“I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do,” he told her. “Your little hands are worn out.” She looked at the Doctor with absolute clarity.

“I’m not done,” she said.“ I still got a right much to do.”

“But you’re 95 years old.”

“So, why should that stop me? I haven’t laid down yet, and until I do, I’ll keep on keeping on.”

“Very well,” he said. “Here are some pills, and if you have pain that’s unbearable, take one. It will ease the pain and help you rest.”

“Pain,” she exclaimed, shaking her head and laughing. “Oh you better believe I know pain, a little arthritis ain‘t nothin’.”

The Doctor looked deep into her eyes. He saw a young woman, not an old one.

“Tell me something, will you? What got you through?”

“Faith, and my children. That’s what. What else is there? We have no promise. We have to keep movin’. Those that set, set. Then they watch life pass them by. Not me. I dug in. I had to. I made a choice. I chose to be a Mother. So, a Mother I’ve been. And I’ve tried to be the best I could be. I’m sure I’ve made a few mistakes, but they’re all fine people.If I could, I’d have them all, all seven of them, back at home. Absolutely no regrets.”

“I find that people who have few regrets in life, experience very little pain,” he said.

She studied his face for a moment.

“You’re a smart man.”

Then she took his hands in her gnarled and worn ones.

“In a period of four years, I lost my Mother, my oldest Brother, my first born son, and my Husband of 61 years. I do think that there may have been a few harsh words, and once in a while I might feel distress over some past event, and wish that it had been otherwise; but I don’t dwell on it. I look up, not down. There’s nothin’ down there.”

“You’re the smart one,” he said.

“I’m gonna go home now,” she said. I’ve got a quilt to finish.”

© September 2007


Paul Hunter Stapleton was a coal miner.

Born in Lexington, Missouri on January 9, 1899 to Belle and Edward Martin Stapleton, he came to Letcher County, Kentucky in a covered wagon when he was six months old; so much for the phrase, “go west, young man.” I was always amused and somewhat puzzled by this. I remember asking him once why his family went east instead of west, as most of the people looking for work had done.

His only explanation was that his father, having a family to care for, knew the prospect of work in Kentucky would be good, and the coal beckoned.

My ancestors, being of Welsh descent, had coal in their blood. For my father, coal became necessary for survival. He never had a chance to tackle the western frontier. He only attained a third grade education, and basically taught himself to read and write. By the age of nine, he was crawling underground, lying on his back with a pick, and tearing from the earth the black mineral that would help keep him, his parents and his siblings alive.

In the late 1950s, having labored for fifty-five years in the coalfields of eastern Kentucky, Dad retired. One of his favorite past times was watching TV westerns. I can’t help but wonder if he felt a sense of empathy for the make-believe situations depicted on that tiny black and white screen, and wished that his father had gone the other way.

Because, although the many obstacles for the people of Wagon Train or Gunsmoke were harsh, there was always the hope of ending up like the more fortunate ones on Bonanza or The Big Valley.

He was trapped.   



"That one-mile strip never seemed clean. In winter, when it snowed, everything looked pristine. The air was cold and crisp. There was a quiet hush. At twilight when the sky became a soft translucent purple, the valley looked idyllic like a Currier and Ives’ print. Smoke curling from chimneys all through the camp, the orange glow of windows, people walking in the snow, or children going home after a long day of sledding. These images were comforting. One could, for a brief moment, forget the harshness of what was lying underneath. Abuse of the land became more visually apparent during winter. Silhouettes of bare tree limbs filled the skyline along the tops of hillsides. The ever-present holes that had been bored into the face of the mountains were no longer hidden by thick underbrush. With steam rising from their smoldering interiors, slate dumps, as tall as the hills next to them, stood like big gray lumps."  

© 2010


On a night of celebrated independence, I lie alone in a blue bed.
Fireworks on both sides of the river separating this town sparkle
             and rumble.
I need not look up tonight, for I am already in the trees.
Their tips, like a Whistler nocturne, blink yellow then pink against
             a cobalt sky.
From the ground, distant voices yell with laughter at the spectacle
             called freedom.
I will rise tomorrow with a faint taste of sulfur and a recurring
             memory that lulled
me to sleep, the whispered sound of my own faithful prayer.

TW Stapleton ©2013

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