The story I am about to tell you is neither true nor false. I am not even sure from where the story comes. It may be a first-hand account and then again, maybe it is not. The typed pages of the story were handed to me along with several other items of our family history by Aunt Carrie Lee Nelson with a look and the words, “Don’t tell this story too soon.” The first page was missing so I do not even know if one of our family historians has ever written it down. I doubt it. They only write what they know to be true and this must be a canard, a fiction, maybe a lie. Has enough time passed to finally tell this tale? Maybe. But then again what does it matter if this piece of fiction, passed down from the mountains, is told now? Just another tall tale from the roaring 1920s in the mountains of Southwest Virginia. However, for the rest of her life, she believed that she was telling the truth.
So is any of this story true?
Commonwealth of Kentucky Death Certificate. Pikeville, KY. April 8, 1936. Cause of death: Crushed Chest.
The tragic demise of Asa (named Asa but his name was spelled every which way, including Acie, Acy, etc.) is a fact recorded by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The Death Certificate states, “Death is said to have occurred on the date stated above, at 7:15 P.M.” As for the rest of this story, the reader will have to believe what they want to believe. Please note, the story you are about to hear has been dramatically edited by yours truly. Some of the details of anger, alcohol, and abuse are too horrid to hear. I have not edited out those parts because I believe or do not believe them. The story as it is told will have to suffice for you–“sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Matthew 6:34.
I was very bright in school and by the time I was 16 years old I had a Provisional First Grade Certificate for 1923. I began my first teaching in Pound, Virginia. I was shocked at the conditions most of the children lived in. In fact, one day six children came to school drunk. I talked to them and warned them. Glad to say, it never happened again. During this time I cut the children’s hair, bought them pencils, paper, and sometimes clothes to wear. I spent almost all my salary on the children. Even today I wonder how they are.
The second year school was taught at Flat Gap on South Fork of the Pound. At this school there were two teachers–Flora Mullins, the head teacher, and me. At this time my parents (Albert and Delsie) had moved to Jenkins and lived on Brick Yard Hill. You won’t believe this, but many times I walked from Flat Gap to Jenkins to spend the weekend with my family.
At this point in my life I met Asa. From that time on I was doomed. He had been married three times. He was a slick talker and a cad. I didn’t stop to think–I just plunged in over my head. He had two girls by his third wife but he never supported them in any way. He came to my school and I sent the children out from 11:00 A.M. until about 2:30 P.M. The next day I never showed up at school and ran off with Asa to marry him.
Asa had some good points but then bad one overruled them. I know this crazy mistake broke my father’s heart. He knew the kind of man Asa was and that very same year on June 6, 1926, my dear father Albert passed away.
Asa was working as a fireman and engineer on the B & O Railroad. At the time we were living in a railroad camp in Camden, Kentucky below Jenkins. Mourning for my father, I was oblivious to Asa’s unfaithfulness. On December 2, 1926 a little girl was born to me. I was in labor so long I almost died, but I loved my little girl so much. Asa brought his mother to stay with us but I was so sick that I had an attack where I tasted death. I prayed hard to live and to take care of my body. I developed pneumonia and was unconscious for days so my mother (Delsie), bless her, came and took my baby home with her. She was at this time keeping boarders (miners) on Midtown Hill near Jenkins. My sister Laura was there to help. Mother got to spend a lot of time with me at the hospital. When I was well enough to leave Mother wanted to take me home but Asa wouldn’t hear of it.
I went home to Camden but my brother Glen got in trouble with the law and later joined the Army. Of course, I begged him not to go, but he went. Life got worse when Asa had a fight with his trainmaster and was fired from his job. I always prayed and believed people do good. How else could I live through this Hell? I began to realize the terrible predicament I had gotten into and that there was no escape!
On May 21, 1928, I had another baby girl and she looked just like her Daddy. We moved to Edgewater in the Cumberland Mountains in a house with two rooms–no electricity, no water, no nothing. Asa left me there for thirty days to find work with nothing but the potatoes I dug and water gravy to eat. I was alone most of the time as Asa tried making whisky, was caught, and served time in the Clintwood jail. When he got out we moved to a cabin on the mountain above Shelby Gap, Kentucky. I had to leave the girls alone and cut wood with an ax so we wouldn’t freeze to death.
I became pregnant again and Mother came to be with me while I was having this baby. I became so fed up and discouraged and rebellious. I told Mother I couldn’t take it anymore. She begged me to think it over but I said no, I was leaving. So we got ready and walked to Shelby Gap to get to the train to Jenkins. We ran into Asa at Shelby Gap and he had been drinking. He blamed Mother for talking me into leaving him. He pulled a gun to shoot her. I stepped in front of Mother and said, “Shoot me! I’d rather be dead than to live and be treated like you’re treating me!”
He didn’t shoot. Mother got on the train and left me to go back to the living Hell. I was doomed. I had my third baby, another little girl and she was so pretty. I persuaded Asa to move from the mountains to Payne Gap, Kentucky because it was a little better place to live. My health was so bad. My sister Laura loaned me her new coat to wear to the doctor’s office. Asa said some man had given me the coat so he burned Laura’s beautiful coat. I was too ashamed to tell her what happened to her coat (note: in the Carrie Lee Nelson recording from Delsie’s 90th birthday, Laura stated that her sister lost her $88.00 coat and she never knew what happened to it. Click Here ).
Asa got a job in the mines and we moved again, this time to Hemphill, Kentucky. Here we buried my beautiful baby girl who died at age six months of meningitis. At the mining company store I was allowed for the four of us $1.00 per day. On some occasions we were allowed $2.00. We soon moved back to Pound, Virginia but things only got worse when a warrant was issued for Asa’s arrest charging him with rape. He denied that charge.
Now 1932, we moved to White Oak, Kentucky and I was pregnant again. This time a boy was born named Johnny. Asa was drinking more heavily and seeing other women. I finally told my sister-in-law about Asa’s unfaithfulness and abuse. When Asa found out I told on him he started spreading tales that I was the one seeing another man. God in Heaven knows that was a lie! One day while carrying Johnny in my arms we had a fight and he started beating me about the head. My head was full of knots and I was numb all over but I held on to Johnny! I feared more and more for the safety of my children but I knew that if I told a soul all that I was going through, I’d be killed. How could I survive? I can truthfully say I don’t see how I had any mind left.
We were now living in a mining camp where lies and adultery were the name of the game. Men made passes at me but God was good to me and He gave me a sense of right and wrong. I wanted to live a moral life. I was beaten, abused, and lied about, but I kept my faith in God. And then, the Devil came to my house.
The Devil Comes a Callin’
One night in April, I was asleep and the children Johnny and Emma were in bed with me. I heard the door open and the Devil walked in. He came to the side of the bed and looked, and went around to the other side of the bed. He turned the covers back and said, “He’s not here,” and walked out. I did not dream this because I was as awake then as I am now. Later that night another knock on the door came. This time it was some men who told me that Asa was in a terrible accident and was killed.
It is my hope that he had time to make his peace with God.