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Chellene Koon, 26, and her fellow workers have just completed the night shift at Blacksville #1 Coal Mine near Rivesville, West Virginia. [Credit: Frank Johnston]


‘Mountain Mama’ proud to be daughter, mother of coal miners

I am a coal miner’s daughter. My father, Haven Blankenship, was hurt in the mines 47 years ago when I was born. They say I have a birthmark that matches my dad’s scar from that fall in the mines which left him disabled.

I was married at 20 to a coal miner; we divorced after 11 years. I raised three children — Mickey Miranda, 22, Tonya Amanda, 20, and Micheal Dean Jr., 21 — as a single parent.

Micheal worked out of state for a while in seasonal occupations, but he had always wanted to make good money and try the mines.

I held off as long as I could. But time and time again he told me, “Mom, I can do it.”

I gave in and let him take the miner’s classes with the fixed thought, “OK, if something should happen to my son, I did not push him to go into the mines. This was his own choice and he is doing what he wanted to do.”

After his completion of classes, he reconnected with his father after 16 years, which inspired Micheal even more to go into the mines. His daddy’s response to me: “Pam, it was good enough for my dad and your dad.”

I’ve always realized the mines were dangerous. But until I saw the Sago disaster played out on television, it had never hit home as hard as it did on Tuesday night after watching hour after hour of the horrific details.

I now understand when they talk of the pride of miners, how they live their lives, make their sacrifices, their love of God and their fellow brother miners.

I am proud of my son’s chosen field, his career. This is what he loves doing. I can see much clearer now. I, too, feel that bond that my son already has.

I have a friend in New York who has always called me Mountain Mama. I was proud of that. He called today because he still considers West Virginia his home. As proud as I am of West Virginia being called Mountain Mama, I am equally as proud to be a “coal miner’s daughter and the mother of a coal miner.”

My heart aches for those who have lost their loved ones. I, too, could be one of those grieving for my child, my husband, my father. In my heart, in my mind, I am grieving with you. As are many others around the world.

—Pam Payne is the obituary clerk for The Register-Herald in Beckley, W.Va. Reach her at obits@register-herald.com

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