Black Coal and White Lies

Black Coal and White Lies

by Geri Monaghan


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For Anna, the youngest of five daughters, life is chaotic, strange, and a little bit wonderful-even though she doesn't realize it. Growing up in a small coalmining town in the 1950s is not an easy way to live, but with the support of her sisters, her friends, and her family, she's making the best of it. She's a young, shy, pretty high school sophomore with her whole life ahead of her. But now that the last of her older sisters has moved out, Anna's loneliness is growing.

When she meets Ben, everything seems to be looking up. But in order to date him, Anna must lie to her parents about many things, including his age. Ben is six years older than Anna, and he also lives with his parents. Even though she is strictly forbidden from dating older men, Anna's heart can't be swayed from falling in love. Anna finds that with each little white lie she must tell her parents, the easier that deception becomes.

In her senior year, Anna is offered a job with the CIA in Washington, DC. She makes plans to move after one final summer with Ben, but he then surprises her with an engagement ring-and a proposal of a different sort. If she were pregnant, he reasons, no one would be able to stop them from being together.

She loves Ben and wants to believe that he has her best interests at heart-but at what price is her happiness to be purchased?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781458202307
Publisher: Abbott Press
Publication date: 02/28/2012
Pages: 274
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.58(d)

Read an Excerpt

Black Coal and White Lies

By Geri Monaghan

abbott press

Copyright © 2012 Geraldine Monaghan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4582-0230-7

Chapter One

* * *

Ah, the wonderful summer of 1955—when it all started.

I love hearing the fantastic voice of Johnnie Ray singing "Such a Night." The music can be heard flowing from the living room into the street, filtered through the wooden screen door on the front porch. I play the last verse of the song, which relates the story of how his girl is gone, and then comes the dawn, with the night, heart, and love all gone. The song continues with a lot of oo oo oo oos. I play this verse over and over, again and again.

As I accompany Johnnie with my soprano voice, I know it probably doesn't glorify the song in the least, but who cares? I don't, as singing makes me feel good just like it did in church this morning. Still wearing my blue taffeta dress trimmed daintily in black velvet with crinoline slips underneath, I pretend I'm standing in front of a microphone, and I feel like a star. Something about this song appeals to me, and I can't stop playing the last verse.

Eight or ten times after the night, heart, and love disappear, a man's voice is heard shouting above the redundant words, "Anna, shut that damn thing off before you drive the neighbors and me crazy. If I told you once, I've told you a million times, that's not music. It sounds like someone's in a lot of pain and needs a doctor."

I grimace and arrogantly say, "Believe it or not, Dad, this guy is in pain, as his girl has left him and taken her love too. He doesn't need a doctor. He needs her and her love."

He shakes his head while running his big coal miner's hand across his crew cut. My reply has placed a tiny grin on his face that I certainly would have missed had I not turned to give him a dirty look, as "Such a Night" is probably one of the greatest songs ever.

When Dad yells, I know he is disturbed, as few things upset him. The oo oo oo oos have really pushed him to the point where he is compelled to say something or become utterly senseless. Deep down inside, I already knew it was bothering him, but I guess I was pushing him to see how long I could get away with it.

Up until this outburst, he had been enjoying the lovely Sunday afternoon by relaxing comfortably in his favorite brown leather chair, tucked in the corner of the dining room where the blue-and-beige–striped wallpaper-covered chimney juts out from the wall. His small wooden humidor with its bowed legs and curly design carved on the door is lined with tin inside and stands next to his chair, with a jar for a spittoon, and there's no more room for anything else.

In the humidor he stores his Half & Half tobacco, cigarette papers, and Copenhagen snuff. On the top of his smoking stand, a small lamp and ashtray sit on a starched white, lacy doily. This is my dad's corner, even though we all like to sit in his chair, as it's so cozy; you can smell him here, including the sweet smell of his tobacco. We all know to automatically relinquish the chair to him when he appears, even though no words are ever spoken.

His corner is situated across from the stairs leading to our second-floor bedrooms and bathroom. Now that I think about it, from that point he has the advantage of seeing everyone coming and going up and down the stairs or through the house to the front or back doors.

He enjoys reading the Pittsburgh Press on Sundays, which he had been doing while listening to my sad love song. Two of Dad's favorite things are reading the newspaper and listening to the Walter Winchell program on the radio. I really don't care for Mr. Winchell, as he talks fast, mixing entertainment gossip with world news, punctuated with the tapping of a telegraph key.

When Dad's doing these two things, I know I shouldn't bother him and try not to, but I can't just sit around and do nothing. Today I feel quite bored, so I'm searching for something, but I don't quite know what that something is.

Dad definitely isn't interested in today's music. "Listen to some jazz, the blues, or the big bands if you want to hear good music. Your idea of music is loud and noisy, and half the time the words don't make sense."

With a little sarcasm I reply, "Loud? Noisy? Gosh, Dad, maybe you can write a blues song using those words. I never say anything when you sit down at the piano and start playing 'Wish I Were Single Again,' even though it upsets Mom quite a bit." Of course we both know that is when he's had a few too many whiskeys.

