“Teena’s Story (for Don West)”
By Bob Henry Baber
Dad started to work in the mines before he was fifteen. He lied to get in. He was impressive: 6'4", dark skinned, and Italian looking — the kind of man you noticed in the crowd, especially if you were a woman. That's what mamma always said. They had seven girls together and filed for divorce seven times! Once for each, Daddy always said. In hindsight every one of them reconciliations net them a baby girl! After we grew up Dad'd jokingly say, "If I'd've saved all I spent on toilet paper and Kotex I'd be a millionaire today!" When I was little he seemed as strong as the mountains, but after a shuttle buggy busted loose and ran over top of him, breaking his back in four places, he just wasn't the same. They bound him together with copper wire and sent him home to my pregnant mother to care for. Back then they didn't have disability, so it wasn't days after he crawled out of bed till he was back in the mines drawing pay in dirt. I remember when he came home he'd lay down hit the floor with his head and softly moan, trying to relieve the pressure on his aching bones. Sometime I'd sit beside him and stroke his hair. He'd smile back at me, and black creases would gather like crows around the corners of his cornfield eyes. It wasn't too many years later that he began to suffer from shortness of breath. The doctors determined he was eat up with Black Lung. He tried for years thereafter to get benefits but with no luck. Fortunately we did have land and were able to grow most of what we ate — family and friends provided for the rest. Daddy never would accept food stamps, mountain pride prevented that. He finally got his Black Lung. On his way to pick up the check at the lawyer's he got broadsided by a truck. They all went over the hill together. Witnesses said he was crushed by block coal spilled from the wreck, and died within minutes of internal injuries. "Coal" was the last word he lipped. * * * As you tell this story, Teena, you are Appalachia stripped to dauntless truth — your tenderness at once your downfall & your salvation: the Amazing Grace of a mineral world turned so grim and hard only mine mascara tears running down cheeks can redeem it.
from “A Picture From Life’s Other Side: Appalachian Poems” by Bob Henry Baber
Bob Henry Baber fought like a tiger for Richwood’s’s flooded schools destroyed by the 2016 Thousand Year Flood (akin to east Kentucky’s recent disaster). In his first term as mayor he helped secure the growth of the Cranberry Wilderness and 4 million in grants. His novel, “Pure Orange Sunshine,” chronicles a riot started in LA in 1971 by agent provocateurs, during which he was shot and jailed.
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