Excerpt of The Green Age of Asher Witherow by M. Allen Cunningham
(Page 4 of 5)
Printer Friendly Excerpt
"But Mrs. Witherow, your son has trespassed"
"And as far as I can tell, Mr. Boggs, you're trespassing
now: coming uninvited onto my property to point your finger at my son."
However many times Boggs came up against it, mother's iron
will never failed to stun him. And though in all legality our house and the land
it stood on was the company's property, not ours, invariably he'd be too
rattled to recall this fact, let alone address it.
"Now if you'll let pass Asher's infraction,"
mother would say, "I'll let pass yours, so long as you make haste at
And away along the railroad Boggs would go, as soon as he'd
made an awkward bow.
After such a scene, word of mother's brusqueness would travel
all along the circuit of company employees. From the mouth of Boggs it would
pass down to the floor of the shaft within the afternoon, finally reaching
father's ears in mutated form. The events having swollen to the level of
hyperbole, he would come home at night ready to admonish her.
The other workmen chided father for his wife's distemper. He
confessed his predicament to mother, begged her to allay her eccentricity a
little. To this she always listened quietly, her jaw locked, and father never
knew whether she meant to take his dilemma to heart.
David Witherow was a young man when he came to Nortonville.
Narrow-chested and wiry, he worked with a gritted nerve at the longest and
deepest of rooms in the vein. He wore a mustache and long beard and spoke in a
hushed, bearded voice, peering through eyes the jade hue of polished quartz. His
hands were wide and tough as paws, the skin flecked black on the fingers and
wrists, tiny flakes of coal spotting the knuckles. Coal followed the sweat
furrows in his brow too, streaking beneath the skin in faint lines like letter
paper. Beside mother he cut the figure of an unlikely mate. She was a thin
woman, but big-boned and hardy. She wore by habit a vague scowl which spread
clear in the most luminous smile when he spoke kindly to her.
My parents had come from Monmouthshire, Wales, to the Diablo
hills with all the high ideals of people in exodus. Jolting in the westbound
stage from Stockton, they watched the mountain swell upon the horizonthe sun
cresting the peaks like a burning bush. In the Carbondale valley they found a
ragtag township. A new railroad snaked through high grasses, the tracks
trestling up to a humpbacked bunker house. A few wood-and-nail structures leaned
along the main street amongst a few fine brick ones. Noah Norton's house
towered on a hillside beyond the smokestack, and a number of miners' cottages
dotted the edges of the valley.
Mr. Norton himself secured my parents a room in George Scammon's
lodging house, and the next morning father went to work as a haulier on the
Mount Hope Slope. Within the year, as the mines proved stalwart and Nortonville's
population flourished, hammers set to ringing on the skeleton of the new
Exchange Hotel. Father moved to the Black Diamond shaft to work laborer on the
Clark Vein. Six months later he made miner there. This was his job when I was
born. By that time he and mother had befriended a number of other Welsh. They
attended weekly Bible readings in a neighbor's house and father frequented the
small saloon, to the protests of his wife.
They secured a wooden company house, a sturdy place with a broad
front stoop and six narrow windows. It stood at the northern end of the valley,
at the head of Main Street and below School House Hill. Fifty feet east of the
front door, the Black Diamond Railroad ran north through the cleavage of
two camelback hills to slither six miles down to New York Slough. Otherwise, the
house was surrounded by a clutch of company homes, which all stood mutely amid
lisping grasses. A wide fur of chaparral spread up the hills on the west, and
down among the shops and meeting houses stood a few eucalyptus trees.
From The Green Age of Asher Witherow by M. Allen
Cunningham, pages 1-14. All rights reserved, no part of this book may be
reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Unbridled Books.