He shakes his head again, mumbling something about teenagers and how he'll never understand them, as he sits in his chair to continue reading the Sunday paper.

Dad actually loves music and is a great piano player. He can't read musical notes but can hear a song once, sit down at the piano, and play it perfectly. I heard Aunt Ida say once that he's really good even though he plays by ear. I was little at the time when I heard it, and I told Aunt Ida, "He plays the piano with his fingers, not his ear." Everyone laughed at me and had to explain what they meant.

He plays the old songs that he loves so much on our old Chauncey grand piano, which devours our small living room. He can easily play the songs I like, but he always tells me they don't make any sense. I disagree with him, as they certainly make a lot of sense to me. They appeal to my emotions, and sometimes the words are so true that I feel like many of the songs were written just for me.

Even though I love listening to Johnnie Ray, I realize the time has come to get on with another song. Actually, I'm surprised I got away with playing it over and over this long. I'd have continued listening to Johnnie Ray all afternoon if Dad hadn't yelled at me.

Maybe if I played one more song, Dad might begin to enjoy my kind of music. Playing "Cross Over the Bridge" by Patti Page is just not the same. After listening to it twice, I shut it off and close the door so the entire turntable folds into the Philco radio and phonograph console.

I push open the creaky wooden screen door to the front porch and let it slam shut, thus allowing Dad to know I wasn't very happy giving up Johnnie Ray.

Deciding not to sit on the glider, I slide my hand down the back of my dress to smooth it out and sit on the front steps of the wooden porch, being careful of splinters.

I'm underneath a green canvas awning that extends outward from the porch roof and can be rolled up when not in use. A wide scalloped edge trimmed in white hangs from the awning and not only keeps the sun off the porch but also helps to hide anyone sitting on the glider. People walking down the front brick sidewalk would actually have to stick their heads under the awning to see who's sitting on the glider. That's why I sit on the steps—so I don't miss anybody or anything.

With my elbows resting on my knees and palms upward, I rest my chin in my hands and listen to the sounds around me. I can hear Janet, Susan, and Connie, the three little neighbor girls, giggling next door in the other half of our double house; Matt and his twin brother, Mark, who live in the next double house, arguing; a screen door slamming shut; and a dog barking in the distance.

The odors of the Polish, Slovak, Russian, Hungarian, Irish, German, and English Sunday dinners cooking in the various houses mingle together, creating a chef's symphony and permeating the air. After all, it is Sunday, and everyone, no matter what nationality, always has a huge meal on Sundays to share with their family.

Sighing, I wonder what could be wrong with me today and why I enjoy hearing Johnnie Ray sing the last part of that song over and over. It really doesn't matter; they're only words.

All my life, I have been surrounded by laughter, tears, and noise created by my four sisters and parents. If my sisters weren't arguing about clothes and who gets the bathroom first, then my mom and dad were arguing about money or my dad having a drink or two of whiskey.

My two oldest sisters, Edna and Liz, are married and live in the same town, but it's just not the same as living in the same house. Martha's in college and decided to stay there for the summer. For that, I'm elated, as she didn't get along with any of us. Jo just graduated from high school and moved to another state, where she had a job offer. I remember how Mom wasn't very happy about it, but Jo knew throughout all her high school years that she would be leaving the day after she graduated, as she and Mom never did hit it off.

For two months now, I have lived alone with Mom and Dad, and it's not only quiet but also lonesome; I don't have anyone to confide in except my girlfriends. It's not quite the same since they don't live with me. I only wish Mom and Dad could express more physical love, such as hugging and kissing, toward me.

Maybe next week when I turn sweet sixteen I'll start having fun. I wish I could fall in love, but everyone always tells me to be careful of what I wish for. If I only knew at that time how true that saying was and how there is love that can almost destroy you.

Chapter Two

* * *

Sweet sixteen and never really been kissed is true for me. I twirl my hair around my finger, feeling the silkiness of it. My thick, dark hair is shoulder length, and I love twirling it.

So far my kisses have emerged from playing spin the bottle at my friend's ninth birthday party—one kiss partially missed when I turned my head and received saliva on my cheek instead, and a nice one that occurred this past spring.

This last kiss was after the junior/senior prom that I attended this past April with Jack Borski.

Jack's a great guy, polite and good-looking, and I like him more than I've ever liked anyone. His brown curly hair and glasses make him look intelligent. He's a wrestler and an honor student. A lot of girls are really crazy over him, but I have the privilege of knowing him, since we share an algebra class.

It all happened this past spring on a Tuesday as I was walking through the hall to my next class. Everyone was moving slowly, yapping away, and small groups were forming. I guess they must have had spring fever.

Out of nowhere I heard my name being called. I turned and Jack caught up to me. "Anna, do you mind if I walk you home from school today?"

Hiding my astonishment, since I only knew Jack from algebra and the drama club, I calmly said, "You do know I live on Fifth Street, which is about eighteen blocks away, don't you?"

He answered with a cute smile that gave birth to dimples. "Yes, I know, but I want to ask you something."

