29 this morning, warmed to about 40 with a little sun this afternoon.
Fred Powers, telling tales at a storytelling festival, the first time I met him.
I was stunned and so sad to hear of the death of my dear friend, Fred Powers. Fred was a force in this world, a man who started work in the coal mines on his wedding day, went to college while working full time as a miner, retired from mining to become a middle school teacher, and went on to earn his Master's degree while teaching. He became a storyteller while he was a teacher and traveled extensively telling the story of his life as a miner.
Thousands of adults and school children learned about the rigors of mining through Fred's presentations. He brought the tools of his trade with him, and often this was the first time people had ever seen or even heard of the kinds of tools necessary to a miner's existence. He earned the WV History Hero award and published a book or two of his stories. He was always working on new stories. His nickname in the coal mines was Powerhouse--he was a powerful man in more ways than one. The name followed him into storytelling.
With Fred--in the yellow shirt--and other West Virginia storytellers at a storytelling event.
But wilth all of that, Fred was about the most humble person I ever had the privilege to meet. He didn't think he was smart--although he certainly was--and he worked hard to learn and explore new ideas. We spent many hours together on the storytelling trail, often sharing the same stage, and frequently just hanging out with other storytellers after performances to talk and laugh and just be together. Fred was never one to demand the limelight; often he just sat back and listened, which is after all the mark of a good storyteller. His wife often accompanied him on his travels, and began doing presentations of her own on Appalachian games; they were a good couple, sharing Appalachian culture wherever they went.
I learned a lot about coal mining from Fred. When I met him I was already collecting some mining tools and telling a few stories from my husband's childhood in a coal camp. Fred was my go-to man when something puzzled me about a tool, or I needed to better understand some aspect of mining. We did a few presentations together and talked about doing more of them; our work complemented each other. Now that possibility is gone, and now telling the stories and singing the ballads will always remind me of my missing friend and the pleasure of listening to him. Fred's stories were always insightful, weaving humor, grit, determination and hope even when the story was about near-death experiences. What a storyteller. What a man.
Goodbye, my friend. You had a big, big heart, but in the end that heart just wore out. Your light has gone out of this world, and you will be sorely missed by all who were lucky enough to know you.
If you'd like to see and hear more about Fred and his work, this link will take you to his website. Be sure to scroll down to watch the videos.
Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.