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W.Va. storyteller heads to Va. conference in August

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Southern West Virginia storyteller was selected to share his experience of cheating death as an underground miner with a national audience.

Fred Powers's story, which he calls "Buried Alive," will be showcased at the 2013 National Storytelling Network Conference.

"They call me Powerhouse after my daddy, and I'm a third-generation miner from McDowell County," Fred Powers said.

And so the story goes; Fred Powers said he worked underground in McDowell County for about 20 years. Eventually, he earned a history degree from Bluefield State College and even taught classes there. Powers shares his stories in hopes of painting a picture of everyday life for a coal miner and to carry on tradition.

"Well it's the oldest form of communication," Powers said. "Growing up in coal camp, visiting both our grandmothers, we'd sit out on the porch, and I can remember the rag still burning in a coffee can to keep away the gnats."

"It would be dark, and she'd be in her rocking chairs telling all these great stories, and I just remember the hairs coming up on the back of my neck and all those kids sitting there just totally fascinated by them."

With the help of Concord University, Powers sent a demo of a skit called "Buried Alive" to the National Storytelling Network. He said it's a true story that starts deep underground.

"I was just seconds away from death," he said. "No way I could survive, and I was down to the miner's prayer, 'Yea, though I walk through the shadow of death,'" he said.

Power says he was working as a roof-bolter. Often referred to as the most dangerous job underground, a roof-bolter installs steel rods in the top of the cave after the coal is retrieved. The bolts help to secure the top. He was asked to fill in as supervisor late one night.

"Woom! A big old mountain bump happened," Powers shared part of his dramatic performance, "the top come [sic] down the front, coal burst out on me from the front and the side and threw me back into my machine like I was a limp dishrag.

"When I got conscious, it didn't really knock me out -- it just threw me back, and I knew I was in a bad situation.

"I wiggled my fingers and wiggled my toes, and I had one hand free that I was operating the levers with. I reached up and wiped away the coal dust around my mouth and eyes that I could breathe and see a little bit; I started wiggling, trying to get out, and I couldn't move, and I needed to get out of there."

Powers will share this story at the National Storytelling Network conference. The group sees storytelling as an essential part of education and a way to preserve values and beliefs. This year's conference is in Richmond, Va., August first.

Powers also published a book with the help of Concord University and a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Grant, which is administered by Marshall University.

By Jessica Y. Lilly

W.Va. Public Broadcasting

 

 


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