Angel In The Chiffarobe, Part Three of Four
Sarah and Will did not have the five dollars to send for the package of materials to train someone to read braille. They would have to work extra to earn the money. Will pulled extra shifts at the mine and Sarah took in sewing along with laundry from the mines owners for extra cash. By the end of September they had made the five dollars and sent the money off to Philadelphia for the training package.
By mid-October the package had arrived. Sarah and Will began studying after the children had gone to bed to teach themselves the language of the blind. Sarah made quick progress in learning the meaning of the small dimples on the paper. The dots are arranged in patterns of six. By touch the reader can interpret whether the dots are raised or lowered; these small dimples make up words when read by touch.
Will’s progress was much slower. His large hands were heavily callused by hard work and the skill of reading with just the two index fingers was difficult for the man. But he spent many a night learning the skill and then working the long shifts the following day.
By early December Sarah had mastered the skill and could read the training material with ease. Will’s progress was slower, but he was beginning to read the words if he took time.
The training kit came with three books to be read by the student. One book was a collection of short stories. The second was a collection of poems. And the last was the story of the first Christmas.
To increase his ability to read the words, Will often would take a book with him into the mine. When the other men sat down for lunch he would turn off the bright flame on his helmet and run his fingers along the dots in the dark and read the words. He wanted badly to be able to work with his daughter and teach her the words.
Will and Sarah had given Wenna the wooden Chiffarobe shortly after he returned home with it. In the small house there was no place to hide such a gift. It had become a treasured gift to the young girl who only had her family. This wooden cabinet gave her some place special for her few possessions.
To her the wooden cabinet was new and shiny. The mirror reflected her smiling face, even if she could not see that the reflective surface was very poor. Each of the drawers and two small closets had items assigned to them so she knew the contents of each drawer and cabinet.
That is except for one, the small compartment behind the mirror. Her father had told her that in this small place was her guardian angel’s home. She should not disturb the angel, except if she ever needed help. In truth the small cabinet was where Sarah and Will had placed the braille training material. It was also the hiding place of a small gift for Christmas for Wenna.
Christmas was the next day, but Will still had to take his men into the mine one more time before the holiday. He kissed each of his children and hugged his wife as he always did before going to work. He told them tomorrow is Christmas and we will be together as a family. He taunted the children with the possibility of gifts if they were good last year. Their faces lit up as they dreamed of the day.
Sarah and Will had mail ordered a small gift for each of the children. Also there were new pairs of shoes purchased from the company store that were hidden away beneath the bed for each child. By some standards there was very little to be thankful for in this small house, yet they were a family and that meant a lot.
Will walked off down the muddy road with other men on their way to the mine. Their families watched as they disappeared around the hill.
Each of the men made his way to a seat on the cart that lowered then down into the mine. Will made a quick check of the faces to make sure his crew was all here before signaling to the cable man to lower away. Slowly the cart started down the long incline into the mine. The men sat quiet as the only sound was the wheels thumping as they passed each join in the rail. Sounds of the cable occasional dragging the dark ground was followed by a slight jerk of the cable. Finally the cart came to the bottom of the incline and the boss of the crew waiting to go out pulled the small air horn to signal the cable man above to stop.
Will asked Frank, the day shift boss, about that evening’s work. Frank told him that his crew had shot the face of the coal seam with explosives. All his men would have to do is load out the downed coal and send it to the surface. The men of the day shift loaded into the incline cart as Will sounded the horn for the cable man to start the pull out of the mine.
The crew worked through the first couple of hours loading coal into the cars. After the last car was loaded Will once again signaled the cable man to start the heavy load on its way out of the mine. The crew knew it was time to go into the dinner hole for a short rest and dinner. Each man sat down and wasted no time in eating a sandwich before the coal train returned to be filled again.
In the distance the sound of the incline horn told the men the empty cars were on the way down. All of a sudden the ground began to shake and the sound of metal crashing and tearing from the slope filled the mine. A huge rush of air extinguished the miners’ carbide lamps and filled the air with heavy dark dust. There was a pause as the crashing sound came to a stop. For a moment it was quiet and the only sounds were dripping water. “Is every one okay?” Each of the crew responded to Will’s request. “What happened?” someone yelled.
The cable must have broken, sending the car crashing into the slope bottom. “Don’t turn your lights on. The air is full of coal dust. Don’t want an explosion. From the dark the voice of young Ben asked, “Will, are we gonna die?”