Drive into the central Appalachian coalfields and you’ll see dozens of vehicles with stickers such as “Friends of Coal,” “Coal Mining our Future,” “Friends in Low Places” etc. I am not entirely sure when the change came, but sometime in the last fifteen to twenty years the ultimate goal of coal miners has gone from working to give future generations a better life outside of coal mining, to ensuring they have no alternative but coal mining.
This is the most disturbing part of Appalachia’s decline to me. Our forefather’s pride and heritage, their struggles through decades of abuse from the coal industry, has all been forgotten. Their lessons, such as putting needs before wants and finding happiness in simplicity, has been replaced with unbelievable shortsightedness. The once modest home of the young Appalachian coal miner has become anything but. The basic beat around, ride to work truck has become a tricked out diesel with rims complete with a “Friends of Coal” license plate and a vinyl sticker in the back glass with the mantra “Friends in Low Places.”
Of the many things lost in the past two generations of Appalachian coal miners, humility, compassion, and a willingness to listen and think critically has been among them. For this, I place a great deal of blame on their parents for withholding some of the most important lessons that were taught to them as children: their history, the importance of living simply, and the difference between want and need.
Today, coal miners have a long list of justifications for what they must do for a living, much of which revolving around what money has to tell them. Sadly, the voices of our past has been diminished beneath the modern day “necessity” for all things big and shiny. It’s a disgrace to the coal mining families who spent decades fighting and sacrificing to give their children a better future.
The old ways of looking down the road for the next big challenge and doing what one can to weather it, has been given up for “live for today, who knows what tomorrow will bring” attitude. For those of us who still look towards the future, we know what is coming. It is as easy as looking to the past. Boom and bust, poverty and sickness, all while coal company owners live on wherever the water is clean and their is easy access to the private jet. Their children will never have to face the challenges our children will face.
What’s worse, our children are no longer shown how to raise their own food in the family garden. Few know the enjoyment of looking forward to and finally tasting things that come into season. The wonders of watching a plant grow from a seed to provide you with free and abundant food is being lost. Instead of a vocabulary of greasy beans, bantam, or kennebec, children instead learn wages, xbox, ATV, mortgage, and war on coal.
How long has it been since a coal miner built a can house?
Forgetting our history, supporting the coal companies, destroying our mountains, polluting our water—now that is what I call dishonoring our mountain heritage.