My Notebook for Weekend of Rocket Boys’ Festival-(Part III)
Saturday, October 5-Sunday, October 6, 2013
Saturday was the Rocket Boys’ Festival, and it provided us plenty of opportunities to walk about and enjoy the sights and the entertainment. The day kicked off with a wonderful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by Rhayne Thomas. And, of course, Homer and the three other Rocket Boys (Billy Rose, Jimmie O’Dell Carroll, and Roy Lee Cooke) were introduced at the beginning of the festivities front and center on the entertainment stage. And we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day weatherwise: Clear, blue skies, lots of sunshine, and enough of a breeze to keep things comfortable.
The first thing Nick and I did was to pay a visit to the front porch of Exhibition Coal Mine & Museum where Homer’s wife, Linda, had all of Homer’s books available for sale. She also added her signature to my copy of Rocket Boys, right under Homer’s. This porch would also be the place where Homer would be signing books and having his picture snapped a million times throughout the day.
I am still truly amazed at the endurance Homer displayed, standing behind a lectern most of the day. Not sure how he held up with the number of people that came to meet him. A true testament to a person who cares about his many fans! The procedure for this was made simpler by the old “take-a-number” method. Nick’s and my number weren’t going to be called until much later, so we wandered about and took in the atmosphere of the fun day.
Nick and I were very impressed with the wonderful items on display inside the coal museum. The actual artifacts of the mining profession displayed makes one truly realize just how tough and dangerous a job the miners face, day after day. And to anyone reading this, if their travels should take them anywhere near Beckley, West Virginia, I would highly recommend a visit to this Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine/Museum, located in New River Park. There’s also a nice Youth Museum as well.
Later in the afternoon, I was ready to return to our hotel to kick back, get some writing done, and get ready to head off for the annual Chili Night in downtown Beckley. It was an early evening since the next morning would be another early wake-up for our bus trip to Coalwood.
As usual, our morning started with a visit to the breakfast area where I enjoyed coffee, scrambled eggs, and a small bowl of fruit. Nick, who had been reading my copy of Rocket Boys throughout the weekend, trying to finish it up before our trip had ended, had the book with him at breakfast. As we were finishing, a familiar face was in the food line. That familiar face belonged to Rocket Boy, Jimmie O’Dell Carroll. With breakfast plate in hand, he walked past Nick and me, taking the table right beside us.
A few minutes later, this Rocket Boy was going back for something in the food area, and noticing the copy of Rocket Boys lying on our table, said, “What do you think of those guys?” I told him that I thought the book was great and that we were there for the purpose of meeting him and the other Rocket Boys! He liked this, laughed, and shook our hands. From that point on for the next while, we talked about the festival from the day before, and he even returned to his room for his camera to show us pictures he’d taken of the trip into the Exhibition Coal Mine. He had asked if we had taken the tour of it, and I said that I was a bit claustrophobic and not too sure about such things. He said that it wouldn’t have been bad. His photos proved that, so I told him next time I’d visit the Exhibition Coal Mine.
Then the real fun began! I explained that I had attended the Writers’ Workshop on Friday night, and Homer had signed my book, and that Linda had signed it at the Festival. Showing him this, he asked if he could sign it as well. Without question, I wanted him to do so! After adding his own unique autograph, he did something quite memorable. He said that he could sign all of the other signatures for the Rocket Boys, and I told him that would be great. Hesitating no more, he forged the signatures of the other Rocket Boys–one not even living (Sherman Siers) and one not in attendance (Quentin Wilson)–and handed me the book.
About that time, Jimmie O’Dell Carroll saw Roy Lee Cooke fixing his coffee at the coffee station. “Hey, Roy,” he called to him. Roy Lee looked up and came on over and joined us. I introduced Nick and myself to him and handed him my book for his “authentic” signature. We continued to chat and enjoy the friendly banter for a while longer before it was time to make the short drive over to Tamarack where we’d board a nice tour bus for the trip over to Coalwood—hometown of Homer and the Rocket Boys.
And what a fine experience that trip to Coalwood turned out to be! The details of that will be the subject of my next post….CortlandWriter