Like Loretta Lynn, she was “bornd” a coal miner’s daughter. Dotsy Pressler is a Waynedale resident and has lived here most of her married life.
Dotsy Smith was born at home near Verda in Harlan County KY. The actual place was Grave Holler, which was part of Joneses Creek. Joneses Creek was named for one of Dotsy’s ancestors who fought in the Civil War.
Harlan County is rightly named Bloody Harlan or Dark and Bloody Harlan. One of Dotsy’s friends saw her father shot in front of the schoolhouse as she was coming after school. He had recently been elected sheriff. Bootlegging was rampant in Harlan County even though it was a dry county. Those who practiced it did not want any kind of law or they wanted someone they could bribe.
Dotsy walked to school with her brother and sister to the little town of Ages. They either walked over the mountain or down the railroad tracks. Needless to say, they weren’t very clean when they arrived there. They also attended the Baptist Church in that town.
Unlike the cabin where Loretta Lynn grew up, their home was really nice. Her father worked at Brookside Coal Camp. This camp had it’s own carpenters and kept up the properties well. The homes were painted in a rainbow of colors. It was one of the prettiest coal mining camps in Kentucky.
Seven-year old Dotsy, her brother, five, and Mildred their twelve-year old sister formed the Smith Trio. Mildred sang and played the piano. They sang in churches and on the radio in Harlan. A glass record was made of their singing that has disintegrated by now. “When we went to the recording studio, it was the first time we’d ridden in an elevator. My sister Mildred was worried on the way up and said, ‘there’s no room for a piano in here.’
Dotsy and her brother got so tired of singing all the time. They wanted to play but their sister just made them keep on practicing.
Dotsy’s high school music teacher gave her great encouragement. He wanted her to go to New York to study music and she probably would have done that except there was threat of a strike by the coal miners. She says, “Music was the only reason I stayed in school. Most of my friends dropped out as soon as they were old enough.”
Coal Mining is every bit as hard as we have heard. Dotsy’s father eventually died of the dreaded Black Lung disease. There was just no way to escape it. They bought from the company store with scrip given on payday. Dotsy’s father didn’t owe his soul to the company store as the song goes but always bought as little as possible so he could get cash to go where things were cheaper. Mr. Smith suffered from rheumatism for a long time. He was unable to work but the union helped the family with their needs. Finally one day he left. The family didn’t know where he went. He went to Harlan to see the pharmacist and asked him, “What would you do if you were in my shoes? If I can’t get rid of this pain so I can take care of my family, I see no reason to live.” He was completely stooped over. The pharmacist recommended he go over the Cumberland Mountain to see a chiropractor. Mr. Smith stayed three days with the doctor working on him off and on during that time. He came back to his family standing straight and tall. The problem had been a pinched nerve. Dotsy recalls, “That was probably the best Christmas time we ever had. Our daddy was well.”
After high school, Dotsy worked as a waitress in Harlan. Opportunities for jobs were rare so her father advised her to come to Fort Wayne to join her sister. Dotsy began working for Indiana Bell, later GTE. She was named Operator of the Year. The caption in the newspaper read, “Who is GTE? Dotsy Pressler is.” The column featured her with her picture.
I met Dotsy while working at Taylor University. She was the switchboard operator. We are good friends and I have traveled to Kentucky with her twice.
Dotsy was married to John Pressler one day short of 46 years. He died of cancer just one year ago. She has a son David who lives in Columbia City and a daughter Sandy who teaches school in Georgia.
An amazing incident happened to her when she went with her sister to visit their brother in North Carolina. The car began to sputter. They were clearly out of gas even though the gage showed there was still a quarter of a tank; but the car stopped. She got out to rock it a little to see if she could get it going. It did start and she was able to drive it off to the shoulder before it stopped. After putting on the hazard lights and raising the hood they left the car to sit on a fence that divided the four-lane highway. No one stopped to help. After twenty minutes Dotsy said, “We’ll have to start walking to get some help.” Just then, an old truck stopped behind them. An old man came towards them carrying a gas tank. She asked if one of the truckers going the other way had radioed that someone was in trouble. He shook his head no. “But I have two gallons of gas here. That will be enough for you to get to a filling station.” They tried to pay him but he would not take any money no matter how hard they tried. So, Dotsy just gave him a big hug.
They got in the car and when they looked back he was not there. He could not have turned around because of the barrier in the highway nor could he have passed them with out them seeing him. Besides, he had to walk back to his truck. Her sister said, “That had to be an angel.” Of course, Dotsy agreed. Dotsy said, “If my sister had not been with me, I know no one would believe me.” Another unexplained thing is that after checking the gas gage, there was nothing wrong with it. Dotsy told me, ” We were so calm while we were sitting there, now I know why.”
Does anyone doubt there really are angels among us? I don’t have any doubts.
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