I was raised in Grant Town, WV. I lived there from 1955 until 1973. My daddy, Hansel Elza, was a coal miner at the Grant Town mine and at Blacksville for 55 years. His daddy, Eli Elza, was killed in a coal mining accident when my dad was a young man. My granddad told my daddy to run because he heard the roof coming in. He did and looked back to see his father killed. Daddy was only 14 years old.
I grew up to see what stressful lives both my mom and dad led in those hills. Every time the whistle blew at the fire house my mom would get on the phone with all the other wives in town to see if the ambulance went towards the mines. You could see the fear in their eyes.
One of my best friends lost his daddy when we were very young children in grade school. His name was Thomas Waskis. His mother raised Tommy and Johnny all by herself. I remember walking to the company store with my mother to get whatever we needed. I remember my daddy walking down the road, face black, with his coal bucket which always had something he had saved for my brother and I to eat. Usually a lunch cake or cookie. It wasn't until my adult years that I realized that my daddy saved those snacks on purpose for us. I remember going to the union hall every Halloween and Christmas for big paper sacks filled with fruit, candy and candy canes for every kid that the miners had purchased themselves.
My brother Mike Watkins went into the coal mines in 1976 when he was just a teenager. My daddy got him on with the promise from Mike that he would only work a little while and save up his money for a better job. Mike still works in the mines. I remember the awful mining disaster at the Farmington #9 mine in 1968. I remember one of my best friends at the time crying because they told her her husband was dead in that mine. I remember tears shed by the wives at the company store and knowing that I couldn't live like that. I swore to myself then and there that somehow I would get a good education and get out of there and marry a man who was far from those mines. In 1973 I enlisted in the US Army and I have been gone ever since. I am married with 4 beautiful children.
My mom and dad have since died. Dad in 1988 from black lung and mom in 1989 from cancer. I will long hold all these beautiful memories in my heart and pass them on to my children. I thank the Lord that I came from the coal camps of West Virginia and that my daddy was the hardest working and most dedicated coal miner ever.