The coal miner’s wife

She shivers as her feet hit the floor, quickly dressing for warmth, then quietly tiptoeing to the kitchen so as not to wake the children. She carefully adds bits of wood to the cook stove and, when the flame burns bright, she adds a larger log. As the stove heats, she moves her iron skillet to the hot center and watches until the lard starts to melt. She slices a piece of meat from the salt-cured ham and throws it in the skillet along with some cold potato chunks. When the ham is sizzling, she cracks two eggs and drops the runny contents into the fat.

She hears the stairs creak, and plates the food, just as her husband sits at the table. They are quiet in these early hours as they prepare to face another exhausting day, her with three kids, the laundry, mending, cooking, cleaning; him deep in the coal mine before dawn even streaks the sky. He mops up the last of the yolk and puts on his boots. As he walks out the door, she hands him his lunch bucket and silently watches him trudge down the road. She closes the door and sits in her rocker, closing her eyes to pray for his safety, to ask God to allow him to come home at the end of the day. She already knows that sometimes prayers aren’t answered but she prays that today is not one of those days.

On December 6, 1907, the prayers of 216 wives went unanswered when they were widowed in what is described as the worst mining disaster in our nation. 506 children lost their father, including 31 who had not been born yet. Those wives and mothers spent their day huddled together, breathing in the gritty smoke that was pouring from the mine shaft, all that was left of the men they loved. At the end of the day, those same women went home, reeling with the disbelief of such horrendous loss, and they put wood on the fire, they fed their kids, they tended their animals, and they helped their neighbors. Exhausted, emotionally and physically, they went to bed with the uncertainty of their future screaming in their brains.

Just thinking about the magnitude of the hopelessness that each passing hour brought to that community makes me cry. I think, in this case, that I am not so very many steps beyond normal. The tears that have fallen, and will fall, because of this disaster, are infinite.

This statue, located in Monongah, was erected in honor of the wives and mothers of the victims.

3 thoughts on “The coal miner’s wife

  1. Kathy Harp

    My dad was lucky all those years the he worked in the mines that nothing happened to him. Then there was the mine disaster too in 1969 in a coal mine in Farmington when a bunch of men were killed.

    Liked by 1 person

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