Life After the Coal Mine Closed

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Anna had gone out on the porch to rest between the dried out, split and curled arms of the old Adirondack rocker chair. The chair, at one time, was painted the same white as the house, so straighold-mining-roadt and fresh back then. The house, purposefully set back away from the dust of the constant traffic up and down the mountain, used to stand out like a jewel on that green side hill.

Nowadays, that road out front is quiet; only the movement and sounds of Jays, Crows, and the wind through the cedars separate the scene from appearing to be a postcard print. Momentarily alone on that porch, her mind begins to reflect back on times when there was never a motionless, quiet, or alone moment.

Most memories were those missed happy times when they fiddle danced on the weekends until exhausted, made babies, drank some lightnin’, and got sleepy on that porch in the shine of the moon.

She sat too long thinkin’ allowing other memories to slip in, like those bad memories of the men kilt when the coal mine decided that there were dues to pay, and those memories of the children that passed, because by nature, you weren’t allowed to keep every one, maybe three out of five as witnessed by the two small crosses further up the hill behind the house. Everyone knows that stuff happens, but still, the heart never accepts it, tears pool, and then stream down.

So, startled from her drift, she quickly stands to shake off those thoughts’ and git on with mindin’ the chickens, finishing the baking, and mending the mended while waiting for John to return, the real reason for being out on the porch in the first place.

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Anna could hear the noisy truck down shift for every curve and hill as it powered its way up the last three miles to her and John’s grey, paint bare, clapboard house. She stepped quickly into the house to dry her eyes so John wouldn’t know.

As the engine noise got closer, she could hear the driver hit third as he topped the hill to reach the flat stretch that passed by her and her husband’s mud and rut driveway.

The truck stopped just past the bent mailbox post at the end of John’s driveway. That post is a relic from a time when the mailman delivered mail to dozens of vital family homesteads on this mining road. Anna remembers it new and straight, now the rusty, tin mailbox is hanging head bowed, with its mouth open, unused.

The door on the vintage three window Chevy opened with a creak. Anna watched through the rain stained window pane as a thin, crooked man in coveralls stepped out, gathered up two grocery bags from the pickup box, and nodded to the driver in appreciation for the ride. She could see John’s sharp elbows protruding through holes in the threadbare flannel shirt, the shirt too worn to hold a stitch.

Her thin man carefully picked his way up the driveway, trying not to step in any of the deep tire ruts and spill the groceries. Up the gradual incline he walked those one hundred feet to the house only stopping once to breathe and plan his next advance.

In anticipation, Anna met him at the porch steps and took one bag. Anxious, but not saying a word, she quickly came back and took the second bag from the thin man already sitting in one of the two porch chairs. With a grateful look, John took off his salty, dated hat, and wiped his brow with that threadbare forearm, inhaling deeply and exhaling loudly once.

Anna came back out with a broom in hand but sat down in the other rocker instead of sweeping. Leaning forward, the stare from those hollow eyes shot out at her husband as if to say, “Well, what’s the news; tell me the news!”

John spoke directly into those deep, sullen eyes, and answered the unspoken demand, “Well, I got a lot of news at the store Ma!”

“Seems there’s somethin’ about old Doc Fields goin’ to jail. The gov’mint sais he can’t doctor us anymore because we ain’t got no insurance. Big Red down at the Crossroads Store was tellin’ that the Doc went over to Hadie’s a couple of weeks ago and helped her daughter have a baby. Hadie ain’t got no money, so she gave Doc Fields some preserves and fried chicken fer payment. The gov’mint boys down in the capital got wind of it and sais he’s gotta stop doin’ that or go to jail.

Doc Field’s son is here from the college and sais that this is the way it is now. He sais that Hadie’s daughter is supposed to git help from the gov’mint for havin’ babies. They’re sendin’ a lady from Riverville to see how the new baby is doin”. They gotta check its health and welfare. The gov’mint wants to find out if Hadie’s daughter needs the assistance.

The gov’mint lady won’t git there until the day after tomorrah so I’m gonna git some wood cut and take some over there so the lady can see they have plenty, and their cabin will be warm. Too bad Hadie and her daughter don’t have a man around anymore. Since her husband died from the black lung, and the company cut her off from his paycheck, she ain’t got much.”

“I’ll bake a rhubarb pie while you’re cuttin’,” said Anna leaning forward for more.

With a nod of approval, John continues, “These days, seems like the gov’mint is everywhere. That mine has been runnin’ fine for eighty years, and there’s plenty of coal left. The gov’mint sais that the mine was making too much plution in the air and water. And the mine couldn’t afford to buy the gov’mint insurance for all its workers. The owners were gittin’ money for the insurance saved up, but then the gov’mint sais that too many men git killed and the mine wasn’t safe. We had fewer men die there than were killed on the highway goin’ to the city.

Just seems like no matter how hard the mine tried, the gov’mint made up reasons to close it! Now, the mine doesn’t need lumber, so they shut down the sawmill. Now, the coal mine don’t need water and don’t need food, so they close the mine store. They don’t maintain the mine road ‘cause it ain’t producin’ revenue and there’s only a few of us older people livin’ along it, and railroad don’t come up here anymore. Big Red sais he’s been burnin’ the railroad track ties for heat in his store. Most of us leftover people are usin’ the coal from the piles around the mine and what spilt along the railroad tracks over the years. Thank God there’s still plenty of that.

Jake came in the store whilst I was there. He sais the water from the dammed up creek is going over to the new lake. The corps of engineers sais that when the lake gits full, they’re goin’ to put fish in it, so the city folk have recreation. It’s goin’ to be all gov’mint tied up so’s you need to git a license to fish there, and you gotta have a license for your truck and a license for your boat!

The old mine people won’t be able to fish there ‘cause they can’t afford all them licenses. The young mine people that went to the city, before the mine closed, are probably gonna be ok.

Big Red over at the store heard this week that they were goin’ to close down the school. Now that the mines are closed, there won’t be enough kids to keep the teacher here. They also don’t have enough taxes to keep it open. So now, they’re goin’ to send buses up here to git the kids to Riverville. Those kids are going to have to ride the bus three hours a day to go to school.

Preacher Jeremiah said it was costing them more to buy and run those buses than they would have spent just keeping the school open! He would have let them use the church for a school, but the Riverville schools sais they need the students so they can get more gov’mint money. It would be a big help to them, and the kids would git a better education and git fed a good meal besides. I guess it’ll be ok. They would most likely move to the city anyways.

Well, that’s about all, Ma. I better git off this porch and go cut wood so I can git over to Hadie’s and back before dark. Holler when the pie’s done so’s I don’t forget!”

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About Ronald D. Drobeck

I've read, learned, been discriminated against, patronized, lied to, laughed at, laughed with, and ignored. I'm not a minority, not tall, not good looking, not skinny, not hairy, and can see 10 miles, but not two feet. I've been a paperboy, college student, licensed nursing home administrator, professional musician (swing drummer), duck and goose hunter, fisherman, conservationist, Eagle scout, camp counselor, canoeing instructor, lifeguard, comedian, restaurant owner, licensed exterminator, insurance agent, warehouse manager, carpenter, conservative, father of 4, baseball coach, husband, worrier, writer, embryo gardener, and nice guy.

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