Sunday, August 22, 2010
John Emerson Hoffman (born August 24, 1908)
CHRISTY AND TIFFANY,
(AUGUST 24, 2010) Today would have been my father's 102 birthday.
He was born in West Virginia and lived most of his life there, moving to Maryland in his late 60s. He died in La Plata, MD, in December 1980, 3 months before he got to meet his first grandchild, Christy. My dad's father (Noah Emerson Washington Hoffman) was a "fire boss" in the coal mines of Southern West Virginia. The fire boss was the worker who went into the mine before the shift started and checked the air for methane gas. It was the fire boss who determined if the mine was safe for working. In early years he carried a canary in a cage. If the canary died, there was too much methane; if the canary lived, the shift would start. Later there was a lamp that was carried that detected the methane with the fire going out if there happened to be too much methane in the air.
My father was a hard working man who liked working with his hands. He enjoyed being a plumber. He started out working in plumbing with Crockett Mullins, the grandfather of my freshman year roommate and best friend in high school, Mike Mullins. My dad used to take Mike's dad to school when he worked there.
He then started his own company with a man I never met named Glenn Barger. In 1949 he started Hoffman Plumbing and Heating and worked out of our house on North Oakwood in Beckley until we moved to the house on North Kanawha between my freshman and sophomore year in high school. I worked for my father two summers - right out of high school and shortly after my first year of college. It was during these summers that I learned to appreciate how hard he worked and was anxious to get back to the classroom in the fall.
During the years I knew my father, he had white hair and blue eyes. He was quite muscular and had tanned arms since he did most of his work out of doors. He stood a little over 6' and, in my young eyes, was a very gentle giant. He got frustrated with me at times, as all father are wont to do, yelled at me a few times, threatened to give me a whipping with his belt, which he never did, and was a very loving father. He came from a family that was colder than the warmth he showed. I think my mother, whose family seemed to be warmer, helped to make my dad as he was.
I know he had a temper. There were times during the summers when I worked with him that he showed that temper. He would get frustrated with a tight pipe which wouldn't budge and utter an occasional "damn." Generally, though, he didn't cuss. There was a story he told me about working with Mr. Mullins, during my dad's apprentice years, when my dad had lost his temper working in a second floor bathroom, and got so angry he threw the pipe wrench out the window. Mr. Mullins made him go right out and get it and bring it back upstairs. Fortunately, the window was open when he threw the wrench.
My dad enjoyed fishing and would sometimes go on overnight fishing trips with friends on the New River. He brought back the fish, and my mom was expected to clean them, which she did without complaint. He also went hunting and would bring back some squirrels and rabbits for my mother to clean and fry up.
My dad never served in the military being too old to get drafted during WWII and too young for WWI. However, he did try to get into the SeaBees (Construction Battalion - they did construction work in war zones) of the Army but was denied because of some thyroid problem. My mother was headed to Charleston to join the Women's Army Corp. when she got word that my dad was not accepted into the CeeBees; she immediately came back home
During WWII my mother and father lived in Pearisburg, Virginia, where my dad worked at Celanese, a plastics plant that made war supplies. My dad worked as a pipe fitter during at least one year, and he and my mother talked about how with rations during the war, it was difficult for them to drive to Beckley to see family because of the gas shortage. They would turn the engine off of their car and coast down the mountains between Princeton and Pearisburg, for great distances, as they returned home.
During his retirement years in Maryland, he enjoyed visiting Sis and Brodie's farm. He would help Brodie doing chores and enjoyed driving the tractor on the farm and messing around in the barns. He enjoyed Cobb Island and made enjoyed the last years of his life there.
He was a man raised in the coal camps of West Virginia, but lived a good and rather simple life. He only took one long trip out of the mountains, and that was to Florida where he went with a neighbor to visit the neighbor's son and go fishing. He went down on a train; he never flew in an airplane. He did talk of a trip before I was born when he went to Cincinnati, Ohio, to visit his father in a hospital there (your great grandfather was a veteran of the Spanish-American War). There were seveal trips to Washington, DC, but other than living the last few years of his life in Maryland, he traveled very little outside of West Virginia, though he did take us to visit relatives in North Carolina about twice a year.
Perhaps, his favorite place to visit was Nitro, West Virginia, where he would travel some weekends to visit Aunt Anna Lee and Woodie. There he, Mom, Aunt Anna Lee and Woodie would spend hours playing a game called BUMP, a board game with marbles. After supper they would often venture to the long side yard of the Nitro house and play lawn darts. My dad was competitive, but seemed to not really care whether he won or lost - he just enjoyed the fellowship of my mom and my aunt and uncle. He called Nitro his "rest home."
As for areas of creativity, my dad was a poet. He published a number of his poems in the Beckley newspapers in the 1920s and 30s. He also wrote a song that was copyrighted in 1930. The song was called "Mother of Mine."
This, I hope, gives an idea of who my father was. He provided for his family a good life, and gave my sister and me a ticket to our futures by encouraging our educational ventures. Education was very important to him. He graduated from high school and was a voracious reader. He and my mom were members of the Book of the Month Club and read many of the great works of literature when the works were merely called "popular literature." Though neither had a college education, they made sure that my sister and I did - it was important to them, and, for that, I will always be grateful.