Her infectious laugh belies the struggles she has lived as she has spent most of her life caring for others. Even at 78 years old and legally blind, she hasn’t lost the whimsy of her childhood, recounting how her father gave her the nickname Trigger after Roy Rogers’s horse.
“I’m the head and not the tail,” said Emmazell “Trigger” Gerken, with a giggle, recalling how her nickname followed her throughout her life without most people ever knowing her real name. “Even my preacher, he came by with a food box for Thanksgiving. We used to be neighbors when he was a young boy. He was surprised to learn my real name.”
As a young girl, Gerken missed school to help take care of younger siblings. She admits to lacking formal education due to her absences but had to help her mother at home. Despite only making it to eighth grade, she gained valuable skillsets in adulthood which allowed financial security for her family.
“I was smart, you know, not to have an education,” said the Knott County resident who worked in restaurants and cleaned houses while raising three children. She also provided care to people in need and worked at General Electric.
When her marriage ended, which forced her to care for her children alone, she took a job driving a rock truck at a strip coal mine. Standing at 5 feet 5 inches, Gerken could not reach the steps to the tall truck’s cab causing her coworkers to lift her to the steps each day. Laughing, she joked, “They are easy to drive once you are in them, but they sure are dangerous.”
She cannot work anymore and receives help from Christian Appalachian Project’s (CAP) Elderly Services Program. “Thank God for CAP. They are my friends and are fantastic,” she said. “They’ve given me a new refrigerator and mattress, brought me dinners, and taken me to doctor’s appointments. I am so thankful they are in this part of the country to help me and others far worse than me.”
For Gerken, faith is what keeps her going. “I’m not ready to die and still have too much going on in my life. I’ve got good friends and family. There’s much for me to enjoy and I love to dance. When my mother was alive and played the banjo, we kids danced the jitterbug. Not too long ago, I heard a banjo playing on TV, and buddy, I hit the floor,” she recalled with a laugh. “You would’ve never known I’d had a stroke. I couldn’t get with it the way I wanted to, but I sure did dance around all over the floor.”
Although she has known her share of hard times, she has simple advice to others who may be facing challenges. “You contact CAP, honey, and they will help you,” she said.
With nothing stopping her anytime soon, Gerken is now on a mission to find a stationary bicycle so she can “keep pushing.”