Differences Set Aside
It was the early 1920’s mid October and the day started out like any normal day, getting to the coal mine entrance a few minutes early I went ahead with the first group down into the deep abyss. I had been working in the coal mines since I was 18, just like my dad, granddad, brothers, uncles and neighbors. In this part of the state the mines was the only jobs available. The bunch I worked with was like family, we had a few that was agitators, like one of the foremen that always picked on Joe. Joe was special; he was what the locals called “touched” and no one knew his age, but I guessed he was nearing sixty. He lived with his parents, and never spoke a word to anyone. Joe was the most dedicated worker I had ever seen and strong as an ox. I always made it a point to set beside of him at lunch time, it seemed Joe never had enough in his dinner bucket and I always shared the extra sandwich I would bring for him and also to slow the harassment when the foreman and a couple of the other guys decided they could pick on him because he was “touched”. We had been working for about 30 minutes when I realized I hadn’t seen Joe, but the mine was one of the biggest in the state so he probably was in another section of it. The foreman came by me and asked where my “buddy” was referring to Joe and I answered with a shrug and kept working. I had worked another 5 minutes when I heard the eerie sound that all miners feared the most. The roaring that we all knew that meant an explosion would be happening within seconds. All the guys started scrambling towards the trolley, but it was too late. The roof started caving in; the sound was deafening and there was black coal dust so thick you couldn’t breathe. Then all at once the stillness was just as scary. Then the sounds of my co-workers moaning and screaming brought me to my senses. We were only around a 100 feet deep so my thoughts was we might have a chance to get out if the main entrance wasn’t packed too tight. I started clawing at the rocks blocking our way when out of nowhere Joe was there helping and removing the large slabs at a fierce pace. Joe cleared a passage big enough for us to crawl through and instead of crawling through he looked at me and turned and started digging again and that is when I saw a hand buried underneath the debris, it was the foreman and he was barely alive. Joe uncovered him and pushed him through the passage first then looked at me and spoke the first words he had ever spoken in my presence and said it’s your turn and started pushing me through the passage. I got through the small passage and help pull the foreman to the clearing with the help of the rescuers. It was totally chaos and I remembered that Joe was still in the mines and that is when I saw Joe’s grandfather bending down and rubbing the blood off of my forehead. I was telling him about Joe rescuing us when he had a puzzled look on his face and I realized Joe’s grandfather had a painful look on his face. He started explaining that he thought Joe had overslept and when he went in to check on Joe he had died in his sleep and that is when he heard the sirens at the mine going off. The grandfather said he had come to check on the other miners and to let Joe’s fellow workers know of Joe’s demise and to let him know that Joe thought the world of me and would do anything for me. That day six miners lost their lives, but thanks to Joe a few was saved and Joe proved no matter how cruel the foreman had treated him, he decided even in death not to treat him differently because of who or what he was, but to put all differences aside and treat him equally and save his life like he saved mine as a thanks for my friendship and sandwiches I shared every lunch with him. The foreman put a memorial up for Joe and realized he was wrong for ever treating Joe badly just because he was different.