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The Sacrifice of a Coal Miner
The Sacrifice of a Coal Miners
The Sacrifice of a Coal Miner
For many years, my cousins and I all gathered around my grandfather to listen to his stories of growing up in the coal mining camps that once dominated the land surrounding my hometown. Some of these stories were happy and full of joy, but some of them were sad and regrettable. Now as an adult I reflect on these stories with a whole new understanding, and yes my grandfather is still around, and he is still sharing those stories. Coal Miner are people who rise out of bed early in the morning to go to work, and there is always a possibility that they were not going to come back or come back crippled for life. I would like to share some of these stories so that I can enlighten those people who never understood what it was like to be raised by a coal miner, and to acknowledge that coal mining kept me warm and fed.
The Old Coal Mining Camps
As a group of young boys were walking home from school one day they would hold out their thumb as a car passed by hoping to get a ride. However, many of the upper class people would have nothing to do with the children of the coal mining camps because they were considered the lowest class of people in the community. The children of the coal mining camps were those kids who went to school with holes in their shoes, pants covered in patches, and many of them had no coat for the winter time. Today people would consider the children of the coal mining camps to be the children of the slums, and upper and middle class children would not even dare to be involved with such a group of peers. However, the children of the coal mining camps were rich in love, and taught hard work at a very young age.
The coal mining camps were filled with rows of homes that all looked identical, and they were so small in size that many people would call them sheds. In these small homes would live a husband and wife, and sometimes as many as eight to 10 kids in the small space. So many times these homes were filled with love, but they were also filled with hunger and poverty. The coal mines that owned the coal mining camps were filled with greedy owner, and instead of paying their workers with money they paid the miners with coal mining script. This way all of the coal miner’s earning could only be spent at the company commissary in which the miners earning were gave right back to the company. The owners of the coal mines did in fact have total control over their employees, and it was hard for the miners to go against the owners of the mines in fear that their family may not get to eat of they did such an act.
These small homes of the coal mining camps did not have insulation, as we have in our homes today, and electricity was a luxury that could not be afforded to the homes of the miners. The story that I have heard many times over is how my grandfather and his two brothers would all be gathered at the table waiting for their father to get home while their mother had a pot of Pinto Beans cooking over the open fire. My grandfather would tell me that the table was close to the fireplace where the beans were cooking so they were also gathered at the table to keep warm. When my great grandfather got home he was covered from head to toe in coal dust, he would wash his hands, sit at the table, and asked everyone to bow for prayer before they ate. Even though they were poor they still bowed there head, and thanked God for all that they had because they knew there were some people who had less.
My grandfather took me to the last home that my great grandparents bought outside the coal mining camps, and he showed me many things about that home that were similar to living at the coal mining camps. For example, he showed me a place in which a spring ran all year long with fresh cold water, and he would tell me that this is where they got their drinking water from as well as where they stored their products that needed to be kept cold. My grandfather said he wondered why he was raised the same way outside of the coal mining camps as he was in the coal mining camps, and his father told him so that he would never forget where he came from. My grandfather still speaks those words to me and my cousin today so that we will never forget that we was a family that came from poverty.
Going to School from the Coal Mining Camps
Going to school was a hard thing to do for children from the coal mining camps, and this is mostly because they went to school with children who were from a different class. The parents of the children from the coal mining camps were not able to afford new clothes, shoes, and school supplies that parents from other classes of people were, and the one who suffered this humiliation was the coal mining camps kids. They were many times laughed at for things such as having holes in their shoes or pants (which today is stylish), and the pride of the coal mining camp kids were heartbroken by this unacceptance.
However, unlike the upper and middle class children, the coal mining kids grew up in hard work to earn everything they had. Therefore, many of the boys from the coal mining camps were in excellent shape from many long hard hours of swinging a hammer, swing a pick axe, or using a shovel. As these boys got older they were determined that they were not going to be pushed around themselves, and they also defended the girls who were raised in the coal mining camps. The boys of the coal mining camps often had to fight for their honor as well as for the honor of the girls who were from their social class to say enough is enough.
Many of the children from the coal mining camps never finished high school, and those who did college was not even an option. Therefore the young men traded in books for a pick axe, and for the first time they themselves headed to the coal mines. In the coal mining camps it was not uncommon for some of the boys to quit school, and help their fathers in supporting the family by going to work for the coal mines. All of a sudden these boys became men, and they were introduced to the harsh reality that they were always predetermined to belong to the coal mines. However, today these then young boys are like my grandfather, men who are alive and broken down from the years of hard work.
Today as men the young boys from the coal mining camps are all kind of like my grandfather a broken back, two knee replacements, and constant pain from arthritis. However, the mental toughness of the coal mining camps kids never went away, and even though constant pain is part of their everyday lives they continue to push on being thankful for all that they got and to continue to provide for their family. The men that were once the boys of the coal mining camps are men who hope they will never see the morning in which they will not be able to do nothing for they know that their last days are near. My grandfather still talks about his stories of growing up in a coal mining camps, and how he at times misses those days of a place he once called home. My grandfather finally retired from the coal mines at the age of 73, which was just last year, and he will be the first to tell you that he was and will always be a proud coal miner.
With crippled hands and broken backs, these boys from the coal mining camps tells the younger generation that hard work is the only way to get the things you want in life. The coal mining camp boys were raised to work hard, provide for their family, and always share their faith of God in all that they do. Many of us including myself needs to listen and learn from the men we call coal miners because they are full of advice and lessons that we can learn from. Remember the next time you see that person who is living in poverty be kind to them because they are richer than us in many other things besides money.