SUNNY CAL JOURNAL - Faces Of Poverty, Maggots To Copperheads

By Bob Weaver

It has been over 60 years since the government's War on Poverty was launched in West Virginia.

It is a common assumption that people make choices that keeps them poverty stricken, lacking a work gene, having motivation or education to join the work force, becoming takers at the government trough.

There are slackers, takers and abusers of the system.

In our regional rural area of West Virginia, there is even a greater problem, the lack of opportunity, with at least 15,000 jobs, many low paying, been globalized in our part of the state. Many without a skill set or education to qualify for employment,

WV has long clung to the extraction industries to keep it going, now to the state's dismay.

The Face of Poverty, for most people, has been drawn by politicians who polarize their positions on the left or right.

My view is somewhat different.

For over a decade in the 1960s as a mortician and ambulance driver in Roane County, my direct involvement with families and their children changed my view. My funeral home rand 1,200 calls annually.

It was a time of gross poverty.

Here are three stories from that time, a few of many:

MAGGIE'S PLIGHT - Maggie was about twenty, suffering the effects of several childhood diseases, a slightly built girl with brown shadows under her eyes, having dropped out of school at 16.

She had experience rheumatic fever.

She lived with her parents and about eight siblings on Grannies Creek in a two room house, under which her family had constructed a pig pen.

It was apparent that most of her siblings were struggling to flourish.

The sickly girl was frequently beset by illnesses, a weak immune system that required numerous trips, about 30 miles one-way, to Gordon Hospital in Spencer by a four-wheel drive ambulance.

Over a few years, as an ambulance driver I developed a fondness for her, often stopping at country stores to buy her some bananas, which she quickly consumed.

Among the last ambulance trips to her abode, she was resting on a cot, very weak. In the corners of her eyes I spotted the tiny yellow eggs of flies, larvae which would evolve into maggots, and when I got her in the ambulance I pulled some mineral oil from the first aid kit and swabbed them from her eyes.

Then we got some bananas on the way to the hospital.

Not long after, she died and we buried her in the taxpayer provided doeskin casket and wooden box, returning to the earth after a life riddled with gross poverty.

BIRTHIN' BABIES - The call came to take a woman to the hospital to have a baby, living down a long dirt road deep in a hollow, a few miles out of Spencer, definitely four-wheel drive country.

It was not uncommon in the 60s to make the call alone, counting on family or neighbors to help.

Her 9-year-son had walked a mile or so to the nearest phone to call for help, and on the way in I picked him up, advising me he was home alone with his mother.

Arriving at an old ramshackle two-story house that for the most part looked abandoned, I went inside to find the woman on a bed with the baby already born, tucked between her breasts.

Some chickens were on the bed trying to feast on the afterbirth.

I cleaned the crying baby, wrapping it in a blanket and temporarily placing in on the front seat of the ambulance, continuing to clean the woman of the after effects of childbirth, after which her son managed to help me get his mother in the ambulance, then placing the baby with her to manage the transport.

It was one of at least a dozen childbirths under similar situations, including one woman who had a baby three times before arrival at the hospital.

SNAKE BITTEN AND UNTREATED - During the 60s, families who lived out in the country would stop by the funeral home to visit, developing a first name relationship.

A Vicars Ridge man and his 15-year-old son would stop by, so it was not a surprise to get a call from the youth who had walked to a phone, advising he had been copperhead bitten a few days before while putting up hay, and was concerned that his finger and hand was turning black.

I asked what had been done to treat the snake bite, and he said his father had been soaking his hand in gasoline. Hanging up, I got in a vehicle and drove to his remote residence, a run-down house without electric, bathroom or running water, taking him to the hospital in Spencer.

He was seriously ill with a fever and the physician had to amputate his finger, but he did recover.

It was not uncommon to discover babies and children malnourished and sickly, and some of them died.

They will always remain in my memory as the Faces of Poverty.