“I grew up on this land in Copperhill, Tennessee. It was a village of poor folks who worked for the copper mining company. The company cut down all of the trees, then acid rain killed the rest of the vegetation. The only thing left was the red copper hills. It looked like Mars. My grandfather worked in the mine and bought this land when the company shut down. The trees and vegetation have grown back, and it’s a country place. I inherited the land and think it’s beautiful with the creek close by. We didn’t have running water until 12 years ago. Most of my life I carried water uphill several times a day from the spring to our house.
My grandma had 14 kids. She passed away in her 30’s with cancer. A lot of people here passed away with cancer. When the mining dust came through, we couldn’t see the houses around us. The dust covered everything and got into the walls. The mines were a dangerous place to work. A boulder fell on my cousin and killed him. A guy was killed when he was driving a bulldozer, and it sank in quicksand. They left him there. A boy from down the street also died in the quicksand. They tried to use a rope to save him, but it was too late. They taught us to be still if we fell into quicksand. The more you moved, the faster you sank.
I worked for the sewing plant, but it closed. I also worked at the chicken plant cutting up chickens on the assembly line. I grabbed the chicken and split the breast or cut off the wings. I worked the second shift from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. I had young kids, so I slept three or four hours a day. I worked at the chicken plant for 17 years. I hurt my back and got carpal tunnel working there, but you do what you can to survive.
I had my first heart attack in 2004. I was 44. I have COPD and eight stents in my heart. I’ve lost a lot of weight and can’t go outside much. If a blood vessel pops, there can be bleeding in my intestines. I never know when one is going to pop. I went to the Copper Basin hospital for monthly blood and iron transfusions, but it closed when the mine closed. Now I go to the Cleveland hospital an hour away. They airlift me to Vanderbilt if the bleeding is too bad.
I’m an only child and took care of mama and daddy, so I didn’t have time to take care of my own health. Daddy had a heart attack and mama quit her housekeeper job at the hospital to take care of him. After he died, mama lived alone in her trailer up the hill. Mama couldn’t read or write, but she loved the Lord and had me read the Bible to her. Mama used to apologize for having to call on me so much, but I don’t regret one minute of caring for my parents. When my health got bad, a friend gave me a wheelchair to make it easier to go up the hill to see mama. My mama died earlier this year. I miss her every day.
My husband was shot 23 years ago in Turtle Town. They called it suicide and didn’t do an autopsy. I have questions about what really happened to him, but never got answers. He would never shoot himself. All I have left is my daughter and two grandchildren. They take care of me, and I’m so thankful for them. I’ve never been anywhere except Athens, TN, and that’s not far away. My grandson and I want to use our stimulus checks for a trip to Montana before it’s too late. I wrote a school paper on Wyoming and Montana and always wanted to go there.
I hope my grandkids remember me as a loving person. My door is always open with with something to eat or drink in the refrigerator. I was once the one working on other people’s houses and helping them. I can’t do that anymore, but I am so grateful for the kids on this mission trip who are working on my house. My daughter’s boss sent me this text when he heard people were helping me: ‘I think all that’s being done for you is a blessing. God is watching over you, that means He wants you around for a long time. The good Lord has a plan for you.”
When I get down, I read this message. I hope God still has a plan for me.”