It doesn't take a person long to feel right at home with the mother, museum assistant and college student. She has a twinkle in her eye that makes a person want to sit a spell with her on a back porch swing or allow her to rustle up a farm-sized supper, complete with a bowl of freshly picked green beans.
Sizemore's past newspaper columns and her current work at Benham's Kentucky Coal Mine Museum are extensions of her passion for Appalachia and its people. Even though her work no longer appears in the Harlan Daily Enterprise, she's still a storyteller. What once was written is now told to thousands of museum visitors.
"I love Harlan County history," she said. "There are so many stories to be shared about this place, and I've found those stories are just a continuation of people today, including myself. That's why I'm connected to the area. I look into the eyes of some of the women in old mining camp photographs, or I read excerpts from old journals or letters, and I see the struggles and joys of people today I see myself."
Sizemore decided to enroll in a few college courses when one of her daughters began attending Southeast Community College. She'd always been a student, frequently reading and observing nature, but was ready to take her learning to the classroom. She soon met up with Robert Gipe, who works in SECC's Appalachian Center. He offered her a job transcribing oral histories collected by local folks.
"But to me, it wasn't a job," she said. "I'd thought I'd fallen into heaven. Writing out all these neat and interesting stories wasn't a job at all for me. I always looked forward to it."
After listening to old coal miners, farmers, housewives and politicians tell story after story, Sizemore's interest in Appalachia studies increased. When a job became available to be Kentucky Mine Museum curator Bobbie Gothard's assistant, Sizemore jumped at the opportunity. She's been at the museum for two years, and every day gets more intriguing.
"Phyllis is so calm and gentle," Gothard said about her assistant. "And she loves people. She has a talent for greeting museum visitors and helping them find traces of history that have touched their lives."
There's a whole lot of paperwork, house cleaning and exhibit planning that goes along with working in a museum, but Sizemore has done her share of investigating, too. When out-of-towners visit the museum seeking more information about their ancestry, she loves to dive into the past and see what stories she can resurrect.
One of the most rewarding experiences she's had involved an out-of-state lady who was looking for where her father had worked and died.
"She knew nothing about her father's past, except that it revolved around Black Mountain," Sizemore said. "With the help of some of our archives, the Internet and a few local contacts, we were able to pinpoint the mine he worked in, the date of his death and the hospital where he died, plus directions how to get there."
Two current projects Sizemore is excited about are the further development of the museum's African-American exhibit and a school curriculum based on coal. She and Gothard has spent this past summer developing lesson plans for third through sixth grades concerning life in a coal camp.
"Four subjects will be integrated," Sizemore said. ""It will involve math, science, geology and social studies. In the next couple of weeks, I'll be visiting principals at area schools to introduce the lessons plans to them and see if they want to include it in their studies. We're really proud of it."
As to why museum work fills her days with excitement, Sizemore said it was because of the important mission that's being carried out.
"I look forward to coming to work every day because I really believe in what we're doing here," she said. "We have the opportunity here to teach children that the stereotypical mountaineer is not true, and that their ancestors were heroes. That's what impressed me from day one, and that's what continues to keep me here."