Thursday, November 20, 2008

Remember: Forty Years Ago

A few years ago, I went to Local Diner and Watering Hole with Mountain Mother and Mountain Daddy. Mountain Daddy saw a man he knew and stopped to talk. I call it the old buddies' talk. "Hey, been a long time since I've seen you/ Yeah, must be since the mine closed/ You're probably what are you doing now?/Working and trying to stay out of trouble, you?/Not me, I retired after the mine closed...enjoying it/Glad to hear; well, good to see you again/yeah, take care." I've heard it perhaps a hundred times.

Mountain Daddy, Mountain Mother and I moved to a booth across the restaurant. After the waitress took our order, Mountain Daddy said, in an almost-whisper: "See that guy I was talking to?"

"Yeah, I don't think I knew him."

"Probably not. I worked with him at the mine. They rescued him from the explosion at Farmington. He and two other men had been trapped for hours."

"! And he went back in?"

"Yeah, he went back in."

What were you doing forty years ago today? Remember? (To be honest, I wasn't doing much. I wasn't born yet.)

If you lived around Marion County, West Virginia, you'd remember. See, forty years ago the Farmington mine #9 (owned by Consolidation Coal Company) exploded, killing 78 men on the cateye (midnight) shift. Even if you weren't there, as I wasn't, you'd remember, as I bet Mountain Daddy's Miner Buddy remembers.

The disaster has touched the area ever since. One Marion County boy, Davitt McAteer, was in law school at WVU at the time. The explosion has marked his life ever since. He made mining safety his life's work and was the director of the Miners' Safety and Health Administration, the agency created in the aftermath of the explosion. In 2006, he completed a book on the disaster in Monongah in 1907. (That was my Christmas present. It's fascinating.)

Another Marion County boy later became governor and still is today. Though I disagree with some (OK, most) of what he does, he has always been a voice for mine safety. He should. Had MSHA been in place, his uncle Joe Gouzd might have been alive. Mr. Gouzd perished in the explosion. In 2006, Governor Manchin was one of the few that could really understand what the Sago Mine disaster families were going through. He'd been there.

It's also affected the kids my age. Fathers and grandfathers were killed, along with uncles and neighbors. I have heard so many stories: one girl's grandfather didn't feel right, so he called in sick. He was spared, while his entire crew perished. I remember seeing a friend's grandmother on a History Channel special. She recalled watching her husband walk to his car and drive to work, never to return.

We remember. We remember the stories and know the faces, recognize the names.

But we're in the minority. I just checked out the History Channel's This Day in History. You won't find a word there. You'll hear about the "Who Shot JR?" storyline on Dallas, but not about the 78 miners who lost their lives. Even the local paper, the Times West Virginian, is silent. This disturbs me. When we don't remember, we can forget. When we forget, we forget not only the event but the lessons of the event.

We're already begun to see the effects of the lessened MSHA codes. Just yesterday I read of the settlement in a wrongful death suit. I wish the wall had been there. And I"m sure the families would prefer their loved ones to the money.

So read this and remember.

More information is on the Wikipedia page
. Unfortunately, several links are dead. We're beginning to forget already.


Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

Don't let them forget, Laurel. A month, and then a week, before that next anniversary date, write your paper and This Day In History, and let them know.

Also, check out this link. There are two areas of concern re: mines that Bush has done.

MountainLaurel said...

Great idea, Kit. I'll have to do that. I crossposted this on Appalachian Greens , where a commenter suggested that I contact Gov. Manchin to get Nov. 20 declared as a state day of remembrance. I'll do that too.

And thanks for the link. I'll have to check it out. My fear is that we are so jubilant about Obama's election that we are ignoring the last bit of damage that Bush will do before he leaves office.

Paula said...

Laurel, Where are you from? I am from Mannington, very close to Farmington. I saw the name of your post on Lara's just struck me that anyone knew about it. Are you still around here?

MountainLaurel said...

Paula, I'm from southern Marion County close to the Taylor Co. line. Now I've moved downstate...I'm much closer to Lara than to where I grew up. I know your area well... my first boyfriend was from Flaggy Meadow!

Paula said...

How funny, you drove past my parents house plenty of parents live in Homewood, right on your way to Flaggy Meadow! We live in Fairmont now..right behind the college, excuse me, the university..I wonder if I knew you boyfriend? Did you go to West Side?

MountainLaurel said...

Paula, you probably did know him. And what's more, you probably live very close to where my grandma lived! Email me at if you'd like to continue the conversation.

SagaciousHillbilly said...

My wife grew up in Fairmont.