1977 — Pageton, West Virginia
I never knew my grandfather. He died 18 year before I was born. Until recently I knew nothing about him. My father only spoke of him twice in my memory. Both times my father had too much to drink and was crying. The words he spoke gave me the impression that my grandfather had commited suicide. And so I never asked about my grandfather for fear of upsetting my father. My father died in 1967. In the 1970's the mini-series "Roots" brought my curiosity back to the surface. Who was this man that upset my father so much? Did he actually commit suicide? What kind of person was he? Where did he come from?
I knew the date of his death. So my first step in finding my grandfather was to go to the Rutgers Alexander Library in New Brunswick and look up the local newspaper on micro film for his obituary. What a shock that was! There on the FRONT PAGE of The Daily Home News was a story about my grandfather. He hadn't committed suicide. It was all a tragic accident! The whole family was out for a Sunday drive on a beautiful day. It was July 26, 1926. They were on their way to Hadley Field, where the first night airmail long distance service took place July 1, 1925. Charles Lindbergh used this field prior to his 1927 world famous transatlantic flight. I can remember as a kid my uncle driving me to that same air field to watch the planes take off and land. On the way to the air field a funny noise caught the attention of my grandfather. They stopped the car. When my grandfather leaned out to look for a possible flat tire, the door popped open. He landed on his head. He was briefly revived with water from a nearby pastor's water pump and taken to the hospital. There they put a bandage on his head and sent him home to bed. He died from a cerebral hemorrhage. My father was 11 years old. He witnessed the whole thing.
Now my curiosity was peaking. I asked my mother for information. My father was born in Pageton, West Virginia. This town is so small you cannot find it on a map. She suggested that I contact an elderly couple in Pageton, West Virginia, Anna and Johnnie Valach. They were childhood friends of my father. In 1977 I sent them a letter asking for any information about my grandfather. They invited us to come down and see the mining area where my grandfather lived and worked.
This was the beginning of my journey of discovery.
Episode (2) The Walk Begins