Curiosity overcame me, but, of course, I couldn't let him know. "Okay, meet me in front of the school at the end of the front sidewalk."

I had doubts he'd show, but true to his word, he met me in the front of the school. He carried my books, and all I could think of was how nice, polite, and handsome he was, with that curly hair and glasses.

We talked about friends and school, and when we finally reached Fifth Street, he asked me, "Anna, would you go to the junior/senior prom with me?"

I couldn't contain my excitement and, without thinking, blurted out, "I'd love to, Jack."

Me, a lowly sophomore, and Jack, a mighty junior. Wow, what a thrill for me to be asked to the junior/senior prom!

Smiling, he said, "Great! We'll double-date with my brother and his girl, since he'll be driving my dad's car. Mom will probably be calling you to find out the color of your gown."

"Okay. By the way, how are you getting home now?" I only asked because he lived at Mine 37, five miles away. Our town, Kolfield, is surrounded by mines that are like little towns with rows of double houses and a company store. By walking me home he missed his bus.

He handed my books back. "I'll walk, but maybe one of my friends will drive by and give me a ride. See you in school tomorrow."

Knowing my mother wouldn't be happy because he's Polish and Catholic bothered me a little, but I didn't care. It was time for me to choose my dates. So far she hasn't allowed me to date, and if she did, it would have to be someone she approves.

When I told Mom, she was a little upset at first, but then my older sister Liz talked to her later that evening. Liz emphasized the fact that it was a prom, not a wedding. Mom then consented.

Jack's mother called me the following week, and her voice was mellow and friendly, as if she already knew me.

Mom had answered the phone and handed it to me, moving her eyebrows inquisitively, creating a furrow between them.

After saying hello, a melodious voice came out of the earpiece. "Hi, Anna. I'm Jack's mother."

"Oh, hi. Jack said you'd be calling me."

"I'm calling to find out the color of your gown so we can order flowers to match it."

"My gown is yellow trimmed in white."

"That's a lovely color. I know you're going to enjoy the prom and have fun. I'm looking forward to meeting you. Jack has told me so much about you."

"Thank you. I'm looking forward to meeting you too," I replied, clutching the big black phone receiver with both hands, wondering what Jack had told her.

"Great. I'll see you then. Bye."


The night of the prom, his brother, Bob, parked their dad's Ford in front of our house. He waited there with his date, who was sitting as close as she could to him without wrinkling her gown.

Mom answered the front door, and when I walked into the living room, Jack's face lit up. My strapless yellow gown had a formfitting bodice and then became full, made possible by crinoline slips underneath. My elbow-length white gloves accented the gown, making me feel like an actress in a movie.

My eyes must have lit up too, as he looked so cool in his navy-blue suit, white shirt, and light-blue tie. As I walked toward him, a scent became noticeable and reminded me of walking through the woods.

Jack handed me a rectangular-shaped white box. When I opened it, I smiled and whispered, "They're beautiful."

The wrist corsage consisted of white roses, yellow tea roses, baby's breath, green leaves, and ferns. Jack placed the corsage on my wrist as we smiled at each other, and I hoped he didn't notice my nervousness.

Mom was polite, smiling but not overly friendly, and took only one picture. She had done this so much over the years with my older sisters that it must have been getting boring for her.

Dad entered the front room to meet Jack and shake his hand. Jack's dad was a coal miner too, and Dad knew him. After they exchanged a few words, we walked out the front door with all the neighborhood kids hanging around to see my gown and my date. The girls, with their eyes and smiles so big, made little sighs of excitement while the boys watched and waited nearby so they could finish playing baseball.

Jack and Bob promised their mother they would return with us to their house so she could take a few pictures.

We rode down their street with rows of identical houses facing each other. As we pulled in front of his house, I realized how much it looked like our double house.

Jack got out and ran around to open the door for me. He was so sweet.

Bob and his date took the lead as we climbed the wooden steps to the front porch. Jack held my elbow for support so I didn't trip and fall.

As we entered the house, freshly cooked kielbasa lingered in the air. We were invited into a clean and tidy living room with a large brown sofa and matching armchair. The chair was definitely someone's favorite chair, as the armrests were quite worn. A maple rocking chair adorned with flowered cushions sat in a corner and, of course, a television sat waiting to be turned on.

Family pictures hung on one wall, showing the brothers in their uniforms for various sports events, and a wedding picture of their mother and father. A picture of Christ adorned in a red robe with a blue shroud and a red heart glowing on his chest was on the other wall.

Their mother, Kathryn, was a kind, gentle, loving person, just as I had imagined, while their father liked to laugh and joke around. She reminded me of the mother in the story of Dick and Jane, who had the perfect family, which I learned to read in first grade.

Kathryn just couldn't take enough pictures until finally her boys told her in unison, "Stop." Their father agreed with them while we all laughed. She gave all of us a big hug and ordered us to have a great time.


Excerpted from Black Coal and White Lies by Geri Monaghan Copyright © 2012 by Geraldine Monaghan. Excerpted by permission of abbott press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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