Since he retired from teaching almost 20 years ago, my dad’s embarked on a second career as a writer. He followed my into journalism and began writing a column in our hometown newspaper that was eventually syndicated to a handful of other weekly papers in Eastern Kentucky.
Then, he started writing books. His latest came out this week. It’s called The Overnight City: The Life and Times of Van Lear, Kentucky 1908-1947.
Van Lear was a coal-company town, and if the name rings a bell, it’s probably because you’re a fan of the country singer Loretta Lynn. She sings about Van Lear in her song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”
“My daddy worked all night in the Van Lear coal mines….”
Van Lear was founded in 1908 by Consolidation Coal Co. and fell into decline when Consolidation Coal sold its holdings in 1947. The town itself survived, but with a dwindling population and only a handful of businesses, the city government was dissolved in the 1960s. Van Lear is an unincorporated community now.
In its heyday, though, it was something else. It had stores and churches and schools and a movie theater and a coal-fired power plant that provided electricity to a big part of the Big Sandy Valley. There were murders and fights and moonshiners, but there were also baseball games and 8th-grade graduations and “society news,” which was really just a list of who visited whom.
Dad went through 40 years’ wrote of old newspapers to find everything he could about the life and times of Van Lear, and when you read these hundreds of clips in chronological order, you get a real sense of what it must have been like to live there in the first half of the 20th century.
Anyway, that’s my shameless plug. The book’s at Amazon and in the Kindle store. If you’re from that part of the country, you might enjoy it. If you’re from someplace else, well, we won’t hold it against you.