Pushing the strap of the clean vinyl lunchbox back onto my shoulder, I reach for the door handle of expectations. My mind is racing as I re-read the sign: Training In Session.. 1-2-3, I count in my head; fighting heavy eyelids, I open my green eyes. Yellow hardhats sat on the tables in front of backbreaking chairs. I breathe out with a sigh, and choose a chair, knowing it will be my fate for the next twelve and a half hours. The indoor-outdoor carpet barely seems suitable to place my new lunchbox on. I fear that I will never find the gray and black box again in the years of coal dust, and dirt that had been packed into it. You can’t tell the original color, or tell if there is carpet there at all. Now that I am seated, I have sleepiness even more.
Against my every intention, I turn around when I hear a mucusy throat cough from behind me. He used every effort he had to smile through his untrimmed gray speckled facial hair. I smile back as I brush my hair from my face, but quickly stare down at the ground. I notice my out-of-the-box steel-toed boots. I follow the ground over to his worn, and steel exposed boots. I am then again reminded I am a beginner. I have no experience; I am merely here thanks to my father and the years he has contributed to this company.
It doesn’t seem like your average summer job for any teenager, but the coalmine was my work site. Around an hour and fifteen minutes from my hometown, at Jacob’s Ranch Mine was where my father helped to get me on. During the summers, the coalmines in the Thunder Basin of Wyoming hire college students to work in the office, clean in the shop, or drive 240-ton haul trucks. When it came down to the money, I choose to drive haul truck. Although my dad works out at the mines, we were placed at different mines owned by the same company. My dad did not like this idea at all. Out at the mine there is a different way of life, and he did not see how his baby girl fit into it. He prepared me by telling me to remember it was only a few months, and through stories I had heard throughout the years. My dad didn’t think that anyone could be completely ready for a job of driving an oversized Tonka truck for a twelve-hour shift, much less be prepared to enter into a coalmine of middle-aged men. After my first day of training, I was not sure I was ready for it either, especially when we could climb around the truck like a toy at an amusement park.
Not being able to reach the top of the tire even on my tiptoes, arm to full extend aids in the process of my stomach acid turning and twisting so much I think it created a pretzel. “Check to make sure all the lugs on are. Run with two missing, unless they are next to each other. Got it, girl?” Todd yells over the top of the engine as he faces the tire, and doesn’t even turn to face me. I nod expecting him to see it, even though I don’t understand the difference. Two is two, isn’t it? He glances over his shoulder. I return an understanding smile back at him. I understand more about Todd than the tire. The wrinkles that his serious smile brings are years of knowledge about this job , of little challenge; it shows the joy of his family on days off, and the hardship his body has endured from the rotational shift work. These are the wrinkles like those I would touch with my finger, as my dad would come in late at night to make sure I was asleep. Staring at a tire of a 240-ton haul truck was not what I wanted to be doing this summer afternoon, but Todd with his skills, and his out going personality brought the day alive for me. I was no longer only a rider in this truck of my fears, but now I was beginning to take the wheel. I still had many days of ride/drive training left, but none of them would be with Todd.
“Hey Jesse, what is that YELLOW hardhat doing in your window?” a scratchy voice comes over the little black box that sits on the dash. A green number, 2075, flashes on the screen, as I turn to see the reaction from a guy I just met about five hours ago. Through his smile, I feel like I can read his thoughts.
“Do you get offended easily?” His gap toothed smile asks. I shake my head no, but wonder why. He reaches for my bright and shiny yellow hardhat. “Well if you are lying, turn and look out the window, not my direction. Impossible for me to be able to just look the other way, when I knew somehow this was going to involve me, and that yellow boundary. As truck 2075 cruised closer, Jesse began to move my hardhat up and down, in and out of his lap. I felt the laugher start with a snort. In the perverted part of my mind, Jesse pretending I was giving him some pleasure captured what this day of ride/drive training seemed to not say.
“ It don’t work like that, buddy. She is too much for you.” 2075 remarks after this awkward scene is presented. I am not thrown by this talk like many other nineteen-year-old girls would be. This would be dinner talk around the table. My brother and I would be talking about whose poop would be the chunkiest, or otherwise the whip cream would be flying through the air. My mom would be pick at whatever the delight was she made that evening, counting the time down to when she could leave the chaos. My dad would just tell us to knock it off, or slam his face back into the book he was reading. It was a story I could share with everyone at the table, and get a laugh out of each self-focused person there.
I experienced the coalmine, before the day I stepped into the training room. My hometown is built around the railroad, and coalmines. The requirements for these jobs are the same; skills that come over time on the job. I grew up in this type of culture with blunt, distasteful talk, much like the “locker room” talk of males. To create a shift at the mine it was usually around seventy-seven people are on at a time. Out of this seventy-seven somewhere between eight and twelve would be women. None of which are lady-like, or could be identified as different from the guys. The men did not look down on the women working there, nor did they treat them any different than each other. The only thing is that it has spread through the community, not been controlled by the metal gates of lockers.
The man of the house are the not only ones with these values of the mine, but the community is not what you would imagine from a small town. Working at the coalmine is a job any people have, because you can get hired on with no experience but make enough money to support your family, plus medical benefits. Out at the mine, I was encouraged to go back to school, not get pregnant until I am married, and to marry for money at least the first time. They men seemed to give me advice like I was their own daughter, since our coworkers become your second family. The men out there did not want a young girl to end up like them, unhappy and having to do a mindless job day after day. More than anyone, my dad did not want me to.
“You got family working out here, girl?” John questions me as we stand like rocks carefully placed in a circle, waiting for the kick-it-to-start-it reused short bus on my last day of work for the summer.
“My dad works at Antelope.” I responded without hesitation. It was the question I had been asked multiply times throughout the summer, it was a no thinking answer by now.
“Bob Curtis, is it?”
“Yes, that is my dad.”
“Farmer Bob. O man, that is what they called him. What does he do out there nowadays?”
“He drives truck.” I am set on my answer. Knowing that this summer, I had the same level of position in this dirt hole that my sixteen-year experienced father still does. I was celebrating my last day of a mind-numbing job of driving twelve and a half hours a day, in half circles. It was the life of a coal miner, something I didn’t want to do the rest of my life, but that I knew many, including those standing in front of me, were submitted to until retirement could reach them.
The wrinkles on their faces, the “miners’ guts”, and the struggling to pay their bills was all they would have to show for the years of hating their job. Looking onto my father’s grease stained jeans, and his dirt smudged face, when I get home, I know that my dad will celebrate with me the fact that I don’t have to work out there with him but will get an education. When I see the wrinkles deeper on his face when he comes home from a twelve-hour day, I will be able to say, “ Someday daddy… someday you won’t have black boogers anymore.”
This was my first english paper this year.... good old Coal Mine....