LOGAN, W.Va. -- Elaine Purkey, 63, leaned into the microphone, belting out "Coal Miner's Daughter," beating guitar strings in heavy rhythm, her band on banjo, dobro and guitar close behind her.
"We're here at the Big Ugly Community Center, broadcasting The Friendly Neighbor Show on WVOW-FM radio, Logan," she told radio listeners in energetic, rapid-fire delivery.
A couple well past 70 shuffled up to the microphone to sing "I Want to Go Back." "I think this might be Gladys' first time in front of a radio microphone," Purkey told listeners.
She helped Gladys adjust the mic while somebody else read a "mention" for one of the show's many sponsors: "I just want to mention Workman's IGA right across the river from Chapmanville, one of the oldest businesses in town. They have a great deli!"
This is down-home, local radio: family bands, hot pickers, and working people singing songs about jealous lovers, the Civil War, and faded love. "If someone wants to sing, we'll put them on the radio," Purkey said, "long as they play their own instrument. We don't do piped-in music."
They edited out the parts where people forgot the words and beamed out an hour on WVOW every Saturday morning. "The show's incredibly popular," said program director Dave Allen. "It ranks right up there with high school sports and The Trading Post, and that's about as good as it gets in Logan, W.Va."
"Elaine's a powerhouse," said show regular Carolyn Frye. "She never runs down."
"That's truer now than it used to be," Purkey said. "She's forgetting about my stroke. And maybe she doesn't know about the diabetes."
"I didn't know I had diabetes"
Last April, Purkey was shopping at the Family Dollar store in Harts when she "got a weird tingle that started at the top of my head and spread down through my body." She ended up sitting on the floor, leaning against the counter. "I couldn't talk, and it was all I could do to raise a bottle or water to my mouth," she said.
"I hadn't had a stroke in a long time," she said. "My doctor says it's the diabetes. I think it did damage before I got my blood sugar under control."
Before 1998, she didn't even know she had diabetes. "I was just 50, but I was feeling like an old, old person. It was all I could do to get up and go to work. My head hurt, my body ached."
Her retired coal miner husband was diabetic too. "What we ate was killing us, but we didn't realize it. We were eating like our parents ate so, of course, we thought that was OK. Our favorite breakfast was biscuits and gravy and fried potatoes, and after I'd eat it, I'd be groggy and nod off for hours. I had no idea what it was doing to my blood sugar.
"I worked as a telemarketer. The day I found out I was diabetic, I went out to my van during our break, and the next thing I knew, the guard was knocking on the window, and I knew what I wanted to say, but I couldn't get the words out."
She was having her first diabetic episode. They took her to Logan Hospital, where she was diagnosed. "Then they brought me a meal of breaded steak and gravy with potatoes, bread, canned peaches and ice cream and coffee with sugar," she said. "No diabetic education whatsoever back then."
When she got home, Purkey went looking for help. "My doctor gave me pamphlets about diabetes, but I didn't need information about what diabetes is. I needed to know how to make a meal or order from a menu without shooting my numbers sky-high."
Finally, the American Diabetes Association put on a free self-management class in Lincoln County, "so I went to that. It was six weeks long, and you'd concentrate on one thing a week, then report back the next week what happened. One week, you'd eliminate all sugar. Another week, you'd eliminate all potatoes.