Mission to Inner Earth
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by Frank Shortt
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Two young boys, one about ten, the other about eight, stalked furtively toward the drift mouth
of their father’s truck mine! The older boy carried an old carbide lamp on a turtle style mining helmet too large for his smallish
head. The younger lad, Fran, breathed hard trying to keep pace with Will, his brother.
were of the tow-head variety, wearing the same Carhart bibbed overalls common to mountain children of Appalachia. Will was stocky
and very strong for his age as compared to Fran who was skinny ‘as a rail’ and would have been awol had he turned sideways. Fran’s
mom could never feed these two enough.
“Don’t walk so fast Will, Fran cried! I can’t keep up
with you and I’m stumping my toes on all these old slate rocks!”
“Oh, you’re always complaining,
replied Will, If you can’t keep up you should’ve stayed at home.” It was not Fran’s custom to stay home when the adventure meant being
with his older brother.
After a laborious climb up the slippery slate dump, the danger being
that one never knew when one of the huge clumps might let loose, the boys approached their objective. Upon peering inside the mine
opening, Will spoke worryingly, “Boy, she shore looks dark tonight!”
Fran could only grunt, “Unh
The carbide lamp only lighted the way a short distance ahead. The helmet with the added
weight of the lamp kept slipping downward in front. The two lads knew what they were in for as they set out from home with an old
tow sack. Their faith in God increased with each step inside the burrow where their father Et eked out a slave-like living for his
wife and eight children. Fran cringed with fear each time his brother got any distance ahead with the lamp. Each of their young minds
conjured up every spook they had ever seen in the movies at Raven Theater! They imagined gob rats as big as woodchucks. Every shadow
was an alien being.
“Will, please don’t leave me back here, I can’t see my hand in front of me!”
“Oh, stop your bellyachin’, we ain’t seen nothing yet!”
About the time Will spoke those words, some settling of the timbers that held up the slate top creaked and groaned!
“Will, is the top gonna crash in on us? Fran moaned!
“Naw, Will replied, it’s just some of those
old cheap props settling that Jan Rose cut for dad!”
These boys, who had played the day away,
without doing their chores, were now required to go at night to get coal for the Warm Morning Heater. Gob rats did their prowling
at night looking for tidbits of food left by the two men who worked the mine. It was probably slim pickings for the poor rats as these
men seldom wasted food. Food was too hard to come by for poor truck miners in the late 1940’s.
“Open the sack,” Will commanded as they reached the coal pile at the head of the mine!
no gob rats get in here with the coal,” Fran replied as Will shoveled frantically to fill the sack! Will tried vainly to console his
brother as he wrestled with his own fears.
Both these boys had huge imaginations having seen
such movies as ‘It Came From Outer Space’, ‘Day of the Triffids’, and ‘The Blob’! They often wondered why their mom would send them
into this dark dungeon-like environment in spite of all their wailing? They tried to convince her that there was too much danger for
young boys to go to inner Earth to obtain the needed coal to warm their house in winter. “Who else is gonna go get the coal?
You’re the only ones around that know how to do it!” She would patiently reply all the while trying to build their confidence!
They often asked themselves why they did not haul in the coal during summer! It could have easily been gotten from the coal tipple.
No, they were too busy playing cowboys and damming up Grassy Creek thinking they could learn to swim in a foot or two of the murky
waters where other folk’s outhouses straddled the creek. It was too late to cry over spilt milk! Besides, there were the other chores
to do like bringing in wood for the cook stove, hoeing the beans, corn and potatoes. Then there was the incessant chore of hunting
up the old Jersey cow who tended to drift away too far from home. There is always plenty to do in a large family with only one provider
who only knew coal mining.
As stars appeared above these weary lads, a sigh of relief escaped
each of their lips. They had dragged the heavy sack out of the darkness that imprisoned their father each day. They could somehow
now understand, at an early age, what their father had to face daily to make a living for his brood. Silent prayers of thankfulness
were in order!