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Tell Me About My Father: Wasyl's Story

Jayne M. Booth


In 1917 the United States is recovering from WWI. Inflation hits hard, especially in the coal regions of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Families already living in poverty are forced to make difficult decisions. What groceries are optional? Does Mama really need cream on her coffee? Probably not. Is a nine-year-old boy too young to quit school and work in the mines? Maybe... maybe not.

Wasyl sees his widowed mother struggling to buy food and pay bills. He wants to get a job to help her and his sisters, but Mama insists that he not work in the mines as so many other boys his age are doing. He wishes he had a father to guide him through the harsh realities of growing up in coal country, but Wasyl's father is a big secret that no one ever discusses. He has so many questions. There is so much he doesn't understand. Is it kinder to keep secrets, or to deal with them honestly and openly even if they hurt? Wasyl is about to find out.

Book 2 will be published on February 7, 2023, but it is available for pre-order on Amazon until then. 



   Wasyl slammed the kitchen door shut and dropped his books on one of the chairs by the table. He hurried to the sink to slurp a drink of cold water from his hand. No time to use a cup. He wiped his dripping mouth on his sleeve, grabbed the empty coal bucket, and raced back outside before Mary or Tillie could invent another chore for him to do. He ran across the backyard stopping just long enough to pick two red apples from the tree and stuff them into his jacket pocket. Then he headed toward the mine.

   Now out of sight of his house, he slowed down, tracing his normal route along the railroad tracks. Sometimes good coal fell off the train cars as they rumbled along behind the miners' houses, so he kept his eyes on the ground looking for the shiny black chunks. He always tried to be the first one out here after school so he could scavenge these pieces before the other boys and some of the girls in his neighborhood. If you got there late, the good coal was all picked. Then it took twice as long to fill your bucket.

   Plunk! Plunk! Today there were a few good pieces along the tracks. It's my lucky day! Plunk! He searched both sides of the tracks as he trudged toward the culm bank. By the time he reached it, his bucket was almost half full. This was a good start but now came the hard part -- searching through the refuse slack for the rare chunks of good coal that had been missed in the sorting process. Most of the culm bank was just shale, slate, and pea coal, but even pea coal could be used if he couldn't find anything else. Mama wouldn't mind. Plunk! Plunk! He climbed higher and higher up the culm bank, sliding back down a little with each step on the large unstable pile of rocks. This should be called a culm mountain, not a culm bank. Oh! Found another good one! Plunk!

   Wasyl kept glancing at the sky. He wanted to fill his bucket as fast as he could so he could visit Mr. Sobic and Sally. Wasyl liked Mr. Sobic because he always took the time to answer Wasyl's questions, but he loved Sally. Plunk! Wasyl had been visiting Sally since he was just five years old, and now they were great friends. Plunk! Plunk! You could say they grew up together. He loved to hear her greet him when he stopped at the blacksmith's shop. Sally would look up when he entered, flutter her long eye lashes, open her dark brown eyes in recognition and smile her toothy grin like she hadn't seen Wasyl in a year. Plunk! Actually, he came by several times a week. Plunk! Plunk! She knew that he would share his after-school snack with her, and apples were her favorite. Plunk! Plunk! And... Plunk! Finally, the bucket is full! He loped toward the colliery and Mr. Sobic's blacksmith shop.

   Mr. Sobic was bent over his anvil, hammering away, so he didn't hear Wasyl enter, but Sally looked up and brayed in excitement. Mr. Sobic stood and wiped his damp brow with a big red handkerchief. "Wasyl, I thought that was you! Nobody else gets such a welcome from Sally! Did ya fill yer bucket? Let me take a peek."

   Mr. Sobic always asked the same question. Wasyl suspected that Mama had told him not to allow her son to visit unless his coal bucket was filled first. Wasyl dragged his bucket forward and proudly showed Mr. Sobic the fruits of his labor. "Good boy!" said the blacksmith. "Your family will sleep warm tonight!"

   Wasyl slid a stool close to Sally's stall and pulled an apple from his pocket. He took out his pocketknife and sliced off a chunk for Sally. He grinned as Sally's long pink tongue delicately wrapped around the fruit slice and brought it to her mouth. She crunched happily, nodded and rolled her eyes as if to say, "Oh, this is so good!"...



The presentation is impeccable. One hardly knows they are getting a history lesson.

What a great read! Loved all the characters. Felt like I was watching everything that happened in the book.

Even as an adult, I quickly got caught up in the family's dynamics as they run a full spectrum from uplifting to deeply heartbreaking and back again. This is a great book to read with the family.

I appreciated how the author conveys an understanding of the impacts that the workforce and health have on financial survival and important decision-making, because that is just as relevant today as in the story. It's all done in a graceul way and well worth the read.

This is a wonderful story and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys stories of our history and true family values.