Mining Town Memories is a collection of poems that tell the tall and small tales of those living and dying near the New River. This is a look into the everyday life of the miner, how he strives to work under difficult conditions, surviving in and outside the mine. Families had to survive, too, on the little money earned, making extra effort to provide for their needs.
A close insight into the mining life, this collection portrays the mental and emotional state of a hard-working band of brothers. Many shouted from the mines for God's protection. Some souls were lost, while othes saved. The life of a miner is a life like no other-one of darkness and strain but also hope and light, revealed now for the first time in poetic verse.
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Our Little Town, Minden
Have you ever been in our darling little town of Minden,
where many coal miners and families lived and died in?
Our company home was good enough to live in,
although the cracks in the walls would let the wind,
rain, and snow in.
A $2 script book on the half weekend equaled two bags of groceries to carry its worth in.
A bathtub hardly big enough to get your feet in is where we bathed on the weekend.
Even though we always had enough food to eat,
there was not always our favorite meat.
Our hillside garden supplied its fair share;
all the aches and pains we would all come to bear.
About all of this we really didn't care;
it was all the love we found in folks who lived there.
God blessed our darling little town of Minden,
where many miners and families lived and died in,
and He does today as He did then.
God bless our little town of Minden! 0802-2013
A Miner's Prayer
Be with me as I enter Mother Earth today.
Hold her steady as I mine coal, I pray.
Keep me in your tender loving care.
Protect me as I travel to my work down there.
Keep my thoughts on you as we leave fresh air,
As daylight turns to dust and darkness down there.
Every shift requires on-the-job and faithful concentration,
Being very aware of any movement and sensation.
Keeping my mind aware of any change there Helps me feel what I need to do to prepare.
A constant prayer on my lips each hour of the day Assures me of the safe return to my family, I pray.
Children of the Mine
Taken from the rooms of primary school To the rolling belt of coal to set upon a stool,
Sorting slate from the lumps of black gold,
Enduring the dark, dank days down there so cold.
Children started a life there in the mine That shaped their mining careers in kind.
This work is done by machine today;
Now the children can learn, run, and play.
The Young Miner
It wasn't easy for a new couple To start a life without any trouble.
Getting a paying job in the mine Took a great deal of patience and time.
Once this could support a married man.
There arose many obstacles before the plan.
Not only the expense of the two,
A matter of housing was one of the few To consider in a bustling coal-mining town.
Your job status played a role, but do not frown.
There were other possibilities in the town, Such as renting or using someone's wash House, not very accommodating or posh.
It may be a parents' home attached.
But otherwise, you would need to put up cash.
I recall one couple cleaned out a chicken barn.
An unlikely place to live, you might say, but darn,
It's a start in a bustling coal-mining town When there was no place to go but down.
Some mining towns had lodging in boarding homes.
You could rent a room or two if you could Afford the cost; your company pay would make it good.
Payday came and went, didn't mean you got a cent.
The coal company got its due before you had a clue.
What do you use for food and pay other things due?
The company was always there for you!
We will put it on your company store bill to see you through!
"St. Peter, don't call me 'cause I can't go,
I owe my soul to the company store."
A Tribute to the Miner
Put yourself in the place of a miner Who left his wife and children today To work way down the mine for little pay.
The dank, dark, wet air way down there Makes a man wonder why he wants to be here.
What would send a man to risk his life there,
Rattling timbers, black coal dust in the air?
Shifting, rumbling of the rooftop up there Sends shivers up your spine, which we all share. Our very existence relies on our work there —
The food we eat, the roofs over our heads,
A place for our wives and children to make their beds.
I can't imagine a life in the mine so despair Could bring any happiness for families to share.
Could you put yourself in this mind-set?
Even though so comfortable, so peaceful we get,
Coal miners suffered so much for our progress.
Let's remember and revere their lives for our success.
God bless the miner — grandfathers,
fathers, and sons.
Spirit of the Miner
Their lives were lost in a place so low We wonder what must become of their souls.
When tragedy comes and loved ones go,
We grieve many years, wanting to know.
The day when a blast occurs there,
Or the top cracks and caves in where The miner is working, so dark and dank,
Makes us wonder what they felt, would think.
My life may be at hand this day.
What will my wife, children, and family say To my leaving them when I came to work today To earn a living for food and a place for them to stay?
So for the lost miner, let's continue to pray.
A Miner Goes to Heaven
A miner thought he died and went to heaven,
Meeting head on with St. Peter, who asked, "No reservation?"
The miner said, "Well, it was a spur of the moment thing.
It was a usual day in the mine; my head began to ring.
I went into the mine in the light of day,
Finding the workplace, I took a turn and lost my way.
I came upon a crowd of what looked like heavenly host.
They were weeping and moaning over what looked like a ghost.
A tune, something like, 'Sixteen tons, and what do you get,'
Came from the crowd of floating beings, and yet,
As I came nearer, I began to fret.
