Interview with Charles Havens
February 21, 2002
By Jessica and Trista Bradshaw
I was born on March 13, 1925, in Rocky Gap I believe, lived up Pinch Creek, the doctor was close to Rocky Gap. William Havens was my daddy and Effie was my mom, she died when I was 11 when she was 37 years old, she died on Christmas Eve. My parents were also born in Bland County. My daddy logged and farmed, my mom worked in the house, housewife, not many do that anymore you know.
I guess I didn’t get much whipping back then, I wasn’t to mean I guess. Went to church every Sunday, three miles or more, there and back to church I guess it was. If you weren’t sick you went. Everybody was happy you didn’t have much, but everybody was the same.
My grandparents were Willie Havens and Victoria. Then Doc Nunn and Cynthia Nunn. They were born in Bland County I guess. I stayed with them some, walk with Granny down the holler. I had no brothers, just one sister living, and one sister dead. My nickname was Chuck or Charlie. The church I went to was Shady Grove, used to be a school house. The church activities I participated in were picnics, don’t have it like they do now. Play ball, but not till after one o’clock.
We weren’t mean at church, we believed what they told us, I guess, and we would get into the church activities. I was raised on Mire Branch and Pinch Creek. Stayed with Granny and aunt too. My earliest memory was going to Charlottesville to see mother in the hospital. When I was small we played with wagons, stick horses, no trucks to play with. Raised a pet lamb or something. Tough back then, plenty of stuff to raise yourself. Toys I played with were trucks you screwed flashlights in head. Boys played baseball, girls went snipe hunting and boys left them.
My granddad Doc was the storyteller in my family. I don’t remember any of the stories, they were just bear tales and all that stuff. My chores around the house were getting the wood in, feeding the chickens, and all that junk. I didn’t have a favorite, I had to do um so it didn’t matter to me. All of them I guess. Well, we just lived in a farmhouse with six rooms. It was heated with a stove. We got our water from an outside pump.
We cooked our food on a wood stove, a cook stove. Our clothes were washed and dried with a washboard. My uncle always cut my hair, Henry Nunn, he had clippers. He was a pretty good hair cutter. He cut every boys out there. We used an outhouse, it was the only place we had, it was just a little building, I guess. We grew just a little bit of everything in our garden; beans, potato patch. My mom always had 15 to 2,000 cans, everyone did. Canned everything, didn’t have a refrigerator or anything. Have to salt the ham. It would get cold and you have to take a saw and saw it.
I like anything to eat, beans and tators I guess. I guess tender loin in the meat part. Oh Lord they give me so much for an earache I don’t know. They had to, but I don’t know. You only went to the doctor when you were half dead. Doctor Davidson, come see ya if you were sick, but you had to be sick. I missed about a year of school with pneumonia; they called it the killing flu.
I went to school in Hollybrook. School was reading, writing, arithmetic taught a tune with a hickory stick. They ain’t teaching you youngins enough history, that’s why the country going down the other way. For lunch, I took bacon, eggs, sausage, and ham, but you put it on a biscuit. We walked three miles both ways to school, I think the last couple of years we went we had a school bus, but we still had to walk a half mile to catch the bus. Mrs. Tickle was my first grade teacher. Mrs. Marge Blankenship, seemed like she taught seventh and eight grade I believe. And old man Harry Bird seems like he taught ninth grade.
The teachers made the students behave with a paddle or stick, no they didn’t use a paddle they used a stick. When one of them said something they scared ya. I was a good little boy at school; I never got a whipping at school anyways. Most kids were too tired from walking from school to get in trouble. They’d have Christmas plays at school.
Our school used to put on programs. Just they’d have something to say sometimes then plays for four or five people in um. People from the community would come to see the plays. I played basketball. There were no clubs around back then. When I was a child we used to play basketball and baseball. We had rules just like today, I guess, for these sports. We played on dirt courts. If you get to go to finals you’d play on a court inside at Bland. Basketball and baseball were the same.
My favorite sport was basketball, I liked both, but basketball I guess, was my favorite. We used to go fishing, swimming on Sunday afternoon after one o’clock. We didn’t build bonfires and have snowball fights because we were to tired, we would sleigh ride a little bit. I had two or three of best friends, all of them. When boys go out we would go with dad. We were all friends. They were bout like me I guess, a knucklehead.
Yeah, we would court if they got up pretty age they did. Walk home from church or ride in the back of a pickup truck. Had to grow up fast and go off to war. I went on dates, but not till I got out of school. Sometimes we would go to Bluefield to the movies and go with my uncle to the Rat Hole that is what we called it, go to the movies for a dime. They used to show movies in the old big building at Hollybrook. I wasn’t allowed to go to beer joints, but there weren’t no beer joints neither. I guess I been to one a couple of times, but not very often.
I was afraid of Old Veto Alley. It was a beer joint, too wild. Kids weren’t allowed; we wouldn’t even get to go to a place like Woody’s. I met my wife when I was in on leave one time, she was going to school at the Gap. We were married up Laurel. There was one preacher and her pappy at the wedding. Old Akers married us. Supposed to be on Saturday, but blood tests didn’t come back. No big fancy stuff. My wife’s name was Elma Gunner. We had four children, three boys and one girl. They were born in Bluefield, no wait, Bill the oldest was born in Welch, Howard the next was born in Bluefield, then Danny and Debbie were born in Bluefield too.
I guess it would be easier to raise kids then instead of now. They’d turn out better. Trust em more anyway. There were some rough ones at Hollybrook; some kids drank. There were some businesses in Hollybrook; a few sawmills, a manganese washer down in Dismal and Hollybrook. For fun, we had parties every once in a while, but we didn’t have a lot of time for that. The teenagers would hang out at home. My first job was the Manganese place down in Dismal. I think I got about 25 cents an hour or something like that.
