CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I am a coal miner's son. Ken Ward Jr.'s front page story on June 21 headlined, "Jay to Coal: 'Face Reality'' has stuck in my mind. I am glad that Sen. Rockefeller is calling on West Virginians to get realistic about the role and future of coal.
According to the Mormon Church Ellis Island Database, one of the 1,790 passengers on the ship Taormina in August 1913 was a 19-year old carpenter's apprentice named Pietro Capaldini -- my dad. My mother told me he arrived on these shores with 25 cents and a banana in his pockets. But his mind was filled with prospects in America
He knew two expressions -- how to say yes (nod your head up and down), and do that when you hear the word "Work." Later, at a train station he heard, "Work ...West Virginia," and Pietro nodded his head. Work and coal were not dirty four-letter words.
They were words of endeavor and hope.
He met my mom at a boarding house up Crumpler Hollow in McDowell County. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in World War I, and on honorable discharge, was granted a treasured American citizenship.
Later he was able to build a big brick house at the mouth of the hollow. Coal was the way he did it. As a kid, I remember our receiving the United Mine Workers Journal at our home. John L. Lewis was the feisty and erudite union leader for the miners. I read his proclamations in it with awe. I learned mine owners and miners were constantly slugging it out.
Coal enabled my parents to send my brother Pete Jr. and me to college. In Italy the maximum schooling for peasant children was maybe fifth grade. Here in America, the kids of peasant immigrants can quite reasonably aim for college. Imagine that, college.
As Sen. Rockefeller has pointed out, things about coal have changed greatly. Among other things, we are mining more coal in West Virginia than ever and with fewer miners. Concerns about pollution and low-cost electricity flash around us endlessly.