S: Rocket Boys
BC: "I was proud to live in Coalwood."
FC: Rocket Boys
1: Rocket Boys Chapter 1
2: Many things were unknown to me before I started building rockets. I came to realize that everyone in town seemed to be fighting with each other, mainly about their children's lives, their futures. I now know that I didn't know a whole lot before, and rockets helped me discover those things I didn't know.
3: I grew up in Coalwood, West Virginia, a place found with millions of tons of coal lying beneath it. The population had since then reached almost 2,000 people in 1957 when I was 14 years old. My house was located quite close to the mine where my father, Homer Hickam, was the Superintendent.
4: Coalwood was a company-owned town, which means everything was owned by the company. The houses, the fenced off square yards, the paved roads, almost everything. I remember that everyday for 3 years I biked up and down those roads delivering the Bluefield Daily Telegraph with nothing but my white canvas bag strapped over my shoulder. Our small town was located down Main Street, and consisted of a company hotel, the company offices, the company church, the post office, and the company store.
5: If you continued west down Main Street, you would find Mudhole and Snakeroot, two colored camps. I soon became friends with Reverend "Little" Richard, who worked at the church located at the entrance of Mudhole. I loved listening tot he sound of his deep voice while he told me quick bible stories.
6: "I was proud to live in Coalwood." I'd read once that we were the first people to inhabit McDowell County. The Cherokee tribe used to hunt sometimes in this area before the early nineteenth century, "but found the terrain otherwise too rugged and uninviting." When I was young, "I found a stone arrowhead," and decided to invent the Coalhican Indian Tribe, as a game to play with the other boys. One boy, named Tony, in the midst of playing our game, fell from a tree and, "broke his arm." When Tony's father was killed in the mine that year, the rest of his family got up and left and were never heard from again. "A Coalwood family required a father, one who worked for the Company. The Company and Coalwood were one and the same.
7: A man named George L. Carter founded Coalwood. After finding not much more than wilderness, he dug and found, "one of the richest seams of bituminous coal in the world." He bought the land, constructed the mine, built houses, a company store, a bakery, churches, and found a dentist and a doctor. William Laird, the Captain, "expanded Mr. Carter's building program," and gave every miner a house with indoor plumbing, a stove, and a coal box. William Laird also funded and founded many clubs and projects in Coalwood.
8: Coalwood was not a perfect place to live. The miners and the company constantly had tension between them. Usually it was about the miner's pay. For a while, Coalwood was a much safer place to live than other towns in West Virginia. When my father was 22, in 1934, he applied to work for the Company, in hopes that he could, "make a good life for himself in Coalwood," My father ended up becoming a foreman, and marrying Elsie Lavender, who had gone to high school with him. My grandfather, Poppy, finally stopped working in the mine when both his legs were cut off by a mine car. After that, he was always in pain, and basically had to live the rest of his life in a chair.
9: When I was a child, I didn't see my father much. He didn't seem to have enough time, for he loved the Company and he loved the mine. Did he love me? I wasn't quite sure. When my dad was 38, in 1950, we learned he had colon cancer. After he passed out in a mine, and was taken to a hospital, the doctors doubted he would survive, but he did. Aside from that, I have many fond memories of when my family would go to Welch on Saturday nights. Mom and Dad would go shopping, and me and Jim would be dropped off at the movie theater. I usually fell asleep on the drive home.
10: Coalwood life revolved around the mine shifts. You woke up in the morning when the day shift was starting. You ate dinner when the evening shift was starting. You fell asleep to the hiss of the tipple. Occasionally some of the boys would pretend to be miners themselves join the men going up to the tipple, and watch them strap, snap, and buckle their equipment on to themselves.
11: Forests, mountains, caves, and cliffs surrounded Coalwood. When I was young, my friends and I would explore and imagine and wander through abandoned mines, fire towers, and the railroad. These forbidden things we did anyway, and it was more fun that way.
12: When I was a child, I loved to read. By 2nd and 3rd grade, I had already read Tom Sawyer, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Huckleberry Finn. I really enjoyed reading books by Jules Verne, which were about scientists and engineers. However, I didn't like reading reading about fantasy, magic, or super heroes. "It seemed as though all through grade school I was reading 2 books, one fore me, and one for my teachers.
13: I didn't know what I would do with my future, everyone I'd watch grow up had either gone to work in the military or the mine, and those things just didn't interest me. Luckily, my mother would never allow for me to work in the mine. Although she was not pleased with watching her family work there, her whole family did, including her husband and her four brothers.
14: Every morning, my mother would wake up, fix herself a cup of coffee, and work on the painting she had been working on since my father took over the mine. The painting was of a seashore, and seemed as though she were trying to "paint herself another reality."
15: I remember when I was only 3 years old, I could already tell that my mother was different than everyone in Coalwood. One time, we had gone over to visit Poppy, and I was sitting on his lap. He started to stare at me and then said, "He's just like Homer!" My frightened mother grabbed me quickly from his lap and brought me outside. She kept saying to me, "No, you're not. No, you're not." Since then, she has continued to sing to me that same song. I finally understood why when I started building rockets.