This is the intriguing story of the arduous childhood of a miner's son growing up in the Appalachian coalfields of southwestern Pennsylvania. The brokenness of Terry Wardle's early life led to problems in adulthood that brought him to confinement in a psychiatric hospital. But that was not the end--in time Wardle experienced an emotional and spiritual transformation that began a journey toward greater health and personal freedom. So what does a man whose life was shaped by an often affectionate, sometimes hilarious, and always dysfunctional family have to share with all of us? Some Kind of Crazy is alternately, funny, tragic, insightful, and deeply biblical, a riveting book that will lead you to a place where God may touch and heal your own brokenness, whatever form it may take.
|Publisher:||The Crown Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.62(d)|
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Chapter 1: Broken
I once asked my dad if anyone had ever called us hillbillies. “If they ever dared to, I guarantee they’d never try it a second time,” he said. “After a guy in a grocery store called your grandma white trash, Grandpap beat him out the door and down the steps in two seconds flat.”
“’Course it wasn’t like Grandpap was trying to stick up for her,” he chuckled. “He’d probably been cheating on her the night before. He just didn’t like some guy calling his woman white trash.”
My grandfather was a rough and ruddy character, a short man whose face was littered with freckles that spilled down his neck and onto his muscular arms. With ice-blue eyes set close above a large nose red from years in the sun, he smelled of diesel fuel and dirt. Despite his rough edges, Grandpap could be pleasant, charming even, until somebody triggered him. When that happened, look out!
Life in Venetia, a hamlet in the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania, was never easy, especially for coal miners whose labor was both brutish and backbreaking. Every year the mine claimed its tithe of men. Those that survived formed a union and then walked off the job in protest, setting up picket lines that quickly turned into battle lines that soon became violent.
I’ll never forget what happened to Ol’ Man Barns, who lived in a three-room shack perched on the edge of a hill just above the railroad tracks. His worn-out patch of dirt couldn’t produce enough food to feed his wife and kids, so when the owners of the Slopjar Mine dangled a small bonus in front of anyone who would cross the picket line, poor Ol’ Barns took the bait.
Grandpap was furious when he heard the news. Like every other coal miner in our one-intersection town, he was 100 percent behind the strike. Barns was a scab, a traitor, and every infernal name Grandpap could think to call him. Clad in his favorite wifebeater T-shirt and a pair of grease-stained work pants, Grandpap paced the living room. Back and forth he stomped, running calloused hands through his reddish-brown hair, cussing a blue streak and threatening that he was going to make Ol’ Barns pay.
It must have been something to witness the white-hot curses that flew from his mouth like great bolts of lightning and the blue-tinged veins that bulged from his unwashed neck.
As Grandpap raged on about Barns’s treachery, bitter winds blew through cracks in the rotted siding of my grandparents’ not-so-snug home. Even the roaring fire couldn’t fend off the chill that filled their shack that night.
But there was another fire burning—the one in Grandpap’s gut. As his anger grew red hot, it forced him out of the house and into the darkness. His plan was simple enough. Head to the mine, break into the toolshed, and grab a stick of dynamite and a fuse. Thus armed, he would climb the wooded hill to Ol’ Man Barns’s house where he would teach that scab a lesson he would never forget.
Confident no one could see him under the cover of night, Grandpap lit the fuse and then tossed the dynamite beneath the shabby porch that ran across the front of the old house.
Moments later, the porch disintegrated and a section of the house blew up. The blast was so powerful it propelled Mrs. Barns onto the top of the kitchen stove and laid her husband out cold on the living room floor.
Satisfied that it was a deed well done and in secret, Grandpap made his way back home through the night, settling beside Grandma on the couch, smugly confident that she was none the wiser about his nighttime errand.
But there were limits to Grandpap’s brilliance. Like bread crumbs left by a child to mark his way home, his footprints in the snow led the police straight to his house. The cops followed his size nines right to the front door and arrested him on the spot, ignoring his vigorous protests of innocence. Couldn’t they see he had been sitting with his wife on the couch the whole night?
