[NOTE: The Scotia Mine Disaster in Eolia, Kentucky is one of the worst mine disasters in U.S. history. Faulty equipment ignited methane and coal dust due to lack of proper ventilation. On March 9 and 11, 1976, twin explosions took the lives of 26 coal miners and federal mine inspectors in the Scotia mines located nearby. This disaster led to the passage of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. On this Father’s Day, offer up appreciation to the man who who taught you so many valuable life lessons. If he is here in body, reach out and thank him. If he is with you in spirit, honor his memory with a life well-lived. And take a moment to remember the more than two dozen fathers, sons and brothers who didn’t come home to their children that ill-fated day in March 1976 simply because they were trying to provide for their families. While 26 lives were lost, hundreds more were impacted and changed forever. What follows is just one of those stories.]
Terina Widner, Bank Officer and mother; Danville, Indiana (From Cumberland, Kentucky):
"It was a foggy, rainy day that March. I remember walking to my bus stop in my rust-colored, faux fur coat. I was in the first grade. A few hours later into our school day, a lady came to our classroom door and whispered something to my teacher. She gasped and covered her mouth with her hand. Her eyes looked straight at me and she told me to gather my things, I was going home early.
I had no idea why "the Scotia kids" were leaving school early. On my way out the door, she knelt and hugged me and I could feel her crying as she said, "It's going to be okay."
When I arrived home there were cars parked all over our driveway and over into the neighbors’. All of my aunts, uncles and my parents’ friends were at our house…sitting on the porch and in every corner of the house. My mother was crying, as her sisters hugged her. I still had no idea what was going on.
My uncles had maps laid out on the kitchen table, and I remember one of them saying, "He works here in this section." At seven years old, you don't understand the way you lose a loved one, you are trying to understand "why?" "Why are these people crying? Why isn't my Daddy home from work yet? Why are all these people hugging me and saying they're sorry?"
The days that followed were so dark and solemn in our home, and our town. Everyone you saw had tears in their eyes. The next thing I remember is walking into our lil’ church, my father’s closed casket in the front and dozens of flowers from wall to wall.
He was a U.S. Army Vietnam Veteran, and lots of his flowers were in red, white and blue. My mother was so strong, and she held my hand so tight as we walked into that chapel.
I didn't understand what was going on or why. I just wanted my Daddy!
Since that horrible day in 1976, there have been a million other "whys" run through my head and my heart about that day. Why did he leave his job in the Indy auto industry to go back to those mountains to be a coal miner? Why didn't he stay home with me that day and play with me, go fishing or build something together? Why, why, why...?
My faith says, God allows all things for a purpose in His great plan of our lives. My heart will always question that faith. What I do know is my Daddy's life was a sacrifice that day.
The mistakes that had been made in that mine to set off that explosion will never be made again. Their blood wrote legislation to protect miners as they work, and send millions of daddies home to their little girls every day. They are forever heroes.
My beautiful mother became my hero that day! She was suddenly a single mom of two lil’ girls. She never let us go without a single thing in our lives. She has always worked so hard to make sure "her girls" knew they were loved. She is the epitome of the strength that can only be found in mountain women.
Her experience taught us how to always be strong and take care of ourselves and our children, with or without a spouse, because, sometimes you don't lose your husband by his or your choice. Sometimes, he just doesn’t come home, but you have go on living.
After I graduated high school, I worked on the Scotia College Crew as a warehouse clerk. The mine superintendent was a lifelong friend of my parents, and I babysat his son. One day, I mustered up the nerve to talk to him and to tell him I wanted to go underground. I wanted to see what my daddy did that was so important for him to do to provide for our family.
He agreed and sent me to the company Safety Trainer for my certification to go under. A few days later, he escorted me to Franks Creek, and as we stepped into the elevator to go some 400' straight down, under tons of soil and rock, my heart was almost beating out of my chest with fear and anxiousness.
I was determined to make this trip! No amount of fear was going to stop me!
The superintendent took me to a working section of a traditional miner and to the long wall. I got to walk the shear on one pass. It was amazing to watch these men work in complete synchronicity on these big machines, miles under the earth, harvesting that black gold. I was in awe!
I have the utmost admiration for an industry some believe I should hate. Crazy, huh? Before we left to go back outside, we made one last stop at the section where my daddy died. We couldn't get exactly onsite, but I could see enough to know where he was, and could envision what he looked like working there that day so many years before. It was so scary to think of what he endured during the blast. Did he suffer? Did he know what was happening? Could he feel his skin being ripped from his bones? What were his last words or thoughts there in that darkness?
When I left that spot I felt even more proud of him and somewhat relieved in knowing some of the questions I'd always wondered about. It was a very spiritual and emotional moment in my life. One I draw from often. I am a firm believer there is no greater man, than one who sacrificed his life for those he loves. Coal miners are proof of this love.
It has often been said, these mountains are full of contradictions. You can't get far enough away from them, yet they are always beckoning you to come home. They hold some of my fondest memories and my greatest heartaches and pains. All my life I just wanted to leave them. I wanted to be somewhere that didn't hold a painful memory around every bend. Even since I was a kid, when we would travel and as we approached the mountains on our return drive, the peaks and valleys appear as strong muscular arms outstretched welcoming me home. But once I'm there, I feel like they hold me so tight it's almost smothering.
My family is still there (Cumberland, Kentucky) and so is a piece of my heart. I will always be a mountain girl and a Coal Miner's Daughter, no matter where I am in this world. The trials and fire of life there gave me the strength, knowledge and power to do anything I want in this world. I pray I make my heritage proud everywhere I go."