Mom Is a Coal Miner’s Daughter

A Coal Miner’s Daughter

Like most coal miner’s daughters, my Mom was made of strong stuff. I guess she had to be.

Born in 1921, she and her five siblings grew up on a small farm in the hills of Western Pennsylvania in a frame house without indoor plumbing. (I remember when they put it in.) They really did walk a mile through the snow to the little one-room schoolhouse through sixth grade. After that, they road the “jitney” on the railroad tracks to get into Brookville for high school.

They walked a mile in the other direction to the little, white frame, one-room church where Mom first learned what it means to follow Christ.

Mom says they didn’t know they were poor, because everyone around them was just like they were. My grandfather worked in the coal mines and my grandmother canned vegetables from the garden to see them through the winter. My brother now weaves rugs on the century-old loom that they used. He does it as a hobby, but they did it to keep food on the table during the Depression.

Mom was always grateful for Mr. and Mrs. Davis who took her as a live-in housekeeper so she get through college and become a school teacher.

A Woman of “The Greatest Generation” 

Like so many women of her generation, she married Dad just before he and his brothers went off to war. Three of them came back. Jim, who by all accounts was the joy-bringer in a family infected by Germanic seriousness and burdened with hard work, was in a B-17 that was shot down over Holland. My brother visited there and saw where the farmers buried him until the war was over and they brought him home. My parents promised to name their first-born son (who happened to be me) in memory of him.

In ’47 she gave birth to the set of twins my Dad had predicted before he came home from the war. She still introduces me as “one of my twins.” Another brother arrived eight years later. All three of us would agree that being our Mom was just about the most important thing in her life.

If truth be told, there were times when her love smothered and over-protected us. But now that I’m a parent and grandparent, I am in awe of the way she loved us enough to let us go. I came to Florida, my twin brother went to Michigan, and our younger brother to California – all of which are about as far away from Western Pennsylvania as you can get. It had to be painful for her, but she wanted us to find the life we were called to live.

Her life wasn’t always easy. There was the fire that destroyed my father’s business, going back to teaching to put us through college, the cardiac surgery from which my Dad recovered and the cancer from which he didn’t. She was only 59 when he died, an age that seems younger to me every year. But the strength that was her birthright and the God in whom she trusted saw her through. She was determined to live on, and she did. Before she turned 90, she faced the death of two more husbands.

We celebrated her 95th birthday last week. She’s not as strong as she used to be. The legs that carried her to that one-room schoolhouse are immobile. The fingers that played hymns on the piano are gnarled. The voice that sang in church choirs is softer. Big chunks of her memory have faded away. thumb_IMG_2643_1024

Strength in What Remains 

What remains is the smile on her face, the strength of her love and the depth of her faith. We’ve never doubted her love for us, for our wives, our children and grandchildren. We’ve never questioned her faith in Christ. Her life of prayer continues to be her source of strength and a model for all of us. She loved us enough to let us go, and when the time comes, we pray that we will love her enough to let her go as well.

I’m grateful that years ago she made the plans for her death. She requested that at her memorial service we sing “Abide with Me” with that beautiful last verse:

Hold thou the cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

As Mother’s Day approaches, I give thanks for this strong woman, for the indomitable strength of her love and for her unwavering faith in Christ. She has abided in Christ and Christ’s love abides in her (John 15:4-5).  That’s about as good as it gets.

Grace and peace,




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24 thoughts on “Mom Is a Coal Miner’s Daughter

  1. My dad will turn 95 at the end of this year. He too is not as mobile as he used to be. He too has lost big chunks of his memory. And he too lost his wife — my mom — too early. I love your words “Strength in What Remains” I too am grateful for my dad — a former thoracic surgeon and veteran of the Navy who loved us enough to let us go. What a wonderful gift! Thank you for your beautiful words.