Despite the evidence, Grandpap was acquitted on a technicality, which many surmise was the result of money changing hands. How Grandpap blew up Ol’ Man Barns’s house soon became part of the local lore, etching itself into our family history.
Grandpap and the Wardle Clan
People say that an apple always falls close to the tree. That was certainly the case when it came to Grandpap. His father, my great-grandfather, was an English outlaw by the name of Edwin Wardle, who, after serving time in prison, immigrated to America, leaving his wife and two children behind. Living with members of his mother’s family, Edwin soon got his cousin Annie pregnant and then married her, despite the fact that he still had a family in England.
Together Annie and Edwin Wardle bought a farm in Venetia, in the middle of the Appalachian coalfields. Their marriage produced eight children, one of whom was Howard, or Howd, as Grandpap was called.
Howd and his brothers had two career choices—farming or coal mining. My grandpap chose the latter. All but one of his siblings stayed in Venetia, raising large families that were fiercely loyal to each other.
The Wardle clan was colorful and unpredictable with my grandpap being the most unpredictable of them all. By today’s standards he would have been labeled a sex addict and a repeat offender. Back then people said he had a “way with the women” or that he was given to “sowing wild oats.”
In 1925 when he was eighteen, Howd got a sixteen-year-old girl by the name of Bessie Murdy pregnant. She was later known to me as Grandma Mose. The two quickly married and then set up housekeeping in a neighborhood known as Bedbug Row. On the first day of June in 1926, my father was born. They named him, of course, Howard.
Both my grandparents were hot tempered and unyielding, which made for a fiery relationship. Disagreements would erupt into fights in which fists and frying pans would frequently fly. Inevitably, these arguments left soul-deep scars. After four chaotic years and one more child, they called it quits. Then my grandparents went their separate, irresponsible ways while their children were given to neighbors to raise.
Six years later Grandpap married an unsuspecting widow by the name of Matilda Yankeste Hardinger. We called her Grandma Til. But that was a loveless marriage too.
Like a child looking for someone to blame when things went wrong, Grandpap fingered my dad, saying he was the reason he had to marry two women he never loved. To young Puz, as my dad was called, the message was crystal clear—his daddy never wanted him.
Still, Howd found a use for his son. He started taking him out of school when he was only twelve years old, for two or three days a week, so he could help work Howd’s wildcat coal mine. While other kids were getting an education, my father was breathing coal dust and loading a pit car by hand. Meanwhile, his father was off carousing with married women whose husbands had gone off to work.
An equal-opportunity offender, Grandpap cheated on both his wives. Grandma Til used to drive through town, going house to house trying to catch him out. To show his displeasure at her distrust, Grandpap simply muscled his motorcycle into the living room and then changed the oil on her new carpet.
One day while he was hammering to free a broken bolt on a bulldozer, the top of the punch mushroomed and a piece of metal flew off and lodged in his eye. The local doctor did his best to remove the splinter of metal, but missed something. As the sliver moved deeper, the infection grew so severe that my grandfather had to have his left eye removed. Being fitted with a glass eye opened the door to the sick humor for which he was already famous.
Grandpap’s favorite trick was to order a sandwich at a diner and then call out to the waitress, complaining that there was something wrong with his lunch. “This sandwich is looking at me,” he would shout, every patron startled by his sudden outburst.
As the waitress hurried to the table, he would lift the top piece of bread and there it was—a big blue eyeball staring straight out of the ham and swiss! The waitress would shriek, and everyone at the table would laugh. Once again, my grandfather was the star of his very own three-ring circus.
Despite Grandpap’s bad behavior, members of my family recall tales of Howd with genuine endearment. To relatives he was the Robin Hood of Venetia, though no one seemed to recall that he stole from both the rich and the poor, robbing his immediate family most of all.