// mike disfarmer
all photographs by mike disfarmer.
mike disfarmer was the town photographer in heber springs, arkansas (population 3,800) for more than 40 years. these portraits were taken between 1939 & 1946. when he died in 1959 his plates lay untouched for nearly 20 years until researchers from the arkansas art centre came across the 3,000 images.
these pictures just really take me back. when i was young my mother & i left the inner city of atlanta & moved to a small coal mining village in western pennsylvania (about 57 houses). my grandfather had been a coal miner & when they closed the mines in the late 70s the miners were allowed to purchase the homes. although this is 40 or more years after these pictures were taken i don’t think a whole lot had changed in van meter. when we moved in there were no running toilets in any of the homes – we all had out houses & the area was so rural we shared the few phone lines that ran into the town – party lines they were called – you basically shared a phone number with several of your neighbors & each of you had a distinct ring (this did NOT stop us all from listening in to everyone’s phone calls!).
almost the whole village was made up of elderly couples & families – there were maybe 15 of us kids. there was an older gentleman – i want to say his name was floyd but i can’t be sure – anyway, he had set up a “penny candy” store in the front part of his shack. other than that & the post office (set up in someone’s living room) there was little else. river along one side, mountain along the other with railroad tracks to nowhere in front of you & mountains of sleigh dumps (coal mine dust) at the other end.
as much as i couldn’t wait to get out of there, i have so many fond memories from that time. it’s the things you think you will never miss that you miss the most. i think every older man wore denim overalls – dressing them up for special occasions with a suit jacket. my grandmother made everything from scratch – her day consisted of making bread & cookies & full on meals all day. in the summer we would walk along the railroad tracks & pick blackberries for pies & jams. meat was the main ingredient in most of our meals – having survived the war i think they were just so happy to have it that you couldn’t not include it. the downside was that, having survived the war, they wasted nothing & so sometimes the meat on your plate was some roadkill my grandfather had discovered! it may explain why i became a pescatarian as a teenager.
entertainment consisted of “tubing” in the river – floating on old car tires or walking to the next village – which meant crossing a train trestle that snaked high above the valley. you would put your ear to the track to feel for the vibration of any coming trains & then run like hell & hope you didn’t slip. those were the same train tracks my mother had used to jump a train & run away at 15. sometimes the older kids would let us ride their small bikes on the dumps – so much fun but you would come home covered in black soot.
can you tell i’m feeling nostalgic? it’s amazing all the memories that are flooding in right now just from looking at this amazing collection. i miss those slow old days – pre-internet, well almost pre-telephone! i would put my earphones on & listen to records over & over trying to decipher the lyrics. or take my mother’s crocheted afghan & hover over the heater in the winter & read for hours. i don’t know how i survived the town or why i now miss it so.