I’ve been thinking about my grandpa a lot lately. Writing the short story, COAL DUST ON MY FEET, I dug deep into the crevices of my memory and tunneled through pages of old picture albums Daddy and Mama kept all these years. The truth is -- my grandparents, the miners of West Virginia and their children, didn’t romanticize their lives. They lived them and survived the best they could. The outside world didn’t exist much past an occasional radio program or newspaper article. Time stood still in the hollers and mountains around Clay County … life for Troy Jennings King consisted of a wife, five children, and a job … mining coal for the Elk River Coal and Lumber Company.
COAL DUST ON MY FEET is a very real story … in some ways. The strike did happen. The violence in 1952 and for the next year is legendary and men who were killed and maimed live on in the memories of their families to this day. Families were torn apart, cousin against cousin, father against son—and the union, though it failed to break the back of the company by the time the strike ended, changed things. Eventually … the company closed its doors. The coal camp or town of Widen, West Virginia folded up except for the post office and a few that refused to leave.
This place is real to me. I felt it simmer in my bones when I walked the dirt roads that exist in the area today. My story burns in my heart and struggles to free itself on the page. Although the story is fiction … it’s alive to me. It’s a love story in the town my family lived in for many years. A story of the supernatural and the women who brought it about.
I remember my grandpa clearly in my mind. I can still hear his voice the day he helped Daddy build a room on the back of our house. He sat on a milk crate, drug hard on his cigarette, and then pointed at Daddy. “Now Darrel,” he’d say, “make sure you cut that board long enough and use a 2 by 4, hear me?” I miss him all these years later. He was permanently bent over at the waist, walked with his hands held together behind his back. But he loved us. Always had a hug ready for me. The coalmines warped him. And they killed him eventually. Lung cancer, black lung or otherwise took his life in 1979.
I was born a coal miner’s granddaughter, and that is the catalyst that inspired the story, COAL DUST ON MY FEET.
Blessings to you and yours.