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Clyde Beal/For The Herald-Dispatch Lassa Hughes grew up in a coal mining community in Whitman, West Virginia, before moving to Huntington.

If you neglect to obtain a written history from senior members in your family while they are still able, those memories from days gone by cease to exist when they leave this world.

I was recently introduced to 91-year-old Lassa Hughes, a delightful lady whose story is filled with her contribution of American history.

"I was the youngest of two sisters and two brothers," Hughes said. "I was born in a company-owned house in the coal mining community of Whitman, West Virginia, about three miles outside of Logan. Because of the age gap between me and my older siblings, mom told me once that dad sometimes referred to me as the 'oops' child. I'd like to think that I got the most love for being the youngest. My father was a tipple foreman for the Island Creek Coal Company. Because of his position, we enjoyed the luxury of a telephone. We also had running water and coal heat, but we still walked the dreaded path while suffering the inconvenience of an outdoor bathroom throughout the seasons of the year."

Hughes' brother Delbert Moore served during World War II.

"He even survived the tortures of the Bataan Death March during April of 1942," she said. "He was captured by the Japanese and spent time as a POW before being rescued. When he returned home, the happy-go-lucky outspoken brother I once knew never came back with him. His life was forever changed by the ugliness of war."

Their three-bedroom company home slept three girls in one room with the boys in another, leaving one bedroom for mom and dad. The coal stove was adequate for winter comfort, come summer window fans were installed in windows for relief from the heat. Everything they needed could be found at the company store - the clothes they wore and the food they ate, even that Maytag washer used on wash day. There was even a nearby small company hospital. Everything could easily be deducted from your pay, even the coal used to heat your home.

"There was a place to go swimming in the nearby river," Hughes said. "Before I learned how to swim, I was pushed in over my head by this boy I knew. When my father finished telling the kid what he thought about his daughter being pushed into deep water, that boy would have carried my books to and from school for an entire year."

Holden Elementary was ahead of its time with modern plumbing, heated bathrooms and water fountains, a short walk from Whitman that was never interrupted by snow days. With a smile on her face, she recalls teacher Ms. Reece, who took the extra time required making sure lessons were understood throughout the entire year.

"I graduated from Logan High School in 1946," Hughes said. "A 30-minute bus ride where I was an average student who never caused a bit of trouble. There was enough of that at the football games. When it came time for Friday night football, there was always a fight over a referee's call that the hometown crowd didn't agree with."

After graduating from high school, Hughes went to work for the company store. Like most of the coal miners, she spent a great deal of her earnings at the very same place. After five years, she found a better job in Mt. Gay just three miles up the road.

"After Mt. Gay, I went to work at National Mining Company," Hughes said. "I was hired as a secretary, and the skills I learned in high school really proved helpful. I worked there for about four years until my father decided there had to be a better way of life besides coming home every day covered in coal dust."

Hughes' next place of employment was working for her father, who now owned Moore's Grocery Store on Norwood Road in Huntington.

"I met Bill in a local Huntington restaurant," she said. "He came over to my table and asked if I thought he might be good enough to go dancing with. That was in September of 1955, and we danced the next four months away until he proposed. We were married in Cross Roads Methodist Church in January of 1956."

January wasn't conducive for a honeymoon, but it was just perfect for candlelight dinners at home.

"Sometime later, Bill took me for my first trip to the beach, and I loved it," Hughes said. "Over the years we made a number of trips to Myrtle Beach that now fill several photo albums."

Bill Hughes retired from the Huntington newspaper after 43 years; he passed away in May 1990. Lassa retired from Kerr Glass in Altizer with 15 years of service. They have one daughter, Norma Bonnell.

"Finally, the marriage of my granddaughter gave me the baby boy I've always wanted," Hughes said. "Life is complete now, and I'm happy."

Clyde Beal seeks out interesting stories from folks around the Tri-State. Email archie350@frontier.com.

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