With President Trump pumping new life into the deadly coal-mining vocation, I’d be remiss not to relate one of my family’s favorite mine disaster stories.
It was 2002 when the Quecreek Mine collapsed and flooded, trapping nine miners for over 77 hours (about nine days, if my figures are correct). Quecreek, Pennsylvania, is a sleepy little town where my late sister Wanda’s teenage, ex-fiancé lived and only miles from where the third 9/11 plane crashed — both less than 15 miles from my childhood home.
It’s also where my best buddy, Donnie Eash and I would drive to a hillbilly-like shack where a crusty family sold beer to underage punks. I’m pretty sure I once even puked in Quecreek; that’s how familiar I am with this little berg.
One of those trapped miners was my close friend who stayed overnight after school a few times. I’ll introduce him with some old Jimmy Dean lyrics:
“Through the dust and the smoke of this man-made hell, walked a giant of a man the miners knew well. Grabbed a sagging timber, gave out with a groan, and like a giant oak tree just stood there alone … Big John.
“And with all of his strength he gave a might shove, then a miner yelled out ‘There’s a light above,’ and eight men scrambled from a would-be grave; now there’s only one left down there to save … Big John.”
I should caution, this tale doesn’t end well, but it is what it is.
“With jacks and timbers they started back down; then came that rumble from deep in the ground. Smoke and gas belched out of that mine, and everyone knew it was the end of the line, for Big John … Big Bad John.”
Actually my friend’s name was Dennis, he was tall and lanky and was rescued along with the other eight. But the crux of my story involves a little lady named “Greta Van Susteren.” If you recall, she was a Fox News stalwart before “Foxes” began dropping like flies amidst revelations of the male Foxes and their morals reminiscent of a young Bill Clinton.
Greta snagged an exclusive interview with one of those luckily alive miners … none other than childhood friend, Dennis Hall. Details later, but first a little background.
Friends since grade school, my favorite Dennis memory was our junior year when he got fake front teeth — well before false teeth were cool. As the dedicated class clown, I had Dennis trained to slide them out on cue. After hearing of exotic plants in biology class, I would call girls over and say, “Dennis, show ‘em your Venus Fly Trap.” With his tongue, Dennis would extricate those falsies, revealing what very well could trap an inattentive fly.
Let’s fast-forward to 2001, when I published a paperback of short humor stories. One chronicled our fifth grade teacher Mrs. Trexel assigning female names to us few long-hairs, hoping to shame us into nerd haircuts. I became “Donna”; Dennis was “Denise.” In my slightly embellished ending, I wrote, “Dennis seemed to actually love his new name, and I’ve heard he’s now a hairdresser in Sausalito.”
Well, that little book reached bookstores in Pennsylvania and apparently Denise latched onto a copy. The aforementioned Donnie Eash ran into Dennis — now a shady character fond of flashing his homemade knives in local bars. He told Eash: “You tell Blough to look me up next time he’s home. Believe me, I’m the last guy who’d be gay … just ask my ol’ lady!” Great, an innocent joke might get me gutted like a fish by a deranged, former friend.
With Mom and Wanda visiting that summer, we all gathered to watch the Greta interview of a local hero. Instead we saw this slit-eyed, half-asleep bumpkin slurring his nonsensical words. For instance, in a painfully-slow drawl, his unrelated answer to a Greta question was, “Weeell Greta, I was raised with morales.” (Not morals, mind you, but morales.)
Asked if he’d ever return to mining, Dennis slowly opened his eyes and droned on about his knife-making sideline. Worrywart Wanda was aghast and embarrassed, making it even more hilarious to the rest of us. She gasped, “Now people will think everyone from our area is ignorant and on dope”
Watching the recording over and over, I quipped, “During commercial, Greta probably ran backstage and screamed, “I want whoever booked that mouth-breathing caveman fired!”
And now you know … the rest of the story. Hopefully Denise won’t somehow see this and throw another whiskey-fueled hissy-fit.