We had trees and presents for Christmas, but you trimmed the tree in popcorn, you didn’t know what lights was, used colored paper or something. You’d have a pretty tree but not much to put on it. If you had lights, you didn’t have no electricity to go with em. We would have turkey and punkin pie all that good stuff, go out an cut a turkey’s head off and dress him for the dinner. I don’t have a favorite Christmas memory, but I remember a bad one when my mother died on Christmas Eve 1937, I still remember that come ever Christmas. I guess it just sticks there when you are little.
On Halloween, we would cut a few trees down across the road. We killed hogs on Thanksgiving, made ice cream on the Fourth of July and ate watermelon. We had to go to Bluefield to get ice, hundred pound blocks I believe. We went to church on Easter Sunday, hunt Easter eggs at home. We made boxes and put Valentine’s in it, when we were little you know. Women from the community would get together and make quilts; I guess they would gossip while they were doing that. The first president that I remembered is the one that drafted me, I guess, McKinley. I guess, we used to listen to him on the radio and stuff when there were campaigns and stuff.
My favorite movie star was Betty Grabel. I listened to country music, Grand Ole Opry. We called it Grand Ole Oproar when we were little. Sometimes people in the community would make music, Henry Nunn and his wife would. They would do it at home on Saturday night or if someone had company; they’d play. There wasn’t any dancing it was bad medicine for you. Some of the people that lived on Mire Branch were old man Roney Nunn, James Nunn’s daddy, Square Munsey, Floyd Ramsey, and Clay Brown.
Most people made a living farming, saw milling, and stuff like that. In this part of the country, my daddy logged all the time with a team of horses. And the flooring mill in Bastian, wood making stuff you know. The weather back then was cold, it was a lot colder than it is now. Summer was hot, winter was cold. Snow in October and you wouldn’t see the ground until the end of March most times. You didn’t get out of school just for one flake. Yeah, there’s been floods, in July, washed out everybody’s wheat spots.
I’ve heard Doc Nunn hunting stories; they weren’t stories. He killed a lot of them. Roney and Sally Nunn, were my aunt and uncle. They was alright; they worked hard and raised a big family. It was dark up Mire Branch, we had a few lightning bugs.
I remember when I first heard that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. It was a Sunday, and we had just got back from Sunday school, 1941, December 7. Floyd turned the radio on. When I heard, I knew I was going to fight in the war. You could see we was gonna have World War II. I don’t know much about that. Mussolini was an Old Man I cant think. Yeah, Russia’s President. Both Hitler and Mussolini were bad. Before the war, I was working down at washer, during summertime. I went to school the rest of the time. I didn’t volunteer to be in the U.S. Navy, I was drafted.
For my six weeks of training I went to Great Lakes, Illinois. I got there by train. I hadn’t traveled away from home, except to maybe Bluefield, before the war. During basic training I got shots and marched, I was pretty scared. There wasn’t a drill sergeant in the Navy, you thought he was gonna kill ya. He just had to learn ya fast. There were a lot of recruits, they were from Rhode Island, New York, and places like that. I made a couple of friends, you really weren’t there long enough to make a lot of friends. I was trained on a three inch gun. I’ve baked bread and everything. I was Petty Officer 3rd class, 2nd by time I got out. My experience in service helped me in general.
After basic training, I went to Port Wilmington, North Carolina. I got there by train, everything moved by train. Then we spent Christmas on water down in that hole for five days and five nights about to freeze to death. I shipped out of the states in December 1943. You found out where you were going, once you got there. We went by troop shift to New Caledonia. We were only there overnight, we were replacements. I was scared to death. I was stationed on a ship, the USS Lipan, named for an Indian tribe but Mohawk wasn’t there. My fellow officers were from, all over the country, Baker from New Jersey, Ohio, West Virginia, and some feller was from Montecalm. One guys name was Kermit Keys and he ended up making a preacher of himself.
After the service we kept in touch. They kept up with me for twenty-five years. One called me from Saltville when phones came out. Some of the places we went to were Guadalcanal, Guam, South Nam, Okinawa, Midway, we’d see how deep the water was before we invaded it. I was in the fighting in 1944 till it was over. They dropped the H-bomb on our own ships after the war was over. I think we lost one man. He jumped overboard and a shark got him for real. He was a firefighter. During the war we used, three-inch guns, forty-five, fifty caliber machine guns. We had em from sixteen down.
I used a three-inch gun on the bough. We shot planes down, but we didn’t know if we killed anybody. The scariest moment in the war for me was when we headed to Tokyo. When you were under fire, you didn’t really have time to think about what was going on. I fought all around the island, Midway, Battle of Coral Sea, Battle of Lady Gulf. We were shot at by Japanese aircraft dozens at a time. Got so you had to knock em out of the sky. I saw some kamikaze attacks. I saw some Japanese prisoners, but not many cause they killed themselves. Japanese soldiers told the parents to throw babies out and jump behind them. They were heathens. The Japanese were skinny and practically dead.
I don’t want nothing to do with the Japanese. They might be nice now, but they were bad then. They asked for morphine and cigarettes all the time. Well, most of the Japanese we saw were happy, but we never got on the beach that much. We just seen em from the ship. I was on my way to invade them when I heard about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There must have been about five hundred ships. I thought we were going to have to invade Japan, actually that’s where we were headed when we heard about the bombings. I think dropping the atomic bomb saved my life and many others.
I would write letters to my dad, sister, and aunt. The letters took about eighteen months to get there. They were a comfort even if the letters were a year old. I came back home with my ship, when I finished cleaning it up. When I returned home I started driving a truck, I was too old to go back to school. We had to have World War II. We wouldn’t have this country today if we didn’t.