N0 Money But Determined To Do The Right Thing


The Vees were wealthy by patch standards. Mr. V- had lived in the United States for many years. Like a few others, he had worked his way up through the ranks of mining. He was a contract miner and had about 20 men working under him. They were known as laborers. He was paid well. Part of his salary was dependent on the amount of coal his men recovered. As a contract miner he had to keep his bosses happy. The Vees did a lot of entertaining. Wine and beer flowed freely as their player piano beat out the latest tunes. Their middle daughter Sara, had a lovely soprano voice and was often called upon to entertain. It was also rumored that on these occasions Mr. V slipped money to these bosses. They knew the location of tie best veins of coal, and this guaranteed increased production.

Mr. V had bright red hair--but what was most outstanding was his bright red mustache and long beard. It was said that the beard covered a great deformity of his chin.

It has often been said that even the rich have skeletons in their closets. The Vees had their skeleton. Unfortunately it couldn't be kept in the closet. Mrs. Vee had a problem with alcohol and was the subject of much patch gossip. The ladies attributed her problem to their frequent parties. She was from a family of means who lived in Philadelphia. As a young woman she attended the best schools and many cultural events. All of these were sadly lacking in the barren blackness of the patches. Her husband saw to it that they had a beautifully furnished house and that she had plenty of help. But none of this could fill the cultural void.

Her husband tried to control her habit by limiting her funds. This we learned personally from her two daughters who were close friends of Mary's. But when the bottle was low and her emotions equally drained, she would gather her own elaborate clothes, as well as those of her daughters, and try to peddle them to her less fortunate neighbors. This was a constant source of pain and embarrassment to her family--especially her daughters.

Early on she would stop by our housed but Ma understood her problem. She would never buy any of her clothes. She would invite her in, sit her down, and then talk to her "What you do is wrong. Your husband works hard for these lovely clothes and to give you a good life. Why do you repay him in this way?"

Sometimes after a cup of coffee or tea and Ma's counsel, she would pick up her wares and go home. At other times she continued on her way. She was thin, pale and fragile. She died of the flu in 1918. She was 54: but looked much older.

We had another neighbor, who also had problems with alcohol, and tried to sell her children' s clothes. Again my mother refused these unusual bargains. After a while they stopped trying to sell Ma clothes. But this didn't stop them from visiting. Ma was known to be a good listener and the ladies felt free to ventilate their concerns as they sipped Ma's freshly brewed coffee. Ma seemed to enjoy these visits. She never did learn to speak English and was very hesitant to venture to town. She also avoided situations where English was spoken. Her world consisted of her family and neighbors who could speak her native tongue.