Lately, I have wondered about the life of a miner. This comes as no surprise since Putnam and Speedwell occupies a house that was once a home for a miner and his family at Eclipse Company Town. The houses are cute; but they are small, it seems to me, for a family. I wonder about life without privacy and shared beds, even though I understand that family life was different for most of history. Thinking about the holidays has fueled my curiosity. My first stop on this journey was A Christmas Carol.
The classic work by Charles Dickens still stirs emotion if not a few tears. The meaning of life is revealed to Scrooge in a series of glimpses into the lives of other people who do not possess his great wealth but enjoy happiness surrounded by family and friends. The miner’s camp is one of the scenes, they are gathered together enjoying the Christmas festivities. The importance of the gathering is the sense of community shared by these men who “labour in the bowels of the earth.” As Dickens wrote, “So surely as they raised their voices, the old man got quite blithe and loud; and so surely as they stopped, his vigour sank again.” The old man was sustained by the camaraderie in the coal town – as were other miners across the globe.
Many early academics and government officials missed the sense of community. Their studies stressed the squalor and poor health among the miners, while recent research and personal accounts emphasize that life in a coal camp “was not always drab” but rather “it could be fun.” (1) Elizabeth Ferguson Brown writes that, “The brightness of these homes comes from within.”(2)
I must admit that I had accepted the dismal portraits of coal mine towns and missed the light that comes form within. Along with Scrooge, I recognized the generosity of spirit in the faces of miners and their families. The miner’s house that we occupy as tenants is not the same place; but, we will do our best to let the light shine – especially for the Holidays. Let the merriment begin!
A Christmas Carol, Stave 3: The Second of the Three Spirits
1. Crandall A. Shifflett, Coal Towns: Life, Work, and Culture in Company Towns of Southern Appalachia (page 145)
2. Elizabeth Ferguson Brown, Coal Country Christmas (2003, Boyd’s Mill Press).