The ghost looked a lot like someone I had met.
The closer I got, the clearer I could see.
You know, that miner looked a lot like me.
I told St. Peter I wasn't ready quite yet.
He said, 'You created this mess; it's what you get.
Instead of the rumbling and cracking of the mine,
It was the stress of life and cracking of your mind.
No need to stay here,' he said, 'Now get.
Your reservation has not been confirmed as of yet.
I think the wife will be waiting at home, I expect,
To see how much coal you mined today And how much script for food you have in pay.
I know the work of a miner is rough to make each day,
But if you must die, you will know there is a better way.
Oh, and one thing more, and it's for sure,
You still owe your soul to the company store!'"
The Miner and Black Lung
The young miner works every day, you see,
planning his life and providing for his family,
each day working in the heavy black air to mine coal car by car to total up his share.
Conditions beneath the dark dank ground down there don't provide a healthy source of proper air. The atmosphere down there contains impurities that stay in a man's lungs. you see.
Day in, day out, breathing this mixed-up air must certainly bring a man's health some despair.
As days, weeks, months, and years go by,
a man's body will be deprived of oxygen to live by;
his lungs lose capacity to breathe, deprived of this necessary function, to survive.
This means of making a living is a real distress compared to what it means to live in happiness.
So the life and health of the miner, you see,
is not the kind of life we should want it to be.
A means of providing for himself and family is the goal of a coal miner, you see!
Black lung and silicosis kill many West Virginia coal miners as do many unsafe working conditions.
Let's remember all these brave men who provided a means to fire plants and provide many products and resources throughout the industrialized world.
Thank the miner for bringing a greater light to the world from such a damp, dank, dark place. Thank you. May God bless you.
When the Whistle Blows
When the whistle at the mine blows And blows and blows until everyone knows There has been an incident at the mine.
Everyone runs to the mine, asking, "Was it mine,
Was it my husband involved in the cave-in?"
"Was it my husband?" another wife would whine.
Everyone very excited and scared for lives.
All the families in the coal camp and wives Gather at the mine, which may last one day,
maybe one night, maybe several days, they say.
"Was it an explosion?" one may ask another,
"Or did the roof cave in on my brother?"
The time is long and restless as time goes on through the day and through the night to the rising sun.
Little or no word has come to those who wait.
Minds run amok; prayers go up at such a gait.
Then finally, the word comes from the section boss.
Some men are hurt, but thank God none were lost.
Many a miner was lost in just this way,
so to the many, let us continue to pray, no loss today.
May God bless the miners and families who experienced a scene such as this.
I dedicate this poem to our lost Minden miners.
The Mine Is Gone
I'm sure by now you all know The mine is gone forever, and so What's left to feed our memories?
Well, there's the memory of the mine, and let's see.
The miners lost are always in our memories.
The families left behind deserve our respect.
Of course, many are getting older I expect,
And their children are not far behind.
We need to keep their children in mind.
Of course, you might expect by now Their knowledge of all this is a little, "Like wow!"
Ask yourself, "Would they know what a mine is?"
"What did it do? Why should I remember?" they whine.
Is it really my place to continue to do this?
Well, I guess it could be amiss,
An opportunity to carry on the past,
Just like all other events in our history.
"To keep it alive?" you ask.
Yes, and for as long as we have memory.
By the way, what is "coal"?
What does it look like? Do you remember?
When was the last time you saw a lump of coal?
Jesse James, the Motor Running Man
The motor was to become part of him was his plan.
He would run his motor car as fast as he can,
No more in the mine, with no cars on the track,
In a flash here he came, pulling many cars back.
This was his goal for the entire shift,
As quick as a flash to be very thrift.
His coworkers said they never saw anyone so fast.
He relied on them to make this routine last.
Without this cooperation of the crew team,
Production at this rate would run out of steam.
Coal mining took many forms over the years,
From donkeys and ponies to pull cars with the load
To heavy, iron, electric motors of the towing mode.
The first coal cars were pushed by the miner,
And to make a better pay, the family would enter The mine, a desolate, dark, dank place to render Endless shifts to make a living of the lowest form.
This life, such as it was, became the norm.
Jesse James, the motor running man, was bad.
I don't say this just because he was my dad.
I believe his real goal was to spend more time outside Rather than inside the mine And as little as possible inside in kind.
I guess this would provide some blessed peace,
Possibly avoiding some danger at least.
The Miner's Family
We had a pretty big family, you see.
There were Mom, Dad, five sisters,
two brothers, and me.
Life must have been pretty sweet back then,
When only one or two children were in the den.
As each year went by, an addition to the crew,
Added at least one, almost one time nearly two.
Dad working the night shift in the mine,
Mom working three shifts actually full time,
Life became more tense, and tempers would flare.
It seemed like control in the household took shares.
Mom said, "I will manage the girls, you see."
Dad said, "I will manage the boys. Hee!"
This was a very sad time in the boys' life.
Dad's frustration with our behavior became strife.
