It is with a sorrowful heart I tell you that Mother, Della Ruth, passed away on February 14, 2019, at the age of 98. She is the center of the book alongside Dad, and is the story’s heart. It is fitting that she went home on Valentine’s Day . . . she had the biggest heart of anyone I know.
Memory of a Miner
Do you love stories about real people who stand and fight for what they believe in . . . but when the dust settles, they go dancing?
If you said “YES,” then I might just have something for you!
Black Mountain (Kenvir) miners and other members of “The Rooters,” a booster club, yucking it up at a baseball game in 1953. That’s Dad in the middle waving at you.
The period is the mid 1900s. The place – a stretch of southern Appalachia known for its rich coal veins – Harlan County, Kentucky.
Bloody Harlan, as it’s often called, was the scene of some of the most violent struggles for worker fairness this country has ever known.
Anyone remotely familiar with the history of Appalachian coal knows about the tragedies and hardships, injustices, and difficulties old school miners and their families faced. And while these struggles were true and real, that tells only one side of the story. What is just as true is that they also knew how to have fun and enjoy life.
This book shares real and true accounts of the many difficulties that Carl and Della Ruth (my dad and mother) and their mining family members and friends faced. But it also shares the good times.
The miners played as hard as they worked. Every weekend they went dancing. They loved to gather with their friends for group meals and cookouts. They hunted and fished together. They played cards and shot dice. They had organized baseball teams (Dad played right field) and coal camp played coal camp throughout Harlan County.
In fact, the picture above shows a number of Black Mountain (#30 and #31 Camps) miners and wives, along with their children. They are members of a booster club called “The Rooters” and are seen here cheering on their team.
They cried together, to be sure. But they also laughed together. So much so, in fact, that almost to a person the miners and families I interviewed for this book considered those days to be the best time of their life!
I know this was certainly true for Dad and Mother, who lived smack in the heart of this world.
Journalist Ira Glass once said “Stories happen to people who can tell them.” And if I didn’t know better, I’d think he specifically had Dad in mind when he said that.
You see, Carl Ruth was not only a resolute miner, he was also quite a character . . . both on and off the job. And the stories he would tell from those experiences are unforgettable!
This treasure would pass, along with Dad, if I didn’t do something to preserve it. And at the same time, one thought was always with me . . .
. . . I knew I wanted to tell the WHOLE story. I wanted to share the old Black Mountain miner’s experience in its full measure.
Or better yet . . . have DAD tell it . . . through his eyes and in his own words, as he lived it.
And that’s precisely what we did. He shared it all – the joy and sadness, success and failure, hardship and bounty – and I recorded it just as he spoke it.
My job then was to undertake several years of extensive research so I could fill in the historical context around the stories . . . but the stories themselves are his, written just as he spoke them.
At the outset I wanted Memory of a Miner to preserve Dad’s story, and to serve as a pipeline for his telling of it.
And I soon discovered that I was telling not only my dad’s tale and documenting his mining journey – but also in some small way all miners of the day.
I hope I’ve accomplished that mission well, for they certainly deserve it.
So whether you have mining in your roots or not, if you enjoy a real life action-adventure set in the mid 1900s that showcases both the bad times and the good, I’m hoping you’ll love reading Memory of a Miner.