Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Montcoal Mine Explosion

Two days out from the deadly mine explosion in Montcoal, and here in West Virginia you can still feel it in the air. I don't mean the explosion itself. West Virginia coal towns are thick with a layer of grit and coal dust anyway, but the air here is heavy with more than just the filth of the way our state makes its living.

I keep wanting to write "sadness," that the air is heavy with sadness. But sadness would be appropriate. Sadness would keep family members in their beds -- but sons and daughters and brothers and sisters, they don't have the luxury of sadness. Late last night, three generations of West Virginians got out of bed and trudged off to work just the same as they do every evening, heavy boots clanking down into coal dust, disappearing into the earth.

The children of West Virginia grow up like any other children, planning to be doctors or marine biologists or storm chasers or circus clowns. Then they reach twenty and there is no money and a lot of times, there is a baby on the way. And the flyers go up on all the twisting, knotted back roads: JOB FAIR. The letters look so bright. The pay, the benefits, they look so bright.

And the boys and girls of West Virginia spend the next thirty years under the earth. Or they spend forever there. Whichever comes first.

I wasn't going to write about the mine explosion. I wasn't going to write about the huddle of nineteen-year-old mountain girls with fiery attitudes flaring, then dimming as they huddled next to the fire trucks waiting for word. I wasn't going to write about the quiet boys with their backward caps, good ol' boys who days ago nothing could touch, today so serious, so serious, more serious than we've ever seen them because we raised them to be joyous and full of hope.

Kids that age aren't supposed to be quiet. Not here in the mountains where there isn't much to live on except your own voice and your will to be happy.

Sadness is too clean a word for the coalfields today. The mountain air is heavy with hopelessness. Our children will get out of bed tonight and go back underground and grow up and grow quiet. And we as a state, we just don't know how to stop them. What to teach them instead of what we've taught them.

We do know, this -- and here's another thing that's floating on the air, thick enough to touch. We know there has to be a better way than this.

7 comments:

B. WHITTINGTON said...

Sarah,
Your words touched my heart and made me cry. Cry for the miners and their families, for those lost now and those who will be in the future.

My daddy died when I was two from lung disease. He was 47, way too young to die and deprive me of the father I desperately miss and need even today.

The coal mines changed my life.
It's still changing the lives of many.

I don't know the answer. IF we always do what we've always done we'll always get what we've always got. Hopefully the state will step up and take responsibility.
Blessings to you for writing this.

H. Dooley said...

A compromise would be that they could still do the job fair, do the benefits, do the coal-mining, but the company who gets rich off it could NOT IGNORE the safety citations and actually get themselves into compliance. Eventually, we need other job options. In the meantime, we need for criminals to be called criminals and treated as such.

out of the wordwork said...

This entire situation is heartbreaking. Thank you for writing about this so eloquently.
Nelsa

Mary Witzl said...

This is so beautifully written.

My mother was from West Kentucky and there were a lot of miners in her family. A cousin of my mother's died of black lung disease. If the coal hadn't played out in her area, there would have been less incentive for most of them to leave and find better jobs.

What is so sad is that the mines are unsafe and yet people have to go into them, knowing that. None of us should take coal for granted, or the people who dig it out at such a terrible price.

sally apokedak said...

what a beautiful post.

Terri Tiffany said...

I agree-- this post struck a place in my heart-- when the funerals were over--we hear nothing--not about the lives that have been affected or those who have to go back under.

Ferree Bowman Hardy said...

I linked this post to my blog. It's beautiful. Haunting. But I wish there was no need to ever write it.