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White Stones: A Paternal History

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  • White Stones: A Paternal History

    Because it took me 27 years to inquire
    After the names of my grandparents Felix and Anna
    This begins almost with you
    It ends with another Felix and the feet of chickens

    Pap Felix disappeared every day into the hills
    Of Conemaugh Pennsylvania to bring out the black coal
    From miles inside the earth whose jaws
    Crushed the sad insistent life out of Polacks
    From the old country

    Anna ran the boarding house for 13 other miners
    Cooking washing and mending making lunches
    Sending the miners out before first light
    So that their eyes did not have to adjust to the dark
    Either above or in the earth

    Anna who at 32 one evening waved good-bye to you
    Father being 8 you did not know
    She was stepping into the horse-drawn hearse
    To lead her like the miners into the ground
    She died of consumption having come home
    To meet her end from drinking the cold spring water
    That came from deep inside the earth

    Anna found in death those who perished
    In the Johnstown Flood of May 31, 1889 descending
    To meet the miners who died from silicosis
    Joining the families of miners who disappeared in the night
    In the times of John L. Lewis when the strikebreakers came
    And people just vanished voices heard awakenings
    Like the sound of water under ice not a bad dream
    Just horses sent to trample down porches
    Coal dust and blood spilled under an unborn moon

    Father you became the mother to miners
    Brother Felix whom you kidded because he used
    Almost a bar of soap a day he believed too much in cleanness
    As opposed to coal dust

    One day while you were cleaning elsewhere
    In that large wooden house Felix had just finished washing
    The kitchen floor leaving the door open so that
    Sun and air could hasten cleanness and make it stick
    Like words caught in a throat

    Into the kitchen marched the neighbours’ chickens
    Ignorant with a door open they just went in
    And dirtied the floor they did not know
    About the need for clean floors although I suspect
    They breathed some coal dust along the way

    Suddenly you hear a terrible racket
    And vault down the stairs as children tend to do
    When excitement has arrived
    You hear the crescendo eerie distressed cackling of chickens
    And see white stones tied to the ground by gravity
    For Felix not believing in levity but cleanness
    Had cut off all their feet and so
    The neighbours and boarders ate chicken for a week

    Finally in 1921 when Pap had had enough of darkness
    Except for the miner’s light he wore on his head
    And gas lanterns that lighted passageways
    He took the family to Detroit

    Felix a couple years later one afternoon
    A block away from home hit by a drunk driver
    Lying in the street his brains hanging out like the cap
    Of an old baseball talks lastly to a stranger
    About the chickens and the need for clean floors

    He died still tethered to Conemaugh and Pap too
    With his silicosis the blackened wings of his lungs
    Tired out coal still yawns in worn hills

    Father I have walked past white stones
    That look like legless chickens dressed up
    I do not want to deal with their cackling
    Or the nosegay of their feet stuck up in my face
    I want those chickens whole again
    And talking chicken talk

    Last edited by Tanner; 04-11-2016, 02:05 PM.

  • #2
    Hi, Tanner, Quite a story! Beautifully told. Vivid pictures to chew on, along with chicken feet. The sadness of man inflicted death in the ground and above the ground. We will kill you where you lie, and anywhere else we can find you for profit or for fun.


    • #3
      MHenry, All of this story is true as told to me by my father and verified elsewhere. Before he died, I took a trip with my father back to Johnstown Pennsylvania and saw his birthplace, the house
      where he live and the remnants of the mine where my grandfather worked. Thank you for your comments. Much appreciated!


      • #4
        Awesome distillation of the family tale, Tanner. You can poetise potently at every length from haiku to saga.


        • #5
          Grant, "haiku to saga" - wow!, I like how you frame that. I am always cautious about sharing personal / family history writes. As always, I thank you for your insights from down under!


          • #6
            Hi, Tanner! Thank you for sharing this family story writies. It cultivates a mind of a history-hungry like me! :-)


            • #7
              Master story teller - and your stories are compelling. Congratulations again Tanner!


              • #8
                I missed it that this also got an honourable mention! Way to go, Tanner! I'm backing you for a win in 2017!