It’s a typical life story for someone of his generation. He’s 97.
Coal miner’s son. Ninth grade dropout. Worked in Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal Depression-era program. Retired industrial railroad conductor.
A simple, no-frills life. Nothing extraordinary. But these are special people. “Backbone of America” we call them.
There’s something that sets this one apart.
How many 97-year-old male quilters do you know?
In retirement, on a whim, Tag Anderson commandeered his wife’s sewing machine and started turning out colorful quilts by the hundreds.
He’s quiet and unassuming. A sweet, easy smile punctuates an engaging sense of humor.
He’s satisfied with the life he’s lived, but he doesn’t think much about it. Why worry about what can’t be changed? It’s all about moving on.
“My dad started calling me ‘Tag’ because I was following him around everywhere. You wouldn’t want to know my real name. It’s Clarence Howard. I’m named after two uncles.“I was born in West Virginia and my dad and mom moved to Nelsonville, Ohio, and I spent 16 years there. I went to the 9th grade.
“I spent a couple of years in Montana in the three C’s [Civilian Conservation Corps], a government program.
“They loaded me on the train and it chugged along for four days and stopped in Montana. I cut wood and cooked. Whatever they said to do, you did. I made a fortune — $30 a month and $25 of that went to my parents. You felt rich when you got that $5 for yourself.
“Dad was a coal miner. Growing up, I thought I wanted to be a millionaire. I never made it. The only thought I had was, just let me live.
“They shut down the CCC because the war was starting. I went home to Ohio and there was no work out there. Someone said I should go up to Ward, West Virginia, and I could get a job anywhere. So one day I slipped off and hitchhiked to Ward and got a job on a coal tipple.
“When those big chunks of slate came by on a mine car you wore your rear end out getting it off that table to go to the trash pile. I got rich. I made $4 a day.
“I wasn’t there long before they hauled my rear end off to the war. I was taking it easy. In fact, I got fired. I can’t remember what I did. I must have mouthed off to the boss.
“When you sign up for the Navy, they see what you are fit to do. They said I wasn’t fit for much of anything. They put me on a repair ship. If the enemy shot a big hole in the ship you were on, you would help patch it. Whichever ship came along all shot up, you had to do the same thing.
“I was in the Pacific, the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, all over the place. That was from ’41 to ’45.
“I liked it when I went in, but after a while, I wanted out. We were leaving the Pacific for home when the war ended. I tell people my rank was zero, but it was really fireman first class.
“There was a job close to where I lived. They had a railroad to haul coal from the mines to the river tipple, about five miles. After working so long, jobs came open for conductor and I took that.
“The conductor would tell the brakeman to get your rear end out there and make up that train. When he got it all made up, you hooked the engine on it and took off.
“I spent a whole lot of my life working on the railroad, the Kelley’s Creek Railroad and Kelley’s Creek and Northwestern Railroad. I was a conductor for about 15 years.
“I lived in Cedar Grove. My first car was a truck, a Dodge. It was only a thousand some dollars. It was brand new. Before that, I rode the bus or bummed a ride.
“I worked around on stuff with a lot of ideas in my head. I built houses, four or five. Wired them, too. Not doll houses. People lived in them and they liked them. Mostly I worked on the railroad. If I had a layoff, I would finish the house, so I had a job to go to.
“I’d retired when I started quilting. I’d say I’ve made 500 quilts. I give most of them away.
“The woman I was married to did a lot of sewing. One day I saw the sewing machine sitting there with the light on and I thought, I think I will try that damn thing out.
“There was a program on TV and they were making quilts. A fellow was telling you how to make them. I thought well, I can do that, so I went to work. My wife got so she would fuss about not being able to use her machine because I was always on it.
“It’s intriguing that you can sit there beside that machine and start sewing and end up with a quilt.
“A lot of people, when they make a little mistake, they will grab that material and tear it all to pieces. I’m not that crazy. You make a mistake, you fix it if you can and move on.
“I make the tops and we take them to Quilts by Phyllis in Hurricane and they put the back and the filler on them.
“I’ve made several of those plastic canvas Christmas villages like the one over there on the mantel.
“My mother lived to 102. Dad was 80-something. They tell me I have good genes. I fall and stub my toes now and then, but I feel pretty good.
“I think I’ve done real well. I’ve never sat and worried about what I’ve done in my life. If I’ve done something wrong, I’ve just done something wrong. If I’ve done something mean enough, somebody kicked the snot out of me and I went on.
“Whatever will be will be. I don’t give stuff like that a thought. I don’t dwell on the past. People who sit and think about things like that just drive themselves crazy. Might as well take a gun and blow their heads off. So my advice is, don’t hit yourself in the rear.”