[Editor's note: the author is the son of Edson Carl and Sybil June (Miner) Beck and the grandson of Raymond and Rebecca (Rugg) Miner of Indian Head, Fayette County, PA. He is the author of a multi-volume detective novel series, The Tommy Two Shoes Mysteries, published by Laurel Highlands Publishing. The books feature a fictional Pittsburgh detective, named appropriately enough Tommy "Two Shoes" Minerd. Be sure to see part 1 of this series, and visit his blog at http://thomasbeck.blogspot.com/.]
~ Uncle Ted~
I received a call from my grandmother Rebecca Miner early one morning. My uncle Ted was sick and could I come quickly. He still lived with her. She told me that she’d found laying him on the bathroom floor and there was blood underneath him. Grandma explained that she had called the ambulance company (Before 911) and it was out with the fire department on a motor vehicle accident call.
I lived about five miles away from their house and hurried to see what I could do. When I arrived, he was barely conscious. There was old blood on the front of his shirt and on the floor. It was obvious that he had some type of gastrointestinal bleeding. I threw a towel across my shoulder, then tossed him across my shoulder to carry him out to the car. I put him in the passenger seat, pulled on my flashers, and made the twenty minute trip in about fifteen.
I stopped under the hospital’s portcullis, grabbed a wheelchair, and pulled him into it. Because it was the hospital where I worked, I bypassed the triage area and went directly into the emergency department with him. He should have arrived in an ambulance. I had no choice and was taking the place of the ambulance.
I put him into the first empty bed that I saw. The other nurses in the area saw me, then saw him. They swooped down on us, pulling off clothes, starting I.V.s, and getting vitals. The doctor came in and was giving verbal orders. I left to move my car and then to give information for his chart.
I came back in and was giving the crew the limited information about what had occurred. All of this was happening in a hurry and it still feels like a blur to me.
The doctor was still there while Ted’s blood was being drawn, the EKG was being done, and he was getting portable x-rays. Ted looked so critical that the doctor ordered uncrossed O negative blood be brought from the lab and given to him. Because he was so anemic, his heart had little blood to circulate, he had a heart attack. Once his blood work was back, he was packed up and was admitted to the intensive care unit.
Ted developed stroke-like symptoms as well as the heart attack symptoms because he had almost completely bled out. The gastrointestinal doctors and the surgeons were afraid to use any kind of anesthesia to try and repair the bleeding. He was given medications to try to slow the bleeding and unit after unit of blood. His condition was too fragile to do much more.
They were hoping that the medications and the blood would allow his heart to heal enough for them to intervene and do surgery. It never happened and he passed away. It devastated my grandmother, “Children aren’t supposed to die before their parents."
A lot of things changed for my grandmother after Ted’s death. Ted had lived with her since he was born. He was a normal kid until two adult men assaulted and beat him when he was younger. After he recovered, he only had the mental capacity of a fourth grader. (I never got the whole story of his assault, but I was told the men had tried to get Ted to drink alcohol and he refused.)
He made money by mowing lawns in the summer, gathering “sang” (ginseng), and fixing old tube-type radios. He gathered and cracked nuts for their meat and sold them closer to Christmas. He used a hammer and an anvil in the basement to open the nuts. He would sit and watch T.V. with Grandma and pick out the nuts from the shells.
Every year at Christmas, my Uncle and I would go to a nearby stand of wild growing pines, find the smaller ones at the edges, and cut one down for him and one for me. It was a tradition.
After he died, Grandma didn’t want the “bother” of decorating a tree and I didn’t have the heart to go alone. My wife had wanted an artificial one for several years, so I allowed myself to be persuaded.
~ Topping Whopper ~
I’ve mentioned my uncle Dale Miner before. He was a man who told lies and tall tales as an integral part of his life and was incapable of completing a full sentence without using a variety of curse words. Daily, he cultivated his swear words until he was able to reap a huge crop. It came to the point that he would use profanity without consciously knowing he was using it.
~ Time to Butcher ~
This is not a subject that will interest all people, but it was a way of life as I grew up. It may even bother the squeamish. Every year between Thanksgiving and the New Year, the family would gather at my grandfather Ray Miner’s farm. The decision to butcher depended on the weather. Granddad always kept two hogs and a bull that he raised for the sole purpose of having meat for the coming year. There was a lot of work involved in the process and that is why the family gathered. It would make the work less tiresome for everybody. With the work shared, all of the butchering could be done in one day.
~ Three More to Go ~
This year the Rugg family celebrated their 97th annual reunion, only three more to go to hit one hundred. The first one that I can recall was held at my great-grandfather Curtis Rugg farm in Mill Run, Pennsylvania. I have described the food laden sawhorse tables in the orchard and the 20 gallon crock of lemonade that was perched on an end table. My great-grandfather Curtis and my great uncle Wesley sitting on the front porch swing and the old water pump in the back yard.
~ Scared, Skating, and Shaking ~
This incident occurred when I was in sixth grade. Skating at the Indian Head Community Center was a change of pace for me and privilege that I looked forward to doing all week. When this incident occurred, the Indian Head Church of God wasn't there and the land was still a part of my granddad's farm. There were no homes or summer cabins along that stretch of route 711/ 381. It was dark, deserted, and desolate.