Next thing we knew, talk no longer exists.
I felt at times it would become fists to fists.
But no, the miners bank belt would rule.
If chores were not done, it was use the tool.
After many lashes you would know Which side you were on, or where the strips would show.
Once while Dad was sleeping, a scary movie we had watched,
Caused a commotion when I spooked my sisters and got caught.
That caused me to get it so bad I don't remember Breathing again for what seemed like November or December.
The miner's whole family shared this life, as you can see.
Lord, if you hadn't blessed this family, where would we be?
Our Big Lump of Coal
We lived in many company houses in Minden Town.
Although many have burned or have been torn down,
I counted seven at one time or another you see.
This one we lived in made us a coal company. It was at the end of a row of company houses, On one of those company numbered hills, Where one day a big sinkhole brought on chills.
It was at the end of the road at the turnaround,
Not too far from where a big lump of coal would be found.
Since Dad was buying the land where a large hole abound,
The reality company said, "We are willing to compensate By giving you something to put food on the family dinnerplate.
There is a large lump of coal you can have, you see,
To compensate for the loss of land created by the coal company."
Don't you know, we just became a coal company.
The old Dodge truck hauled many tons of coal,
Sold throughout Minden Town to nearly every soul.
We boys would load the wheelbarrow,
and to the truck we would go.
It took thirteen loads to make a ton and so,
Until our mine would become so dangerous from the top, you know.
There were many tons of yellow dirt above our heads.
Mom became very worried and said Our mine was going to be shut down,
Just like the big mine in Minden Town.
Union Hall Memories
From miners to soldiers, many from Minden back then Went to war in World War II and served their countrymen.
While growing up, trips to the Minden Union Hall Would prove to quite an experience, I recall.
I remember seeing a tattered, old US flag high upon the wall.
As the story goes, I was told it was brought back To our coal-mining town to serve as a reminder of the attack.
It flew at the liberation by our soldiers In the town of Minden, Germany,
put upon their shoulders.
Many times the union would give Christmas Treats to the miners' children at Christmastime for us.
It was usually a brown paper bag with some treats,
Like candy, fruits, and nuts; we didn't often get sweets.
The Miners Union would provide food supplements when The miners would strike for higher wages or when there was no work back then.
There could be long times; they couldn't work, you see,
So many had to find some means to feed their family,
Many times as children we were sent to the union hall To carry food home on a wagon or sled; we all Got together, very excited to accomplish the haul.
Several of us kids would do this together.
It didn't matter what the weather,
We all loved to ride the sled anyway when snow came.
It always brings back fond memories just the same.
In the summertime, around July,
Picking blackberries always caught our eye.
All of us kids of any useful size Would climb up the hills toward the Pea Ridge side,
Where most likely all the best bushes would hide.
From our home on our coal company hill Toward Captain Thurmond's Cemetery was our will.
Mom canned fruit and berries;
many jars we did fill.
She said, "These will make many warm treats to beat the chill."
When winter came, these summer chores provided a tasty thrill.
Mom was soon happy with all she could can.
So then it was the kids' turn to make their plan.
From then on, as long as they lasted you see,
We sold blackberries to the coal camp and company.
As other wild fruit trees in the woods would bear,
We gathered as much as we could to get our share.
Apples, peaches we did find.
Not all were the suitable canning kind,
So Mom said, "We'll just make jam and jelly, you see.
These things were provided, you know, just not perfectly."
This was a regular event for us kids after school was out.
We could do this and have plenty of fun rousting about.
When chores were done, it was down to the creek.
The water was so cold it made us shriek.
Christmas in Minden Town
Christmastime in Minden Town didn't mean a lot of tinsel and glitter around.
A few clear window candles could be seen.
We didn't experience the modern Christmas scene.
Roaming the ravines between Minden and Thurmond hills,
we usually brought home a three sided-piney thrill.
One side or two would always be hidden by the corner wall,
but it seemed to bring out the holiday thrill in all.
I remember making a Christmas scene display,
A white house and church with lights inside to light the windows and doors to our delight.
Set on white cotton to resemble some snow,
covered with glitter to reflect the light, you know.
Those old orange crates from the company store made these things possible for sure.
Regifting wasn't anything new back then.
Something old may be wrapped up within some Christmas paper from a year ago.
Still a gift for everyone, so, "Ho! Ho! Ho!"
Mom always baked a lot for this time of year.
Fruitcake, cookies, fudge, and cinnamon buns were some of the festive foods we managed to have at home.
The central place of most Christmas cheer was in the company store this time of year.
The second story area was Toyland; what a delight to see all the wonderful toys and bright lights.
It was great to visit there, you see.
But it didn't mean we would get anything from there under our tree.
Maybe one gift or so, and maybe nuts and candy.
So we were blessed to have our family.
Merry Christmas. 07-212015
Excerpted from "Mining Town Memories"
Copyright © 2019 Billy Ray Bibb.
Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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