Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: BIOGRAPHY
Series 13: Education – Community Service
ALICE COBB STORIES “Visit to Uncle Hen Turner, 1934”
TAGS: Alice Cobb Stories Visit to Uncle Hen Turner, 1934, Hen Turner, Pine Mountain Settlement School, settlement schools, Harlan County, KY, Uncle Hen Turner, Christian Holmes, Lexine Baird, health, home visit, social services, Oscar Kneller, foodways, diet, hygiene, eggs, bread, sauerkraut, coal fire,
Pine Mountain Settlement School often did home visits with community members, especially those who were elderly such as Hen Turner. There are many Turners near Big Laurel, and Hen should not be confused with Hemp Turner and Ham Turner and their families. Hen Turner lived between Rockhouse Creek and the graveyard, or cemetery hill, on that creek. Rockhouse Creek flows into Greasy Creek, downstream from Big Laurel in Harlan County. A Google view of the region can be seen here:
The elderly living alone often might be at risk in caring for themselves, especially if younger family members have moved away. The School provided many home visits by staff and students. This tale of Hen Turner captures one of those home visits and underscores why these regular visits by staff and students from the School were so important to both the visited and the visitor.
VISIT TO UNCLE HEN TURNER
November 19, 1934
Right after church today I went out to Big Laurel with Christian Holmes, the young man who is taking Oscar Kneller‘s place temporarily. We had dinner with Mrs. Baird [Lexine Baird, nurse], and then went down to call on Uncle Hen Turner who thought he was dying. [About 4.03 miles from Pine Mountain Settlement School]. The neighbors had been up with him till two o’clock the night before singing hymns.
Uncle Hen lives in an old house without any windows at the foot of the cemetery hill. As soon as he heard our footsteps on the porch he started moaning and groaning, and when we went in the door we found him sitting in front of the stove, that had the tiniest fire in it, and his bare feet almost in the little blaze — such a dirty filthy little old creature I never saw, and such a horrid place — great big holes in the roof where the shingles had fallen out, and the old bed tumbling down on the floor, and the table — it made my stomach turn over to see the mess there. There was a cracked bowl with some rice, all covered with dust, and another pan or dish or something with some scraps of meat and an awful looking biscuit, and some old pasteboard boxes — and everything so dirty you would barely have wanted to touch it with a broom. Well, poor Uncle Hen was sitting there moaning and the tears rolling down his cheeks.
Mrs. Baird asked him what he wanted ad he quavered “My time’s come, I reckon. I’m tryin’ to get some help.” Mrs. Baird said, “Help you do what, Uncle Hen?” And he said, “Help me to die!”
She said the teachers (we were all teachers it seemed) had come to help him feel better, and he reckoned maybe if he had something good and hot in his stummick [sic] he’d feel better. Mrs. Baird asked him what he wanted, and he thought he’d like some eggs — no, he could not eat as many as four, but he could eat three, he thought — and some kraut would be good and an apple pie and some “cokie” (that’s cocoa). And then he needed coal for the stove.
Well, we went back to the settlement and fried four eggs as hard a leather. He especially wanted them fried on both sides — and put six slices of bread on the plate and a pint of sauerkraut, and a quart of cocoa, and took them down to him with a big sack of coal —- and Uncle Hen was a different creature. Mrs. Baird brought some soap and water and he regretfully reckoned he ought to wash before he ate, but she said no, he ought to get his stomach satisfied the first thing, and it was funny to see how relieved he was at that. But he promised to wash himself good with Life Boy soap [afterward]. She told him that was good medicine, and he must use it for his rheumatism! He said he would after he got through with his dinner.
[There would be many other visits following that one.]