Every Friday evening, my mom and dad would allow me to go skating at our local community center. For twenty-five cents I could skate for two hours safe and supervised. When it was over, I would walk the quarter mile to my grandparent’s house until my parents could pick me up later after shopping.
It was completely dark in late autumn when the skating activity left out at eight o’clock P. M. There were no houses between the community center and my grandparent’s big farmhouse. The only light was from passing cars and the windows of their farmhouse.
Darkness had fallen when I left the center and I felt ill at ease. I’d walked to Grandpa’s place many times before and never had this feeling. It was nothing I could put my finger on, but something just didn’t seem right. I moved to the center of the highway. I had to walk through a cut in the roadway between two steep banks that were about seven feet high. They were crowned with thick tangles of mountain laurel.
The dark green leaves and the depth of the banks of earth made it seem dark and oppressive. I felt a little nervous as I entered. I became more nervous when I heard some soil and rocks being dislodged from the bank and trickle down the side. I could feel the hair on the back of my neck start to rise.
I left the roadway to climb through the field to my grandmother’s house. Soon I was safe and secure inside and thought nothing more of the incident until my dad said something the next morning. “ Snuffy had a pig killed last night. Something ripped it open and ate the kidneys and heart. He thinks that it was a bear.”
Was it the bear that caused the small landslide the night before? I will never know, but it still gives me chills when I think of it.
~ The Wire Christmas Tree ~
One year, with the farm work and working the night shift in the coal mines, Granddad Ray Miner didn’t have time to go to the woods and cut a Christmas tree for my grandma Rebecca. But she was a talented and imaginative person. She handled it with her usual creative aplomb. It was a story that was told most Christmases and also passed on to me by my mom.
~ They Refuse to Stay Buried ~
Hardening of the arteries had been overtaking his mind for several years. He was so used to tending the farm and caring for his animals, he was constantly restless creating problems for my grandmother Rebecca. She had to constantly on the alert to keep him from wandering off. All of his animals were sold off and the barn had collapsed, but in his mind, they were still there and needing him.
Multiple times he would rise from his padded rocker and slip on his shoes. Grandma would ask, “Ray, where are you going?” He would reply, “I have to take care of the horses.” Grandma would have him look out the window at the rubble from the fallen barn and remind him, “The animals are gone, Ray.” He would shake his head, kick off his shoes, and settle back into his chair in front of the television. His tobacco spit can beside him n the floor.
Chewing tobacco was a habit that he’d picked up at the coal mines. Many miners chewed tobacco to remind themselves not to swallow the coal dust laden saliva. It wouldn’t be long until he would become restless, finally rising out of his chair and there would be a replay of his desire to check on his animals.
Grandma did have a helper. It was a stray that they got named Laddie. It was a large mongrel, collie mix, mostly black with some brown and white markings in its coat. It was an outside dog and would follow granddad when he managed to escape grandma’s watchful eyes. Laddie was a faithful companion, hanging close to Grandpa’s heels. Laddie seemed to assuage Granddad’s restlessness and the need to have animals near.
The phone call was hard for me to bear. The time, finances, and the distance made it impossible to attend his funeral, but my memories of him refuse to stay buried.
~ Uncle Ted Miner ~
In my past posts, I’ve mentioned that my Uncle Theodore Miner only had the mental capacity of a child in the fourth grade. While he was walking along the highway near my grandparent Miner’s farm, two men stopped their car and tried to get Ted to drink some alcohol. When he refused, they beat him severely. The assault was so intense that he developed brain damage because of the damage he couldn’t continue his education. His mental capacity to learn was stymied.
The one thing he had going for him was a great work ethic. He always found odd jobs to earn spending money. In the summer, Ted often walked for miles pushing his bright green “Lawn Boy” mower. He had several customers and made his way to their various homes and manicured their lawns.
In autumn he would gather nuts and store them until winter, then he would crack open walnuts, butternuts, and hickory nuts. Sitting in the basement, he would pick out the nut meat goodies, weigh them, and bag them. Ted had regular customers who ordered the nut meats well ahead of time to finish their baking projects of Christmas cookies and cakes.
Ted owned a small scroll saw. He used it to shape pieces of wood from deconstructed apple crates. Fitting the cut pieces together, he’d nail them tightly with small brads, then paint the assembled project in bright red. The red sleigh was about 12 inches long by 8 inches wide by 10 inches high. It could be used as a nut bowl or hold Christmas ornaments for display.
Ted collected old tube radios that people would discard. He would check each tube in the radio to find which tube was causing the problem and make repairs, replacing the “burned out” tube. Radios that were too far gone to save, he would salvage the “good” tubes to use in other radios. He stored the usable tubes in baskets of all sizes then he would sort through the collection until he could find the replacement. Once repaired, he would sell the repaired radios for a few dollars.
Ted would sometimes allow me to trail along with him as he searched the wooded areas around the small town of Indian Head, Pennsylvania hunting for ginseng plants. He would wander through the rocky, leaf covered hills looking for the arched green stalks and clusters of red berries that would identify the elusive root. After digging out the roots, Ted would dry them thoroughly before selling them at Resh’s Red and White store in Indian Head. Resh’s was once a company store that still sold a variety of things from clothing to hardware and food.
~ Seeking Dad Among the Dead ~
Copyright © Thomas Beck. Re-published with permission.