After the divorce, Josiah, his mother, and his younger siblings lived in a modest two-bedroom farmhouse on eight acres of land near his mother’s side of the family in Odd. His maternal great-grandparents lived even farther into the mountains, on a 15-acre farm with a creek, which was about an hour’s drive on a winding dirt road from their house. Josiah is the oldest, with a brother who is two years younger and a sister who is four years younger. Later, a half sister who is ten years his junior joined the familv. He recounted: /
We only had one bathroom and we didn’t have a shower. We only had a tub, so we tried to conserve water. My sister would bathe first, because she was the girl. My brother and I had to rotate who was going to bathe second. Later, my sister switched to the mornings and bathed after my mom.
West Virginia winters were especially hard for the family. Josiah remembered:
When it snowed, the trees would cover the road so the sun would never hit it. That meant the road was just a sheet of ice. You literally couldn’t get out. We didn’t go to school for a month at a time, usually in January. We had a wood burning stove and a coal burning stove and we used both. Actually, we would take blankets that my mom had made and put them over the doorway. Then we would pull all the mattresses into the dining room, which was where the coal stove was, and we would all just sleep in the same bed to keep warm. In the morning we would get a bucket of snow, put it inside to melt, and then pour it down the toilet to make it flush, because the plumbing would be frozen.
Back on the farm, the tradition of not having a TV or a radio continued, but more out of economic need than fear of the outside world. “I think
We Were Never Supposed to Be Here 209 it was good for me,” he reflected, “because we just read all the time. We would go to the public library in Sophia.” While the farm was self-sustaining, it didn’t produce enough extra food to sell for cash. They had pigs, cows, rabbits, and lots of chickens, all of which they raised for food. Josiah was in charge of caring for the animals and tending the garden. His brother killed and butchered the animals, and his sister did all the cooking and cleaning inside the house. Even after his parents’ divorce, the gender rules still applied. “You know, men do certain things,” he said, “and women do other things.” That means boys can help do the dishes, “but they don’t actually do the dishes.” And it wasn’t a girl’s place to cut the grass, do the weeding, or take in the garden. “The girls could help the boys with the garden, as long as they didn’t do the gardening themselves,” just like doing the dishes.
Schooling as the Way to Move Up
“We were definitely lower middle class, if not poor,” he explained. “I qualified for government programs when I entered college.” A few years after his parents divorced, his mother started dating a Black man. Her father was furious about it. He excommunicated Josiah’s mother, and the family had to leave the farm during that time. They moved to a Black neighborhood in Beckley, just a few minutes from Sophia. They were the only White family living there at the time. His mother was working and going to school, and the children were alone a lot. That was the case until Josiah made friends with two Black neighbor children, Aisha and Montel. Eventually, the school bus started dropping Josiah and his siblings off at Aisha and Montel’s grandmother’s house. “She would watch us while my mom was working,” he recounted. “My mom started doing schoolwork the minute she got home, so I it was my job as the oldest to make sure that my brother and sister were occupied.” Over time, his mother’s relationship ended, and the family moved back to the farm in Odd.