Photo by Patrick O’Dell
grew up in what I guess you’d call a chicken coop. It was this place that used to be a chicken house. It had concrete floors, but we made a living place out of it. Eventually it burnt down. It was rough living there. It was hard when I was a child. I’ve worked since I was 12. I started out just sitting with people. I’d go out and sit with old people. I wanted to work any way I could so I could get out of that chicken coop. It had one little coal-and-wood stove for heat, and that didn’t warm it up adequately. It was not good. We’d cook on an electric stove, but sometimes there wasn’t enough food. There was always something like fried potatoes at night, and we’d each get a serving—enough to keep us from being hungry. We used to get commodity-program cheese too, and we’d eat cheese sandwiches. My dad had a rough time. He was a drunkard when I was growing up. He isn’t one now, praise the Lord. My sister wanted to marry at 13, and she got mad at my dad because he didn’t want her to. So she went and said some abusive things about my father. My brother said some stuff too. Daddy and him used to romp just like you do with your child, but my brother had nosebleeds, so he had blood all over his shirt and the law enforcement believed him when he and my sister went to make these charges against my father. My daddy spent a year and four days incarcerated in the county jail. He developed a nerve problem while he was in there. That’s why Mommy had to raise us kids. The two kids who accused my father got put in foster care and then got sent back after Daddy was sent to jail.
Photos by Patrick O’Dell
Mommy did not drive. She had to walk everywhere she went, and she usually had four kids following behind her. This all happened out in Rowan County. Now, a judge out there told us that if we moved out of the county, Daddy would get out of jail. So we moved counties and that was when we found the chicken coop to rent. As a child, I was kind of embarrassed, but it was a roof over my head and a place to sleep. Still, other kids made fun of us. We lived there for 11 years and then it burnt.
My mom is very sick now. She has diabetes. Her liver and kidneys have shut down and she’s had nine heart attacks. My dad is now a Christian man. He does not like to miss a day of church. My brothers and sisters all draw a check. I’m the only employed child out of all of us. I don’t know what made me different from all of them. The Lord knows, I guess.
I got married at 17. My husband and I were living in a house that was falling apart. I had a little boy and knew that his needs had to be met. The place was heated with kerosene and that aggravated my son’s asthma. My husband was working at a little gas station, but it closed down and we both started seeking employment. I got a job at a place that helps poor people get their heat. That was when I was 18. We separated from my husband and moved out. I currently live in low-income housing and that’s not a good place to live. It’s an apartment. I’ve been there for about four months, and they don’t check up on it like they need to. I stepped just outside of my home, left the back door open, and went two doors down for a minute. While I was gone, somebody snuck in and took $75 from my purse that I had planned on getting my electric bill paid with. Also, it has no lighting in the living room. I’ve also heard, not actually witnessed but heard, that there’s drugs around there. I’m not one to raise my child around drugs and thieves. The drugs are raging in Appalachia here. I mean, I’ve heard about kids going to school with fumes—from the meth labs that their parents are running—on them so strong that teachers were getting sick.
I’m 33 years of age now and all I can remember is poverty. There’s not a lot to offer here in Appalachia. There are some people here who are willing to help, like the Catholic Church, which helped me to get this trailer here. I’m not too picky about how it’s going to look inside since I was raised very, very, very poor. I’m thankful for whatever I get. I don’t care if it matches. For the kitchen I was thinking about doing Americana. My boy wants to decorate his room with wrestling figurines. I’ll leave the living room real simple.
I come from nothing. This is my first home that I have owned, and it’s a mansion to me. It’s going to be my mansion.