Mary Meyers - family life
Gail Herman: When your dad came home from the coal mines working in a day, what would be his first event? What would he do when he first got home?
Mary Meyers: Well the first thing he did was take a bath. At that time there was what we called the outside kitchen. It was built on the back of the house and, of course, we had the stove in there and it was always nice and warm and there was a wooden tub and Mother would fill it with hot water and he would take his bath there. And, of course, we were out playing or in the other part of the house then when he did that. But Mother would stay and she would wash his back. I can remember the coal dirt on him, you know, and around his eyes was the black and the coal dust and all. That was the first thing. He'd sit in the tub.
GH: Oh it was big enough?
MM: Yeah, it was a big, round wooden tub. He could sit in that. Of course his knees were up. But that's what he would do and he'd be well-scrubbed. He was nice and clean when he came to the supper table. Change his clothes, change all his clothes.
Then Mother always had, she baked bread and made soup and had it fixed real, real good food that was nourishing, and lots of it. For that big family. My father was very handy. He made us a long kitchen table so all of us children could sit around it and the family. We always had someone visiting us. Either Mother's brothers or some relatives or friends, somebody. We always had more than the family here. We had, one time, we had a bench along one side of the table and another time we had seats that came down that were fastened on the wall and folded down to sit on. But they came from a hearse, an ambulance. That's where the pall-bearers used to sit. Next door there was an undertaker who also had sold furniture and he had his hearses in the stable in the back, or the garage he uses now. That's where we played back there's, too, sometimes. But then when he gave up that business, they, of course, the things were sold and everything, but we got some of the seats out of the hearse and we used those in the kitchen for a long while.
Then in the evening, I said we would, after supper, we would do our homework and there was always a baby around. He'd play with the baby. And then we went to bed early 'cause he had to get up early.
GH: What time was that?
MM: He'd get up about five o'clock, he and Mother. He'd get up at five and he'd have his breakfast and get ready for work. But he was always off Sundays. I remember every Sunday we had steak for breakfast and we weren't the only ones. That was common for the miner's families to have steak for Sunday morning breakfast because that was one morning the father was home and had breakfast with his family. Because I lived…before that, why, he was usually gone to work before the children got up.
GH: What else did you have besides steak for breakfast?
MM: Oh we had a steak and gravy and homemade bread. And we would have eggs, we always had chickens. And on Sunday afternoon he always took us for a walk. We'd go to church in the morning. We're Catholics, we went to mass in the morning and then in the afternoons he would take us for walk and we always went some place different on around the hills and he would explain to us about the names of the trees and the birds and the plants. We got a really pretty good education in Science at that time 'cause he understood it although he had only gone to school to the fifth grade. But he was interested in everything around him. And he read a great deal. So he was pretty knowledgeable about things.
In evening we often went up to his mother's home which was on a hill to the north of town. And it was a nice walk, about maybe, 10 minute walk, 15 minutes probably. But he always said "up home," "we're going up home." Because that was his boyhood home and he had sisters living there until, oh just, I guess the last one died in about, what, 1970 something'.
GH: So you went to visit Grandma?
MM: Oh yes we did. Uh-huh.
GH: What was that like?
MM Oh that was always fun. They always played cards up there and there was a lot of talking. They all talked and the women made quilts and hook rugs and embroidery work. They did a lot of things like that. But they also read a great deal. They always had books and newspapers. Always did that. In fact, that's typical of the town. The houses all had books. And newspapers and the people were well read and they could talk on current events, politics, and sports. Everything that went on. And they put on plays in town. They had local talent shows. Oh yes. My mother acted in several of the plays and sang in some of them. And the Chautauqua used to come every year. We had then and they came over to the high school which was next door. And they always came. Every year we always looked forward to that.
G:H What was that like? What was the Chautauqua?
MM: Well it was sort of a variety show. They had plays and they had singers and dancers. It came from Chautauqua, New York. But they traveled around and this is what they did and then they'd have some local people come in, take part in some of the things, because that always brought a crowd. They had people from the family would go.
Mary Meyers, Gail Herman
Panorama painted by Lonaconing-born Ruth Bear Levy is used with permission of her granddaughter, Elizabeth Malis. A copy of the painting is on display at the George's Creek Regional Library. The scene shows a view across a valley in Allegany County, Western Maryland. It is included in her book A Wee Bit of Scotland: Growing up in Lonaconing, Maryland.
Garrett College, McHenry.
Coal miners--Maryland--History; Coal miners--West Virginia--History; Garrett County (Md.)--History; Allegany County (Md.)--History.
Western Maryland, 1930-1980