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“The Best of Times by Far”

A Visit With Sue Dingess of MacDunn

Interview by Ericka Bain

Sue Dingess at home
Sue (Mayes) Dingess today at her home in St. Albans. Sue has vivid memories of her early years,
growing up in the Fayette County coal community of MacDunn. Photograph by Michael Keller.

As the miners were accumulating coal in the Fayette County town of MacDunn, Sue Dingess was gathering memories. Sue was born in MacDunn on August 28, 1941. At that time, Koppers Coal Company employed 303 miners at MacDunn. They also gave work to two special people in Sue’s life: her parents Vernon and Alice Mayes, who both worked for the coal company store.

Sue was raised in coal mining communities until she was 18 years old. I interviewed her recently at her St. Albans home, which Sue shares with her husband Ronald. She discussed with me many of the experiences she had as a child in the coal camps. Just as the miner’s light would be used for a better view, Sue gave me a little “light” so I could see more clearly what growing up in a coal mining community was like.

Sue Dingess. I was born in a converted railroad boxcar in an area known as Eagle Flats. In the coal towns, there was not enough houses for everyone. As a house would become available, you could apply for it, and we did move. I know we didn’t live there when I was five, so it was somewhere between birth and five years old when we moved into a house. I remember the house that we lived in. It was build on the side of the hill. When you go into the coalfield area, the mountains close in on you, and you are really in a valley. The house, the back of it kind of sat on a hill with stilts on the front of it. All I remember of the house was it had one bedroom, a living room, and a kitchen.

Ericka Bain. What did your parents do in the town?

SD. Both of my parents worked in the company store. My mother was the bookkeeper, and my father was a meat cutter.

EB. Did you hang out a lot at the store when you were younger?

SD. With my dad, constantly with my dad. It used to scare me when Daddy would go into the freezer to bring out a piece of meat to cut up and the door would close. I thought, oh God, what if he can’t get out of there! Even as a big kid, I still didn’t like that. When I was in junior high school, I would get off the bus and go right to the store. Daddy would cut me a big piece of longhorn cheese. Then you could buy crackers in little individual packages. He would buy me a Coke, cheese, and crackers, and I would sit there and talk to him. They would have to clean everything up and wash at night. A lot of times, then, we would walk home together.

EB. Is it fair to say you were a “daddy’s girl?”

SD. Very much so!

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.