We had a big breakfast and then were told about the day’s missions. Half of us were to go to Big Creek Food Pantry, where we would hand out our purses and Jackie would be cutting hair. The other half would swing by a person’s house who was new to Big Creek Missions. They would check it out and take pictures to see what all had to be done to it. Then, they would go to another lady’s house who had 2 kids with autism. They were to clean up her yard and just spend some time with her and maybe give her a moment’s break from the kids, if possible. Again, I knew what I wanted to do, but waited to see where I would be placed. Again, I was placed where I felt I had a calling. I had brought down some nail polish, and thought that would be a nice combo for when the ladies came in for a hair cut. While we were deciding details, Kevin came into the room. I thanked him for setting us up with Mona and told him how wonderful she was and that we had decided to adopt her! He asked where it was I was going for the day. When I told him I was going to the pantry, he said I could call her and ask her to join us. REALLY?! We could do that?! I was overjoyed to have one more day with her! I told Tiffany and Linda and they were just as excited! Kevin gave me her number and I called her.
“Hello?” came Mona’s Appalachian accent.
“Good morning, Mrs. Mona! This is Angie. How are you?”
“Oh, I’m just fine.”
“Well, I called to tell you that we didn’t get enough of you yesterday. We’re not doing anything exciting today, just hanging out at the food pantry. Would you like to join us?”
“Oh yes! That would be nice!” I could hear the happiness in her voice, and this made me even happier. I told her we would be to her in about an hour and asked if that would be enough time. She said yes, and we hung up and I got ready for our day together. I found my friends looking through the purses and choosing a purse for each of the ladies they would be seeing. Kevin told us that purple was Mona’s favorite color and we had seen her carry a small brown purse the day before. So, we chose a small pinkish purple purse for her. We rushed out of the door, eager to see her again. We picked her up and went back to the food pantry.
Jackie had already begun cutting hair and making people feel beautiful. There was a man in her chair and a cookie cutter boy of about 10 years old who lingered nearby. He was definitely the man’s son, no denying it. He was watching his father get his hair cut. He smiled shyly, but when he was told it was his turn, his smile faded. He wanted nothing to do with Jackie’s scissors. Our friend Carol Ann was helping Jackie with whatever she needed, be it clean up, conversation, or just to hold the mirror. She helped him over to where Jackie sat to cut his hair. I marveled as Carol Ann tenderly held his hands to help comfort him and help him feel secure, and the way Jackie so patiently showed him everything she would be doing and how it would feel if it touched his skin, before she even made the first clip. She talked him through every moment of it. Carol Ann helped with any other need he had, including holding the mirror and telling him how brave he was and how good he was doing.
Eventually, Jackie brought out what she called her tickle monster. She told him it would tickle him so much that his tummy would hurt from laughing. She turned on her clippers and as they buzzed, his eyes grew wide with fear. She showed him that the clippers would not hurt him. She invited him to touch it, but when he refused, she put her full hand on the clippers to show him it wouldn’t hurt. He carefully lifted one finger to touch it. Slowly, his worried frown turned into a smile, and eventually laughter. After his hair cut, I asked if I could take a photo of him with Jackie to show the difference. Without hesitation, he quickly wrapped his arms around both Jackie and Carol Ann! The change in him was unbelievable! He had come in, a nervous, shy boy, who was a afraid to death of getting his hair cut. But here he was, hugging two strangers. I snapped a photo of his handsome, beaming smile.
Later, there was a couple that sat at the front, waiting for their turn to have their hair cut. I struck up a conversation with them and talked to each independently, as they waited for the other to finish. Through conversation, I learned that he had worked for the local coal mines in a factory called a coal tipple. Never having met anyone who had ever worked for a coal mine, I was intrigued. I asked him what a coal tipple was, and promptly started looking for images on Google, to help me understand what we was talking about. I learned that a tipple is a structure used at a mine to load the extracted coal for transport into railroad hopper cars. He said it was hard work and it was just as hard and just as dirty as working in the mines. But it was safer because you didn’t have to worry about hitting any pockets of natural gas and having the mine explode with you in it. That thought terrified me! We grumble about going to our safe, boring little cubicles each day, but here was a man who had, at one time, gone to work in a mine every day, not knowing if he would come back out again! There weren’t a lot of options around there for jobs, so this was how they made their life. I asked how the men got down into the mines. Did they have to walk all that way or did they have to get into one of those carts they have, like the one’s I’d seen on Indiana Jones?
I imagined them lying on their backs in the darkness of their carts, watching as the various lights flew by over head, one by one. How dark and scary that would be! But I was told that they road in what is called a man trip. Its a short, squaty car that holds around 10 men or less. The men hop on and they go into the mines, sometimes as deep as 7 miles! The man trip has headlights, and there are lights throughout the mine, but its still dark. I wondered what it would be like if there was a storm outside and the electricity went off, and you were 7 miles deep in your tunnel. I remembered the “dungeon” where I work, in the basement of a hospital garage. How I complain about not having windows and not knowing if its a rainy or a beautiful day. But all I need to do is walk up a flight of steps and I can find out. These men go miles into the dark and won’t find out until the end of their shift.
I asked his wife what it was like to be married to a coal miner. I was thinking it was probably much like being married to a police officer, never knowing if they would come home, or if they would fall in the line of duty. She said no, she never thought about it like that. She said he always came home dirty, from head to toe. She had to clean her bathroom every single night, because otherwise, it would be black. She told me the miners wore masks over their nose and mouth and goggles over their eyes to protect them. Her husband would come home and the only part of him that would be white was a ring around his eyes, nose, and mouth. He said the mask part was very uncomfortable, and a lot of the time, he didn’t even wear it. I thought of all the coal dust that probably got into his lungs.
He had worked a long time in the mines before he was eventually given a uniform. He would put it on to work in, and take it off and leave it at the mine each day. This made it a little easier for her, because less of the coal dust was coming home with him.
Then, she smiled at me. “And it’s even easier now that he’s retired!”
I asked what they were going to do now that they had been spiffed up with their new hair cuts. He smiled down at his wife and said he was taking her on a date. They would be heading to the next town over, where he planned to take her shopping and see “what other trouble they could get into.” Seeing as they were old enough to be my grandparents, this made me smile. They were still madly in love with each other and it was so nice to see. It was written all over their faces and the way they talked to and about each other. They were definitely a very sweet couple who still had a lot of sass left in them and, it seemed, a lot of life.
To be continued on the next post…