"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 once."
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.
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