Monday, May 24, 2010


Like all kids we were fascinated by lightning bugs. We caught them at dusk and in the dark summer evenings in the small village where I lived. They loved elderberry bushes and we searched around the bushes for them. We held them in our hand and waited until they glowed and quickly, while they were lit, squashed them on our shirts trying to spell our name in fluorescence. Kids do strange things.

Butterflies were also around, but they were special. We only caught them on occasion being careful not to touch their wings or remove the powdery material from the wings. For some reason we were certain that touching the wings would remove the powder and prevent them from ever flying again.

I lived in a coal mining village, not too different from other coal mining villages in Kentucky or West Virginia. Most of our parents were immigrants from Eastern Europe or the older offspring of the immigrants. We were all poor; some poorer than others, but all poor. The school we attended was the pet project of the man that owned the houses where we lived and he paid for the teachers and books and all school supplies.

The company store was the lifeline for us. It held the post office, the shoe store, the clothing store, the hardware store and all owned by the same man. Even though the mines that he had operated were now depleted and no one worked for him, he still owned some of the buildings and the processing plant for the coal mined from other mines. He was very wealthy and lived in a wonderful house in an area that we were only allowed to visit on special occasions, such as Christmas.

Most of us spoke another language at home, but at school only English was allowed.
I always remember Poor Anne S. who could only speak Russian and was sent home from first grade until she learned enough English to be allowed to return.

And for several winters we all received cod liver oil doses at school, provided by the man that owned the houses. We all lined up and the teacher used an eye dropper to deposit foul tasting cod liver oil on our tongue and made sure we swallowed before letting us go.

Work in the mines was hard and dirty. Often it was dangerous and cave-ins were not unusual. Men died in the mines or were disabled. My fathers’ hands had patches of dark blue from the small coal particles that had permanently remained under the skin from accidents.

We went to high school at a neighboring township; we only had a grade school.

Coal gradually was replaced with oil for home heating in the cities that served as the market for coal. Work at the mines was gradually disappearing, so when I graduated high school the Korean War was starting and I enlisted in the Air Force and left the village. After I was discharged, I used the GI bill which provided me with the necessary funds to go to college. I never returned, except for a brief stay while attending college and visits.

Butterflies undergo a metamorphism in the cocoon stage. I’m sure most zoologists can describe the mechanism of how it all works. I find it one of the most fascinating works of nature.

Most of us who grew up in the village must have had our wings touched and the powder removed. Some of us however did not and we escaped, flying to other worlds.

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