  2. Very said, Jim. Those Depression Era mothers are incredible!

  3. Beautiful tribute to a wonderful lady!

  4. Charles Michael Smith May 3, 2016 — 1:21 am

    Beautifully said, Jim. Moms are a wonderful combination of tenderness & toughness & know when to be both. Glad you’ve still got her to enjoy this upcoming Mother’s Day.


  5. Wow! That’s off the chart, and makes me think of, and appreciate, my mother. Thanks Jim. MB

    Sent from my iPhone

    1. Thanks! You Mom was made out of the same strong stuff!

  6. Sandra Gardner May 3, 2016 — 1:46 am

    How beautiful, Jim. You have called her blessed . What a wonderful son you are to her— all she could have ever wished for and prayed for!

    Sandra Gardner


  7. Beautiful…just beautiful. Thanks.

    Sent from my iPhone


  8. What a wonderful tribute to your mom. She is so special and a real example to her family and others.

  9. Cheryl Beckner May 3, 2016 — 9:02 am

    Beautiful, Jim. It was so great to see (and hear) you at Matt’s church.

    By the way, my grandfather was a coal miner in West Virginia. He was also a saintly Christian and took me to church with him every Sunday after he came to live with us.

    Cheryl Beckner

    Sent from my iPad


  10. What a beautiful tribute. Tears are flowing from my eyes with love for Ronnie and all of you.

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. Thanks for all your love and care for her. Your visits mean so much to her and to us.

  11. Sharon and Larry Bates May 3, 2016 — 4:27 pm

    Beautiful tribute! She reminds us of our Moms. I’m sure they will meet one day in the sweet by and by. Thank you for sharing this inspirational life. Sharon and Larry

    1. Thanks. I’m confident you will meet one day.

  12. Jim, that is one of the finest statements about a mother I have seen or read. It triggered memories of my mother, as I am sure it will for many other readers. We also never knew we were poor since everyone in our little town was in about the same condition. We ate what we grew, bartered and hunted and fished. I can not remember every being hungry. I only wish I could pass that blessing on to all who are, and those who need homes and jobs, and mostly lots of love. Let’s all work to those ends as long as we can. Thanks again for your ministry to me.

  13. May 4, 2016 — 2:13 pm

    Jim, what a beautiful tribute! Thanks for sharing that. Chris

  14. Jim, what a wonderful testimony to your mother and your love for her and hers for you, your siblings, dad and so many others. My father turned 95 on April 1 and I am so thrilled to still have him to turn to. They really are part of the greatest generation. By the way, my sermon title for Mother’s Day is “A Legacy of Faith.” Looks like your mother certainly has given that legacy to all of you.

  15. Oh Jim,

    This is so beautiful. What a lovely tribute. I hope you had a grand celebration.

    Tell her I’m a coal miner’s daughter, too.

    Nice to be inspired by you again.

    We miss you.



    Sent from my iPad

  16. I have followed you in the Upper Room for several years, tearing out and saving your entries. I am thankful my nephew from Indiana, Kerry O’Brien, told me about your blog. That was a beautiful story about your mother.

    Pat Dean

  17. Mary Webb Walker May 5, 2016 — 4:12 pm

    What a beautiful tribute to you mom, Jim!
    We continue to love following your blog as we cruise Europe on our boat home. Always sage words to inspire us, make us think, and make us grateful.
    Mary Webb and Howard
    Cote d’Azur, France

  18. What an incredibly moving portrait of your Mother and of the faith that has both sustained her and been passed on to you! Thank you for sharing your memories and your faith with so many of us. They stir up my faith and fill my heart with gratitude.

  19. Charles Michael Smith May 23, 2017 — 1:29 am

    Hi good friend:

    Thought you’d be interested in this. Also, hope you’ve seen the helpful email Elaine sent today. Ken can fill you in on the struggle to get this released. Hope it helps quell the hits on DDS.


  20. Charles Michael Smith June 12, 2020 — 4:16 pm

    Don’t know if you’re on this mailing list. Looks like an interesting event. Charles

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