I was born in 1951, the third of four children born to Joe and Mildred. Pam was first, next was Mike, then me, and last of all was Kate. My dad was a coal miner in Southern Illinois. Times were tough and jobs scarce in that area in 1954, so shortly before Kate was born my dad drove out west in search of work, adventure, and most likely, to have a break from the growing family. I wasn’t quite four at that time so most of what I “remember” are the family memories that were not documented, other than with some pictures from our camera. My dad drove to Colorado and to Washington State looking for jobs as a miner.
For a few months my mother lived on her own with me and my siblings. She gave birth to their fourth child while Dad was out west working as a miner. A few months after Kate was born Dad drove back to Illinois to gather his wife and kids and make the return trip out west. Mike was six years old at the time and asked Dad “when are we going down west?” From that moment on we all referred to the trip out west as “down west”. I remember some of the presents he brought us when he came back from “down west”: Pam got a Terri Lee babydoll, Mike got a beaded Indian belt, and he brought me a parakeet named Pretty Boy.
It wasn’t long before we had packed all our belongings in the old Kaiser car and left Tuscola for “down west”. After a brief stop to leave Pretty Boy with relatives in Oak Lawn, a Chicago suburb, we headed west. On our trip west Dad told us fascinating stories about the adventures he had. One of my favorites, possibly because I played a role in it, was of the time when he first arrived out west. Exhausted from the long drive he pulled the car over to the side of a remote mountain road, in the middle of the day, to take a quick nap. After falling asleep in the back seat he was startled awake. He said he didn’t actually see anyone or anything that day as he climbed over the seat into the driver’s seat and hastily drove away. But he was convinced his safety had been at risk. His nerves had been rattled before he ever left Illinois, when, as he was saying goodbye to his wife and children, he overheard his four-year-old daughter, namely me, ask my mom “is Daddy gonna die?” He had taken it as a premonition. Apparently, when he was startled awake that day in the car, he worried my premonition was about to come true.
My days were spent picking wildflowers and climbing trees. Many times I was warned by my mother not to climb the trees. On one particular day my mom found me high in a tree, so high it was beyond her reach. She stood at the bottom with Kate in her arms and gently tried to coax me down with promises of candy. When I finally was on the ground she put Kate down and came after me. I still have a vision of my mom chasing me through the camp and me knowing I was going to get my butt whipped. In the evenings we all looked forward to hearing my dad’s stories of a wicked old witch that lived in the woods. She was a danger to the children who wandered in the woods looking for beeble berries. We were all characters in his stories and each night we sat around him eager to hear the next chapter in the beeble berry picking adventure. (Dad drew his inspiration and name "beeble berry" from a Little Lulu comic book of that time.)
I have mostly fragmented memories of this period in my life; the dog we named Collie because that was his breed; the neighbor dog who tangled with a porcupine and had quills removed from his mouth using a pair of pliers; the times we were allowed to play near the creek; and a family trip to a nearby indoor hot springs. We lived on the Indian Reservation for one summer and then moved to Cobalt, Idaho. The Midnite Mine was operated from 1955, the year we moved there, until 1965. It reopened in 1968 and was permanently closed in 1981. It is now a Superfund Site undergoing environmental cleanup. Fran