Tuesday, August 7, 2001: McCoy Homeplace, Phelps, Kentucky

My mother reclines with her coffee cup in the farmhouse where she grew up in the McCoy Bottom. Where I lived almost the first five years of my life.

I record our genealogy and Sadie Lee McCoy’s personal history – the purpose for my visit to Peter Creek, a stream that flows from the peak of Big Creek Mountain to the Tug River bordering Kentucky and West Virginia.

Mom names her maternal grandparents and their twenty offspring, ten each. I came to know most of my forebears during childhood summer vacations south.

At last, Mom comes to the McCoy/O’Brien branch of our family tree. She hesitates for we’ve seldom mentioned Dad after their divorce in 1967 and his burial in March 1995.

“How did you and Dad meet?” I nudge.

“Well, Warren worked the farm with Dad and my brothers.”

“You mean Dad farmed with Grandpa Floyd and my uncles here in the McCoy Bottom?”

“And across the creek where I was born. Dad always hired hands. After his mining accident in 1932, Mom needed more help because I was only ten years old and Sarah and the boys were younger. Dad said he liked the way Warren worked.”

“How did Dad work?”


“And that’s how your romance began?”

“The baby of nine children, Warren O’Brien was a snotty-nosed boy back then.”

“Well, when did you fall in love?”

“I guess it began when Warren came home from the War. Some of our boys didn’t make it back, and that hurt real bad. I went with Granny O’Brien and her family to the Williamson Train Station to welcome Warren home. Everybody on Peter Creek was glad to see him.”

Monday, January 10, 2022: My Homeplace, Addison Township, Michigan

Today is Mom’s 100th birthday. I remove her wedding photo from the living room bookshelf. My parents smile, arm in arm, and I am comforted.

Dressed in his Marine uniform, Dad seems eager and able to build a family and prosperous life with his bride. The rosettes attached to the tulle skirt layered over Mom’s slender, satin dress puddle on the floor around their feet.

I remember the Scarlet O’Hara eighteen-inch waistline contest Mom said she won while in high school, and recall her southern resilience.

In the day when most war brides wore their best dress or suit for their wedding clothes, I marvel at Mom’s fine bridal gown, headpiece and veil.

I refer to my notes from that August day twenty-one years ago. “Mom and Dad knew how to make money. Dad kept two milk cows and fifteen bee hives. Mom opened her own store with a gas pump. She sold livestock feed, Dad’s comb honey, and her pound butter.”

Indeed, dear Reader, my forefathers knew how to use what they had to prosper. However, what my mother mentioned most from March 23, 1946 was this: “Dad held onto my arm and walked me down the aisle with the help of his leg braces.”

Sometimes, hard work is nothing less or more than a blissful moment we encourage another branch of our family tree to grow.

Contact Iris at irisfarmletters@gmail.com.