The warmth of spring has brought the children of Cedar Grove out in force. I watch them flying by my place on bicycles and scooters. They are dressed in warm weather clothing. I listen to their laughter with a glad heart. The recent attacks on collective bargaining in Wisconsin has me thinking about these children and those that went before them.
My Irish ancesters helped to build this country when they worked the mine fields of Pennsylvania. When boys turned thirteen and finished the eighth grade, they went to work for the mining company. High school was not an option. Their childhood was essentially over.
All day long, all week long they sat on a board from which they separated slate from coal as it moved past them on a conveyor belt. They were just children, yet the light of day was denied them. They had no choice but to work to help support their families.
This was the fate of the young boys born into the mine fields until reforms gave them back their childhood. My uncles completed the eighth grade before dropping out of school to work as breaker boys. I grew up listening to their stories of the mines.
There is a town called Centralia in the neighboring county where veins of coal caught on fire and could not be extinguished. The town was abandoned to the smoke and fumes that seep through the ground. If you were hiking the Appalachian Trail, you could take a detour and view the ruins. It seems emblematic, somehow, of corporate disregard for people and the environment.
My father spent his whole life lamenting the scarring of the forested slopes of the Appalachians by the mining companies. The assault on the land went hand in hand with the abuse suffered by those who labored their whole lives for king coal. One of my uncles lived with black lung disease.
I believe that these miners found some measure of happiness in life as did their women who spent their whole lives locked in battle against the ever pervasive coal dust that blackened everything it touched. My father was the only one in his family to escape to attend Columbia University and become chairman of the art department at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. He also taught astronomy courses on Public Television for NASA.
The sad thing is that, though they labored all their lives, many of these miners had intelligence that they were never given the opportunity to utilize. Working with their hands was their fate. As bleak as their lives were, my aunt wrote beautiful poetry and my uncle grew flowers that bordered his vegetable garden. They were all readers.
The children of Cedar Grove face brighter, sunnier futures thanks to labor laws and collective bargaining. So I say to Scott Walker and his kind, "What are you thinking?"