The Load of Coal

In the summer of 1894, in Pennsylvania, the young son of a Scottish immigrant was sent away from his family.  His father was very poor, a first-generation immigrant trying to hack a farm out of land that was not far removed from being aboriginal forest.  In poverty and hardness of heart he sent his eight-year-old son to become a “hired boy” on another man’s farm, and thence he would receive his son’s wages for the next 13 years.

At first the boy was fed along with the dogs on the back steps by the wash house.  His bed was simply a spot among the hay in the barn.  And things didn’t work out at this first farm.  Sent then to a second placement he fared in a similar fashion when it came to eating and sleeping.  Eventually, at approximately eleven years old, he arrived to his third placement.  To his surprise on the first day he was given a place –  his own chair and plate – at the family table.  He was informed that he would always be expected to eat with the family.  Not only eat with them, but sleep in his own bed under the same roof as the rest of them.  No more sleeping in barns. No more eating
with the dogs.  This placement worked out alright in that he didn’t get sent away anymore.  He learned everything a man would need for running a farm in the early 20th century.  He earned wages, all of which were sent to his father.  And though absent from his father and mother, he learned the experience of family life and love.

Come Spring of 1907 the boy, now a man of 21, was released from his servitude and sent to seek his fortunes with what had been saved for him: a wagon, a horse, a couple changes of clothing, and an Elgin pocket watch.  Eventually he married and rented a farm where he and his bride could begin a household of their own.  He had learned enough of Love to know that it made more difference than duty or work.  Duty and work were what he knew the most of,  but this power called Love trumped everything, and lay at the foundation of everything valuable.

His father was still poor, and no longer received the son’s wages.  The son tried, as best he knew how, to speak to his father about living a life that is reconciled with the Love of God.  One thing hadn’t changed in two decades: the father’s heart was still hard, like the Appalachian lime rocks he dug from his fields.

The son gained success in farming, able each year to save money in the bank toward the day of purchasing his own farm.  Christmas came colder than usual one Winter; snow was deeper and stayed longer.  He heard that his father’s house was cold, that the coal had run out and the old man had no money.  Horse hitched to wagon, woolen garments donned against the cold, the son went up the road on December 24th.  He would cover nearly 20 miles on that open wagon in snowy winter before he saw the warmth of his home kitchen that night. He stopped just south of the next village and filled his wagon with coal.  He drove to his father’s house; and one shovel-full at a time put the entire load into the bin for his parents.

On that cold snow-covered Christmas Eve a son’s forgiving Love broke through the hardness of an old man’s heart; and the true Peace of Christmas came to abide.

Here is the watch that was in the son’s pocket that night.

He was my grandfather.

The persistent presence of the power of Love: Never under-estimate what it can do!

January 005

3 thoughts on “The Load of Coal

    • That story is one of the good pieces of legacy left to me from ancestry. It turned out that the farm my grandfather eventually bought in 1929 was right across the creek from the farm where he finally had been allowed to eat and sleep as one of the family.

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