We're going to have a picnic and play in the creek," we would answer.

"Oh, nice, Must cool your feet on a hot day. Come in, come in for a while. I have something for you."

We would look at each other with assurance that we could because we were together. We knew what he wanted us to come in for.

"I have something for you." Eagerly we'd climb the steps, visualizing the goodies he kept in that old Kelvinator.

He walked so slowly through the front room filled with Prince Albert smells into his neatly kept kitchen. We followed, waiting for him to hand us the special treat that he always kept for the young lads and lasses, as he called us. He would search until he found the brown bag with the five-cent Hershey bars that he bought especially for us. We knew he didn't buy them for himself because old people didn't eat candy.

We'd eagerly accept our candy, go out to see the chickens and sometimes get a cool drink from the hand dug well on the walkway. After talking with him just long enough to let him know we appreciated the Hershey bars, off we'd go to the pipes to enjoy the water and our lunches of peanut butter and apple butter sandwiches, Kool-aid and the Hershey bars that we always knew we would get when passing Martin's house.......

One particularly hot day I couldn't go to the pipes when the others did. I had gotten into poison ivy and had to go to the company doctor for a shot and cream to clear up the rash. The others went. Mom said I could join them whenever we returned home; I started walking to the pipes even though I couldn't play in the water. Being daring, I was thinking all the way up the dusty road that I could get into the water without Mom knowing it, "That's what I'd do," I kept thinking to myself. The more I thought of the cool water the faster I walked.

Not realizing that I was approaching Martin's house, I wasn't even thinking of the chocolate Hershey bar that I had missed out on today.

Deep in my own thought, I had passed his house. Suddenly I heard someone call my name; I stopped, turned around to see him leaning over his gate at the top of the steps, smiling at me. All of a suddenly I could hear my mother saying, "Now don't ever go into Martin's alone. Little girls should not go into his house by themselves because he does not have a wife." Fright filled my heart and made it seem as though it was going to burst right out of my body. What was I to do? I did not want him to know that I was afraid of him. If he detected that I did not trust him, then he would surely do that dreadful thing that my mother had warned me about. I wished I knew what it could be. Would he kidnap me and put me in one of those rooms in his upstairs that we had never seen? My imagination was running away with me. It seemed as though hours had passed instead of just seconds.

"Please come. I have something for you," He called to me.

A blend of daring and desire for the Hershey bar prompted me to go up those steps. I thought that maybe the others would come before I got to the top step. Slowly I walked, praying as I did frequently whenever I was freighted. "Please God, don't let Martin put me in that room upstairs."

"Come, sit beside me," he urged me as I reached that top step. Looking around for the others, who were not coming as I had hoped, I opened the wooden gate and went in. He pointed to the chair in the corner next to his. Cautiously I walked over, pulling the chair out some and sat down on the edge.

He sat down and picked up his knife and a piece of wood that he was whittling on. He was making something, but I wasn't interested. I just wanted to get my candy bar and leave before my mother found out that I had been here alone.

"Why aren't you with the others?" he questioned.

I explained that I had poison ivy and had just returned from the doctor's office.

He began to whittle on the wood. "Long, long time ago, in the old country, I had a little girl. She was beautiful. Her eyes were soft looking of sometimes green and sometimes brown. Her hair was brown and whenever the sun shone on it, it glistened. She would play in the stream and walk through the flowers, skipping at times to a song that her mother had taught her." He had a look about him that made me realize that he was unaware of my presence.

Gradually, I began to relax. I sat back in the chair and listened with awe.

"She was so sweet, her touch so tender." Tears filled his eyes, but his smile did not fade as he continued to talk in English laced with his Hungarian accent. "Her voice was a melody, like a sweet song from the angels. She's gone now. I came to America. They didn't come. Now it's too late. Long distance and time separated us. the tears were falling on the wood. I didn't understand everything he was saying, but I could sense the loneliness in his voice. He lost someone dear to him. Someone like me.

He stopped whittling and took a white, stained handkerchief from his hip pocket and wiped the tears from his cheeks and eyes. Looking over at me, he handed me a once plain block of wood of which he had carved something beautiful.

"This is for you, little one. Keep it. A pretty wooden doll for a sweet little girl."

I took it. Tears welled up in my eyes. I stood up, laying the wooden doll on the chair. I placed my arms around his neck, giving him the hug that he hadn't had for so many years.

He responded and took my hand. "Come, something else for you today."

Without hesitation we went in through the front door. This time the smell of Prince Albert had a new meaning. The kitchen looked different, as I looked around waiting for what I knew would happen next. The old Kelvinator door opened; the brown bag was close to the front. He reached for it and took out my favorite treat - a Hershey bar. This time the chocolate bar had a new meaning as I took it from his old wrinkled hand. That moment dispelled some of the mystery of Glen Alum's diverse population. My newfound understanding of Martin's loneliness - and kindness- transcended the artificial barriers of language and country. We needed each other for more important reasons, a reason that even my mother didn't understand.

This short story tells of memories that have been hidden in my mind from my childhood years ago. The characters are real but the conversation with Martin is fiction. There were so many memories from this place called Glen Alum where I lived the first thirteen years of my life. I had several problems when I began contemplating about the story I was to write. There were so many things I could have chosen that I had difficulty arriving at a topic. At first I wanted to write about my father, but found that it would be too biographical. I also wanted to make my theme about the company store but had trouble narrowing it down to only one incident Another difficulty that I had was that of a mature narrator writing in child-like wonder.

After arriving at the chosen topic of "Martin" my strategies were to show the diversity of the different sections of Glen Alum and develop the character of Martin by showing his individuality through language, the Prince Albert, his house and living in only two rooms of his dwelling and the surroundings such as the walkway, chicken house, morning glories and gardens of vegetables and herbs.

My intentions were to take the reader back into a time when children depended on the natural elements of the environment for enjoyment, depicting a life of serenity and freedom that seem to be taken for granted today.

I hope to create a feeling of mystic and nostalgia by capturing the feeling of the place seen through a child's eyes.

by Darby Kay Crews

Note concerning this article:

Darby Kay is the daughter of the late Clifford and Pearl Crews who lived many years in Glen Alum. Darby graduated from Matewan High School, married and moved to Bristol, Tenn, where she graduated from Kings College. She is the mother of Matthew and Jessica and teaches school in Niceville, FL. This article is an excerpt of a paper she wrote in one of her college classes. When Darby wrote this paper, I am sure she never dreamed that anyone from Glen Alum would read it. It was just some memories that she had fashioned into a story for her class. I am also sure the story she made up concerning Martin was more real than she knew. Martin Ashabal did have a family that he left in Hungary when he came to America. Most of us never knew much about Martin, not his last name nor any of his history, but he made a great impact on all of us. Is there anyone from Glen Alum who does not remember Martin and his kindness toward everyone? I doubt it. Darby's instructor picked this paper as one of his favorites. I didn't include the entire paper as Darby had to make some of it fictitious in order to comply with the rules for her class paper. However, I think Darby did an excellent job of bringing Glen Alum alive. I remember so well, as I am sure most of you do, Martin and the wooden walk to his porch, his Prince Albert, and his friendliness: the smell of Mrs. Dovin's home made bread that she so often shared with her neighbors; and Mrs. Lendearo, who wore the kerchief on her head and always spoke to everyone. These are some of the fine people that make our memories of Glen Alum so vivid to us.
Thank you, Darby, for sharing this paper and these memories.