Carl Privett was my maternal grandfather. Born on February 23, 1911 in the hills of West Virginia he was one of six children born to Henry Clay and Alice Privett. From what I’ve been told, he “Daddy Carl” was a chip off the old block, a man very similar to his larger than life father, Henry.
Henry was a sheriff in Logan County West Virginia. Henry was involved in West Virginia Mine Wars. He is mentioned specifically in congressional hearings about violence in the coal fields that culminated in the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921, the largest armed insurrection since the Civil War. Henry was a large powerful man. My grandfather told me of how Henry once broke a man’s neck in line of duty by just striking him with his open hand He and his siblings had been sitting at the dinner table when the call came in informing Henry of the man’s fate, to which he replied, “bury the son of a bitch and I’ll pay for it”.
My grandfather was known as “Daddy Carl” by all his grandchildren. Not one to embrace aging or the titles that follow, Daddy Carl insisted that he was too young to ever be referred to more traditional labels. He never seemed old to me, not even as he approached the end of his life. Perhaps this was because he never took the time to age. He never stopped moving; he was always working. He started working in the coal mines at the age of 16 as much as 80 hours per week; work so dangerous and physically demanding that few survived more than a few years doing it. He did it for over 45 years. At the same time in1927 he also played tight end for the Logan Wildcats an independent league pro football team in West Virginia. The team was named after Devil Anse Hatfield’s group of vigilantes. Daddy Carl told me stories of much older teammates and the violence that permeated every facet of the game back then.
He survived union uprisings, a house fire, numerous fights, mining, the death of his infant son, and “black lung” for 82 years. Ashamed that he couldn’t be drafted in WWII because of his occupation, he often told me how badly he felt that friends and family members had to go in his place. His greatest sorrow was burying his stillborn son; carrying the casket up a hillside of a Kentucky hillside where he laid Carl, Jr. to rest. Nevertheless, he persisted. He refused to quit. He was a man of principle but generous and kind. Far from a saint, he was prejudiced and had a hair trigger temper, traits not uncommon for men of his time. Yet, he treated everyone with kindness so long as they did nothing to slander or harm a family member.