My favorite Laura Ingalls Wilder book was the one that she wrote telling of her husband’s childhood. That book was called “Farmer Boy”.
I find that learning the past of your mate feels something like adding a past on to your own, one that you didn’t know that you had. This is something that I find to be unique between mates. Mary’s stories of growing up in a tiny and skinny coal mining town that was squeezed into a holler of the rugged West Virginia mountains makes me feel like I, somehow, have had a similar experience. And yes, she is a coal miner’s daughter.
Her parents were intelligent and worked hard to make their lives good and secure. Both parents served in the military when they were younger, Mary’s mother by choice and father by draft. He did not want to kill people, but was willing to serve, so he became a medic, a very similar story to that of my own father. One day, years later, mary came across a Bronze Star tucked away in his drawer. Upon asking him what he did to deserve that, he shrugged it off and didn’t have much to say.
As Mary grew up, her father would come home from the mines every evening clean and never with a complaint to be shared with the family. He loved sports and would throw a ball with any kid who came knocking on the door asking “Mrs. Yurkovich, can Mr. Yurkovich come out and play?” He grew corn and other vegetables in a little clearing that he had found in the woods between some railroad tracks and a hillside. Mary tagged along as one of the little helpers and remembers him coming home grinning from ear to ear with his pockets stuffed with freshly picked corn. He liked things to be neat, tidy and done in the proper way.
Mary, being the youngest of three daughters was the one that was somehow tapped to be daddy’s buddy in all things sports. How it is that we fall into our family roles is something of a mystery, but intensely powerful in shaping who we are. It is important that our roles are motivating, comforting somehow, and at least somewhat enjoyable. Mary seemed to have all three. This role that she took from her father has led her on a lifelong pursuit of athletic achievements.
Matt Yurkovich, the son of two immigrants from Ravna Gora, Croatia, was a man who took pride in properly doing what needed to be done, without complaint. While working in the mine, he had to patiently wait until the end of the shift to be transported out, so as to not waste a coal transport trip, even though he had just had several toes severed by a mine car. This was not a story that was championed by the family. It was something that just caught my attention one time with a “back up, what did you just say?”.
I am still adding to a new past that I didn’t know I had. Mary is very matter of fact and humble about things, much like her father, so the discovery is taking it’s sweet old time.