The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Family Man

By Sylvia Sampson © 1990

Issue: August, 1990

John and Lula SampsonJohn and Lula SampsonHe was born on April 29, 1900 in Keokee, Virginia. His Moma named him Johnny Patton Sampson. I can't imagine him being a young carefree child for he was such a solemn, serious man. He never attended public school, instead he helped his Father work the fields. By the time he turned twelve his Father was gone and he joined his older brother James in the coal mines.

He was little for his age and the equipment he had to carry back into the mines weighed almost as much as he did. Loaded down with dynamite, blasting caps, pick, shovel, water jug and black dinner bucket he walked into the mines barefooted. Many times he spent several days in the dark hole. His Mother brought his dinner each day and left it at the drift mouth to be delivered with the others. Although he was very young he was the head of his family since James had married and moved away.

Johnny didn't know how to court a woman but Lula Mae Herron didn't have to be courted. She wanted Johnny Sampson and she got him. Johnny was twenty and his bride thirteen when they moved into a small wood frame house with dirt floors.

A huge cable spool was their table and empty dynamite boxes their chairs. The boxes were also hung on the kitchen wall and held their few dishes. Their bathroom was twenty feet from the back door just like everyone else's and they carried their drinking water from a nearby spring.

Johnny and Lula's family grew when the babies started coming. Six boys and two girls filled their house, and as each one came Johnny worked harder to provide for them.

In all the years at the mines he never missed a day's work. Then he decided to walk to the company commissary. He needed a present for his son's birthday and Sammy had been begging for a bicycle. Deciding not to walk the three miles home he hopped on the new bike. Within sight of home Johnny flipped the new bicycle on a railroad crossing and broke his ankle.

He missed his first night of work but when the alarm whistle blew at midnight Johnny was one of the first to reach the mine. Part of the roof had fallen and men were dead. Johnny couldn't believe it but the roof had fallen in on the section where he worked. Because of his son's birthday present, he was alive and many of the men he worked with were gone.

The love he had for his family kept him going. He worked to get the union in; hoping to make the mines belonging at the time to the Stonga Coke and Coal Company a safer place for his sons to work. When the union finally came in Johnny was one of the first card holders.

Johnny Patton Sampson died in 1972. I didn't really get to know him but the way he lived his life rules my own. I see him each day in my husband. See the tears when Sam remembers his Father falling from his new bike. See his strength and devotion in everything my husband does.

Johnny Patton Sampson was a family man. His family always came first and he taught his sons to do the same. When it comes time to send our sons out into the world, I'll tell them about their Grandfather and hope that they too will be a family man.