Friday, August 10, 2012

Coal Dust On My Feet ~ part 13

~~~Saturday, May 9, 1953~~~

            She’d survived the night. DeDe sat up slowly, feeling the creak and snap of each vertebra. She’d slept in James’ bed, or tried to. She wanted to smell him, feel where he had been only hours before. What little sleep she did get was filled with dreams of him as a baby, crying at her feet, toddling behind her as she hung sheets on the line, or playing with his puppy.

            Swinging her feet over the side, she put the sole of her foot down on one of her son’s drawings sticking out from under the bed. A picture of Savina. James had not shown this picture to her. There was a curious look in her eye; she looked strange … different … not his best drawing of Savina. DeDe noticed it was dated July, last year. She carried the drawing to her chifforobe and placed it in the box with the rest of his drawings. Until she could bear to put them into a scrapbook in her old age, they would be buried there.

            “Bury,” she said aloud. The word stuck in her throat.

            DeDe wasn’t a stranger to burying a child. But she had not known her stillborn son. This was different.

James Curtis had slept his last night in their home. She slid her hand along the top of the closed casket that rested on two sawhorses in her front room. How could she find the strength to put on her blue funeral dress, eat breakfast, and face the crowds again? How on earth could she lower her son’s body into the ground and keep on living?


            DeDe stumbled into the church, watching Pastor Jessie greet people with a double-handed shake.

            “You and Thirl need anything, anything at all, you call me, hear?”

            DeDe smiled weakly, but said nothing.

            She walked to the front pew and looked into the sleepless face of Doctor Vance; his glasses had steamed up from humidity and tears. She sat next to him. Hands clasped together, twisting in her lap, she avoided his gaze.

            “He was a good son.”

DeDe cleared her throat. “Thanks, Doc. I just want this day to be over.”

He leaned toward her. “But you can’t let grief consume you, Deanna.”

            She nodded. “People give in to grief the way they fall in love. Grief will be my constant companion for the rest of my days.” Doctor Vance squeezed her hand, then moved over so Thirl could sit beside her.

            The crowd grew quiet, except for a low volume of grumbling and dissension when Odie walked up to the altar where his daughter’s casket lay next to James’ at the front of the church. He stood disheveled in a wrinkled suit and placed each hand on a coffin. His shoulders heaved up and down until Thirl stood and guided him back to the front pew for the eulogy. Tears rolled down Odie's cheeks, unchecked. The crowd of mourners murmured among themselves over such a blatant display of forgiveness.

            Aging years since DeDe had seen him last, Odie was frail, hairless, and embryonic.  His old man’s shoulders, thin and lifeless, moved beneath the fabric of his jacket as he grabbed hold of James Curtis’ casket and hoisted it to his shoulder. DeDe prayed for Thirl’s bad leg when he raised Savina’s casket to his own shoulders. Sixteen men in all carried Savina and James to their final resting places. Sixteen men who were neither union nor company on that day.

Odie had appeared on their back porch to ask his friends for forgiveness and grieve with them. Thirl had contacted the sheriff and requested Odie be allowed to go to the funeral and then get his house in order before they arrested him. The Nettles took responsibility for Odie, promising the sheriff that he would be at his farm on Monday morning. Thirl made a promise to his old friend that he would sell his farm and put the money in a fund for miners’ children.

            Thirl, DeDe, and Odie were miner's children who became miners. It was only fitting they carry one another's burdens and share in each other's sorrow on the day they buried their children--together. They buried them under a Golden Delicious apple tree in the church cemetery, two rows down from a tombstone barely readable. Herald Wingate, Born 1884, Died 1909, Friend of C.G. Widen, town founder.

... the last part of Coal Dust On My Feet will post tomorrow.

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