Born To Be A Miner


They settled in New Boston among friends she had previously known. There were more borders. Ma kept busy but she had grandmother to help her.

As a young father of 24 years, Jacob Beninsky (name changed from (Bembem) was, in many ways, old. The hardships of the miner's life, like the lack of sunshine, had a dampening effect on face and life. Despite his personal hardships, Jacob -infused with his religious faith- was dedicated to a cheerful disposition and a positive attitude.

On the weekends he gleaned coal from the waste heaps. When he was a small child he was able to accompany his father, he carried a small pail. While his father picked coal, Mike contented himself playing playing in the coal dirt, and collecting small nuggets that he gleefully showed his father and which his father told him to collect like sea shell's -though he had never been the beach.

As an adult, I visited the Black Sand Beach of Hawaii-- a beach formed by volcanic ash. As 1 sat there my shorts blackened as did my petticoats--when, as a child, I joyously slid down the coal banks on my make-shift cardboard sleigh. I watched the children play in the black sand. I had traveled thousands of miles to see this and the barren, irregular, crevice marked landscape of Hawaii's Volcanic National Park-- whose blackness again reminded me of the black hills of Pennsylvania.

It was his legacy, Mike gleaned coal from the waste heaps--first with his father and then as a daily ritual with other young boys and girls.

Our brother Alex was born in 1898, and sister Mary in 1899. Marty followed in 1901. Baby Teofil was born in 1903 but died shortly after. The family was growing and money was tight. Pa was still a mine laborer.

It was 1905, Mike was only ten but he was tall sturdy, and eager to work-- all the perquisites needed to be "breaker boy". He applied and was immediately chosen. Coal was in demand and all hands were needed. Mike was proud to be a wage earner and an all an share the early breakfast with his father and boarders.

The education of children was ignored in the early phase of the industry, and even when it became available many of the Slavic people were suspicious of any learning that might tear their children away from their families.

My brothers Mike and Alex had no formal education. They became ''breaker boys'' enduring the painful rite of passage of torn and bleeding hands which were temporarily eased by peeing on them.

And so it was that Mike and all the other ''breaker boys'' - like their fathers, breathed in coal dust despite the washing and the handkerchiefs which they frequently tied around their face. Each day microscopic chips of silica were deposited in young lungs causing increased amounts of scarring until as late adults they would slowly suffocate from BLACK LUNG.

Mike was paid five dollars every two weeks. Of that amount Ma said she allowed him to keep twenty five cents. Mike was always frugal and even at this young age he saved ten cents which he deposited regularly in his own jelly jar. The rest was his to spend and share. Prices were a lot lower in those days. Candy could be purchased for one cent and ice cream for two cents. With time his treasure grew.