By Melinda Grisco
Horsepen Mountain has many unhappy ghosts, dark secrets and good soil on the steep slopes. The road going through the area is so winding folks say, “you meet yourself coming and going”. It is a treacherous place to walk or drive even in good weather.
Many cars and trucks have gone over the abrupt edges on the hairpin turns. The state doesn’t waste any money on guardrails on that stretch of route 52. People just walking on the side of the road have fallen off the sharp sides to an untimely ending.
Early one spring morning, in a blanket of mist and heavy fog, a huge blue delivery truck loaded to the gills with new strawberry plants destined for points north met with such a fate. On the fourth curve, the one right near the top, the truck toppled over, straight down the sheer vertical cliff and crashed on the rocks, spilling its entire load of strawberry plants all along the hillside, with that good soil. The driver was killed instantly. After spilling the contents, the truck burst into flames. No other cars or people were on that part of the road that morning. No one heard or saw a thing.
When the driver and truck did not show up at their destination a search party was sent out. The mist and fog on that early spring morning of the accident brought out all the small trees into bloom and leaves popped out all over. The wreck could not be seen from the road above. No remains were ever found at the bottom of that hill.
A few days later Johanna was out on her morning hike to gather some fiddle heads for the stew pot. Her family was suffering awful hardship since the cave in at the MacBeth coal mine. Those local folks did what they could to get by, and foraging in the hills for food and medicine was one of them. She saw all the strawberry plants, there were hundreds of them strewn about the hill. The truck was much farther below, and the fire had been out for days; there was no trace of the wreck, just all those plants. Well Johanna knew when to keep her mouth shut. She just watched those plants. They grew in that rich soil and soon, there were hundreds, no, thousands of fresh ripe strawberries to harvest.
Johanna picked and picked, ate and ate. She sold some, made most of them into jam, baked some into pies, and traded some for sugar, flour, eggs and butter. She won second place at the Mingo County fair for her strawberry pie- the prize was five laying hens. There were so many berries she sold a lot of jam and pies and was able to buy a rooster. Well, late that same summer she had enough cash from the sale of eggs and jam to buy a goat. So now she had jam, eggs, goat milk, and goat cheese. She was able to make more money and even get herself a pair of new shoes and a warm coat for the winter, she hadn’t got new shoes or a nice wool coat in years.
She never told anyone where the berries came from and made darn straight sure no one ever followed her to the steep secret strawberry slope.
It just goes to show; one fiery truck wreck can be turned into new shoes and a warm coat.