“Gramps, how old are you?” queried Johnnie.
“Well let me see I was born in 1922, in December, I believe.”
“You believe? Don’t you remember Gramps?” asked Johnnie.
“Well no, I don’t” Gramps said laughing.
“Gramps, you’re so funny, you’re always laughing and having fun, not like most old people. Why are you so happy?”
“Thank you, I think. I decided a long time ago to just be happy. I discovered this happiness on my ninth birthday. I was the youngest of twelve brothers and sisters. Papa and Mama worked hard to clothe and feed us. Papa worked in the Kentucky coalmines, and Mama in a textile mill. Being the youngest I felt left out most of the time. I didn’t think I was contributing anything to the family. The older kids got to work at odd jobs and bring extra money into the home. The middle kids got to keep up the house and farm while Papa and Mama were gone. So my sister who was just a year older than me couldn’t do anything because we were told we were just to young and besides she was a girl.” Gramps paused to make a silly face.
“Gramps is this going to be one of your long stories?” asked Johnnie.
“You betcha, anyways, as I was a saying. Back then we didn’t celebrate much, Christmas and birthdays. Mama always made a cake and knitted or crocheted us something real nice. Papa would give us a silver dollar and we had the best time at our house, pickin’ and singing and dancing around. But this birthday I could hardly wait for the evening ‘cause I knew the festivities would start then. I could smell the cake baking and hear Mama humming in the kitchen. I was so happy to be turning nine, that’s when Papa would let the boys go to work.”
“Work? You mean like in the coalmines?
“No son not in the mines, although some kids were runners at the mines, but Papa never let any of us do that” said Gramps.
“A runner? What did they do?
“Oh, they would run the wheelbarrows down to the mines or take messages from the front offices, sort of messenger boys. Anyways back to my story; let me see where was I? Oh yes, that birthday I was as sad as sad could be.”
“Wait a minute, a minute ago you said you were so happy to be turning nine, what happen to that?”
“Yep, I was until the sirens went off. That meant there was something going on in one of mines and possible men trapped. Mama told us to wait right where we was and pray. Pray that Papa was all right and bring him home safe and sound. Pray that who ever it was they were okay and they would come home to their families too.”
“We waited for hours but it seemed like days and I asked God to bring my Papa home to us and I would treat everyday like a ‘happy birthday’. I would be so thankful and from now on like it said in the Bible no matter what state I ever found myself in I would be happy if he would just do this one thing for me.” Gramps voice trailed off.
“Okay, so what happen?” Johnnie asked expectedly.
“Well, around midnight a knock came at our door, and we all held our breath. We didn’t want anyone walking through that door but Papa. When the door opened, two men came in and they were practically carrying each other. They weren’t even recognizable because they were covered from head to toe in mud and soot.” Gramps said thinking of the memory.
“Grandpa who was it?”
“The one fella was our neighbor Brody, he told Mama he had brought Papa home because he was going to fall down from exhaustion. He had gone back into the mine several times until he had gotten everybody out. Mama grabbed hold of Papa and carried him to a chair mud and all. I had never been so happy to see anyone in my life. I remember crying and thanking God for bringing my Papa home. Papa opened his eyes and said to me ‘John I wouldn’t miss your birthday for the world.’ I know now that you don’t make bargains with God but to me a promise is a promise and from that day to this one, I’ve kept my word.”
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