I was talking with a new friend the other day and she shared some memories of her family’s life which revolved around the coal industry.
I had never seen coal, and my knowledge of coal – until I moved to West Virginia – amounted to the saying, “Better be good or all you’ll get for Christmas is a lump of coal.”
My first encounter with coal was when my husband, Herb, used it in a stove to heat his shop.
Then I began seeing men returning home from working in the mines, their faces and clothes covered with black dust.
As a nurse, I also encountered patients who had black lung.
A couple of years ago, the Senior Citizens took a trip to Beckley where we visited a coal mine-turned- tourist site.
We went underground, and it was a chilly dark place.
When I worked at the old Marlinton Hospital. There was a large coal-fired furnace in the basement, and the coal was delivered through an open chute.
On cold, wintery nights, we had a local resident who visited regularly, gaining access to the basement through the coal chute.
We would find him almost anywhere – hallways, on the floor or, as he became braver, sleeping on the couch in the waiting room.
We were alarmed at first, but gradually accepted him. He had a home to go to, but we were closer and had heat, so we just let him sleep if off!
My friend, Linda, told me about her grandfather, Joe, who started working in the mines when he was just nine years old.
He walked 12 miles to work, carrying his lunch in a tin bucket.
In the days before safety rules, Joe put on his hat with its carbide light, grabbed his shovel and pick and loaded coal into a wooden cart, which was pulled by two mules.
He continued to work in the mines for most of his life to support his wife and seven children.
Sometimes we take things for granted.
We can see the coal, but not the faces behind it.