The Bandstand


Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas C (name not known) lived next door to us. They were in their late fifties and had two married sons who, early on, understood the perils and hardships of the region and migrated Westward. The ''C's” had five grandchildren -but rarely saw them. This was very sad since Mr. ''C” loved children.

Missing a family of his own, he would frequently treat us to candy and occasionally to ice cream. He never missed an opportunity to visit with my Pa and my brothers.

He was a tall man with a full black mustache and curly hair both with a bit of gray. He smiled easily and had a hearty, contagious laugh.. Being one of the secondary bosses at the mine, he had more money than most. What he had he shared. I guess we liked him so much because he was like a kid, and took pleasure in what we liked. Most of all he had a passion for fireworks and invested heavily in purchases -not only for The fourth of July, but for every occlusion. The entire patch looked foreword to these colorful displays, but no one was happier than Mr. ''C”.

Both he and his wife loved opera. They had a large record collection which they played regularly. He also loved live band music and was instrumental in having the mining company construct a bandstand and dance pavilion at the East end of the patch.

This became the center for all community events and celebrations. From Spring through Fall various bands played at the bandstand. It was my understanding that the coal company paid for these events. The musicians also benefited from donations thrown into the base fiddle. The clinking sound of coins picked up as the evening progressed and the men became more generous in proportion to the amount of spirits consumed. Unfortunately, bottle tops made the same clinking sound as a coin and at the end of the evening: the wheat was separated from the chaff and divided.

Everyone let loose on Saturday night. Weary from five days of laboring in the damp, dark mines and choked by dusk, the men-young and old. were ready to party. The women of the patches also looked foreyard to these events which broke the monotony and drudgery of their lives.

Most of the Miners felt that liquor helped clear the dust from their throat and lungs. And so it was that dust, grime and cares were washed away by a river of beer, wine and whiskey and musical massage. Everyone danced with the men gradually stumbling and collapsing in a happy stupor.

The younger kids and older residents watched -sometimes joining in the slower dances and the ever popular polkas. My sister Mary was a good dancer and knew all the different dances which she tried to teach me. I was convinced that I had a mental block or some other bestial affliction. My feet and the music failed to connect.

My brother Marty was also a good dancer and popular with the younger girls. He looked foreword to these events but it wasn't all due to his love of dancing. The following morning he would get up at first light of morning and race to the park -scavenging and raking the area. He always returned with a fistful of coins which the happy revelers had lost. He was a rich man, at least for the moment.

Marty was about fourteen at the time. He has thin, not too tall, but very agile. He particularly liked Italian weddings which he attended both with and without an invitation.

Italian weddings were definitely lucrative. After the ceremony, it was customary for the guests to throw candy coated almonds, rice and money which were mixed together. Everyone carried a bag full and threw these treasures toward the couple as they exited.

After the area cleared, there was a free for all!! Those with the sharpest eyes and agility always managed to go home with extra spending money and treats.

Marty loved the money. We kids loved the candy-coated almonds. The fact that they were gathered from the dusty floor was of no consequence. No one knew much about germs in those days and if they did, it didn't matter !! The sweetness of the almonds transcended all possible evil.

One day after a wedding Marty came home proudly displaying a fifty cent piece -a rarity, and worth a days wages. While pleasuring our eager eyes, the coin rolled off the kitchen table across the floor and under our heavy, iron kitchen stove. It was beyond the reach of his extended arm and hand. The tip of the yard stick send it reeling still further.

Not one to let such a treasure escape, he lay flat on the floor, turned his head sideways and slowly crawled and then squeezed under the stove. He retrieved the coins but he was now stuck. Only his legs and butt were free.Marty was not happy: but we were laughing hysterically.

Ma was upset but practical, “I can't believe you crawled under there. There's no way we can pull you out. And the stove is too heavy! You'll just have to wait until your Pa and Felix get home from work”. This would mean a full hours wait.

Pa and Felix also laughed at Marty's predicament.

“It's not funny”. he moaned, “l need to pee!”. This, like no other created a sense of urgency. Two neighbors were recruited. It took four men to lift the stove.

Marty emerged, a bit dirty and embarrassed but still clutching his fifty cent he ran to the out house.

Local and state politicians also frequented the bandstand. Like most youngsters, I never found them very interesting.

Occasional conflicts and fighting would erupt when hostile union leaders, intent on organizing and promoting strikes, would meet there and clash with the company men.

These gatherings were stimulating and of much interest to the miners who were always worried about their safety and concerned with more humanitarian wages and benefits. Times were beginning to change in the coal regions. It would be a slow and difficult process.