I am sitting here and listening to the sounds of a town waking up. Traffic is busy up on the highway, a car passes my house every little bit, a truck or big piece of machinery is beeping away, letting folks behind it know that it means business. Someone is using power tools down the way, and occasionally, from down the street, a neighbor’s dogs vocalize their excitement. Somebody is pounding on wood with a hammer, and I imagine the scent of freshly cut lumber. Into this madness, I also hear the chirp of birds, singing their morning praises.
These are normal, modern day sounds in a town or city. But, if we were to wind back time to the 1940’s, what would we hear? What if we lived in a coal mining town? What would be normal then and there?
Whenever I look these things up on Youtube, I get videos of folks exploring abandoned coal towns. Sometimes, videos of folks walking into old mine shafts, hoping for a visit from a ghost or 2. These videos and photos show nature trying to take back the land. Bars over mine entrances for obvious reasons, foundations of houses that once sheltered families with real needs and wants as our own, Cold coking ovens, and empty, ramshackle buildings that only tell part of a story.
What did those towns sound like in their day? What did they smell like? What conversations would one hear, as the townsfolk got up and got ready for a brand new day?
Can you tell I’m in the midst of writing a story?
My plans for the day have been altered somewhat. My youngest woke up with an upset stomach and probably a bit of a fever. The dinner of pancakes and sausage that my husband and I had planned won’t exactly be a help to her. Our plans of taking her to quiz practice are out, too. It’s still early, so if the rest of the day is going to go haywire, we’ve yet to experience it.
What would a miner’s wife do, if she woke up to a sick child? Give him hot tea and crackers? Call the doctor, which would lower next week’s payday? Send him to school, anyway?
What if a person truly needed a doctor, but the doctor was 8 miles away?
Doesn’t sound like a big deal today, does it? Hop in the car and go.
But, what if they didn’t have a car? What if the road was not paved but a series of mountains, hollows, switchbacks and mud holes? You might ride your horse, if you had one. You might take a wagon, if you had a team of horses to hitch to it.
I asked my grandpa once, “How did the women travel around in dresses, if there was that much mud?”
“They stayed home,” he said, matter-of-factly. “Wasn’t no Walmart to go to.”
That talk I had with Papaw is recorded and saved on my MacBook so I can go back and listen to it as much as I want. I’m so thankful for that. He will be 85 this Friday, and we are never guaranteed tomorrow.
I turned 40 this last January, and already in my lifetime I see changes that will have my children saying one day, “I wonder how Mom did this or that. What was it really like?”
Cell phones, computers, everything digital; these are realities that were only dreams just a short time ago. My children who were born in 2005 and 2007 speak in a language that I sometimes do not understand. I ask them for clarification, and they laugh as they explain. I remember doing that when I was a kid.
So, how can we get a sense of the past, when we haven’t been there?
From those who were there, of course.
We ask our elders, we read books, we dig up old newspaper articles, we visit museums and other historic sites, we explore these places now abandoned. And, we ask ourselves, What would I have done? How would these experiences make me feel?”
The answers, I believe will surprise us.
Matthew 7:7-8 King James Version (KJV)
7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.