Living in coal country
by Jennifer Cohron
Mar 27, 2011 | 1935 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jennifer Cohron
Jennifer Cohron
As much as I enjoy reading, I don't have a lot of time for it anymore.

I have bought several books for myself lately and have only made a little progress on each one.

So when Beth Sargent loaned me a copy of "The Well and the Mine" by Birmingham author Gin Phillips, I assumed that it would be added to my unfinished reading list.

Instead, I found myself picking it up every chance I got even if I knew that I only had time to read a page or two.

As soon as I return the book to Beth, I intend to buy my own copy and place it next to my collection of Fannie Flagg novels.

I would honestly recommend "The Well and the Mine" over "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe." (Forgive me, Fannie.)

Although the Depression-era story could have taken place in any number of small towns, local readers can be proud to know that it is set in Carbon Hill.

When I interviewed Phillips a few years ago, she said that she could not have made up a name for a coal mining community that would have worked as well as Carbon Hill.

I didn't feel much of an urge to read the book back then. I usually prefer non-fiction. Plus, the plot seemed a little weird.

A woman throws a baby down a family's well -- yeah, I'm going to run right out and buy that knee-slapper.

Actually, many parts of "The Well and the Mine" are funny. The book is also sad, heartwarming and more realistic than I expected a piece of fiction could be.

Its characters were so true to life that I found myself thinking more about my own family with each chapter I finished.

My great-grandfather was a West Virginia coal miner. He worked during the days when "for a miner, the thought that you might not make it home from work was as much a part of the morning as a cup of coffee."

Every time Albert Moore went underground in "The Well and the Mine," I felt like my great-grandfather was down there with him.

When boys start courting Albert's oldest daughter, he tells her straight out that none of them are good enough for her.

My father told me the same thing once. I know it wouldn't have mattered if I was dating Prince William. It's just a Daddy thing.

Also like my dad, Albert is willing to give up his time, his health and maybe even his life so his son never has to be a coal miner and his daughter doesn't have to marry one.

Coal mining is a brutal way of life, but it provides the Moores with food, shelter and an opportunity for a better future.

Although the Moores are poor by modern standards, I think there is something beautiful about the simple way they live.

The Moore children don't demand the new smart phone for Christmas. They're excited when they have honey for breakfast or get to play in the cotton after it has been picked.

There is no such thing as health insurance or unemployment benefits. People have to be the safety net that their government has not yet provided.

So while the family lives in constant fear of doctor's bills and death, they also know that members of the Carbon Hill community take care of their own in times of trouble.

What do the Moores care if crops freeze in Mexico? They eat food grown in their own garden and share it willingly with any family who has been hit harder by the Depression than they have.

Instability in the Middle East isn't a concern for them, and gas prices aren't a problem either. Their world extends no farther than the Carbon Hill city limits.

Of course, 1931 isn't exactly the good old days. Phillips addresses issues such as poverty, labor tensions and segregation without turning her characters into clichés.

Reading "The Well and the Mine" didn't make me nostalgic for a simpler time because I am convinced that no time has ever been simple.

However, it does make me appreciate the price that others paid to make possible the life I have today.