More Stories of the Raymond & Rebecca (Rugg) Miner Family
By Thomas Ray Beck
[Editor's note: the
author is the son of Edson Carl and Sybil June (Miner) Beck and the grandson of Raymond and Rebecca (Rugg) Miner of Indian Head, Fayette County, PA. He is the author of a multi-volume detective novel series, The Tommy Two Shoes Mysteries, published by Laurel Highlands Publishing. The books feature a fictional Pittsburgh detective, named appropriately enough Tommy "Two Shoes" Minerd. Be sure to see part 1 of this series, and visit his blog at http://thomasbeck.blogspot.com/.]
~ Uncle Ted~
I received a call from my grandmother Rebecca Miner early one morning. My uncle Ted was sick and could I come quickly. He still lived with her. She told me that she’d found laying him on the bathroom floor and there was blood underneath him. Grandma explained that she had called the ambulance company (Before 911) and it was out with the fire department on a motor vehicle accident call.
I lived about five miles away from their house and hurried to see what I could do. When I arrived, he was barely conscious. There was old blood on the front of his shirt and on the floor. It was obvious that he had some type of gastrointestinal bleeding. I threw a towel across my shoulder, then tossed him across my shoulder to carry him out to the car. I put him in the passenger seat, pulled on my flashers, and made the twenty minute trip in about fifteen.
I stopped under the hospital’s portcullis, grabbed a wheelchair, and pulled him into it. Because it was the hospital where I worked, I bypassed the triage area and went directly into the emergency department with him. He should have arrived in an ambulance. I had no choice and was taking the place of the ambulance.
I put him into the first empty bed that I saw. The other nurses in the area saw me, then saw him. They swooped down on us, pulling off clothes, starting I.V.s, and getting vitals. The doctor came in and was giving verbal orders. I left to move my car and then to give information for his chart.
Uncle Teddy Miner
I came back in and was giving the crew the limited information about what had occurred. All of this was happening in a hurry and it still feels like a blur to me.
The doctor was still there while Ted’s blood was being drawn, the EKG was being done, and he was getting portable x-rays. Ted looked so critical that the doctor ordered uncrossed O negative blood be brought from the lab and given to him. Because he was so anemic, his heart had little blood to circulate, he had a heart attack. Once his blood work was back, he was packed up and was admitted to the intensive care unit.
Ted developed stroke-like symptoms as well as the heart attack symptoms because he had almost completely bled out. The gastrointestinal doctors and the surgeons were afraid to use any kind of anesthesia to try and repair the bleeding. He was given medications to try to slow the bleeding and unit after unit of blood. His condition was too fragile to do much more.
They were hoping that the medications and the blood would allow his heart to heal enough for them to intervene and do surgery. It never happened and he passed away. It devastated my grandmother, “Children aren’t supposed to die before their parents."
A lot of things changed for my grandmother after Ted’s death. Ted had lived with her since he was born. He was a normal kid until two adult men assaulted and beat him when he was younger. After he recovered, he only had the mental capacity of a fourth grader. (I never got the whole story of his assault, but I was told the men had tried to get Ted to drink alcohol and he refused.)
He made money by mowing lawns in the summer, gathering “sang” (ginseng), and fixing old tube-type radios. He gathered and cracked nuts for their meat and sold them closer to Christmas. He used a hammer and an anvil in the basement to open the nuts. He would sit and watch T.V. with Grandma and pick out the nuts from the shells.
Every year at Christmas, my Uncle and I would go to a nearby stand of wild growing pines, find the smaller ones at the edges, and cut one down for him and one for me. It was a tradition.
After he died, Grandma didn’t want the “bother” of decorating a tree and I didn’t have the heart to go alone. My wife had wanted an artificial one for several years, so I allowed myself to be persuaded.
~ Topping Whopper ~
Uncle Dale Miner
I’ve mentioned my uncle Dale Miner before. He was a man who told lies and tall tales as an integral part of his life and was incapable of completing a full sentence without using a variety of curse words. Daily, he cultivated his swear words until he was able to reap a huge crop. It came to the point that he would use profanity without consciously knowing he was using it.
He was in the local snack bar one morning bragging about how many fish he had caught while waiting for his food and sipping on a cup of coffee.
After a few minutes, a man got up from a nearby table and approached Dale who was sitting at the counter. He stopped beside my uncle and said, “Sir, do you know who I am?”
When Dale swiveled his stool to where he could see the man, he said, “No.”
The man pulled out a badge and said, “I’m Charlie Cunningham. (fictitious name) I am the fish and game warden.”
Dale said, “Do you know who I am?”
Charlie said, “No sir, I don’t.”
Dale replied, “I’m Dale Miner and I am the biggest bull shitter in Indian Head.”
Charlie just shook his head and walked away. That ended the conversation.
One day I challenged him. “Dale I can tell a bigger story than you can.”
Insulted, he took the challenge and I said, “Dale, you go first.”
He said that he had been fishing along the railroad tracks when a storm blew in and as he was hurrying home, the lightning hit the tracks behind him. He looked back and saw the lightning racing along the steel rail following him. He knew if he didn’t make it back to Indian Head and throw the switch; it would blow the town off the map. He threw down his pole and tackle and ran full speed into Indian Head ahead of the lightning. He said, “It was close boy. I felt my fingers tingle as I threw the switch.”
He took every bit of ten minutes to relay the story and details.
I said, “Are you finished?” He nodded and I started my story. “Dale, you’re the most honest man I know.”
He looked stunned for a few seconds before laughing and saying, “I’ll be damned if you didn’t beat me.”
Another morning, one of Dale’s friends asked, “Dale, how many pancakes did you eat this morning?”
When Dale replied that he had eaten fourteen pancakes, his friend said, I beat you Dale. I had sixteen.”
Dale wasn’t one to go down in defeat easily said, “But did you have an egg between each cake?”
~ Time to Butcher ~
This is not a subject that will interest all people, but it was a way of life as I grew up. It may even bother the squeamish. Every year between Thanksgiving and the New Year, the family would gather at my grandfather Ray Miner’s farm. The decision to butcher depended on the weather. Granddad always kept two hogs and a bull that he raised for the sole purpose of having meat for the coming year. There was a lot of work involved in the process and that is why the family gathered. It would make the work less tiresome for everybody. With the work shared, all of the butchering could be done in one day.
I can remember the air was cold and I could see my breath rising. It was cold enough to cool the meat, but not to freeze it quickly.
Usually it was the hogs that were killed first. They were hoisted one at a time up in the center of a tripod by winches, gutted, and dipped into scalding water. The water softened the bristles and they were easier to scrape off the hides. Each was skinned and then cut in half, and again into quarters. The sections were taken to large tables and sliced into the various cuts of meat; roasts, chops, and hams. The hams were trimmed of fat then rolled into a cure of brown sugar, pepper, and salt. Allowed to rest in the cure before they were carried and hung inside the smoke house.
The smoke house was a small shack with a raised floor. The floorboards had gaps between them to allow the smoke from a smoldering fire of wet hickory wood beneath them to rise into the shed. The rest of the building was tight with just a small space to allow the smoke to escape near the top. The thick smoke finished curing the hams and bacon if Grandpa decided on that too.
While the major dividing of the pigs was happening, the women gathered and washed out the small intestines of the pigs. Those intestines would become the casings for the sausage.
The fat and small bits of meat had to be removed from the bones. That was the job I had been assigned. I couldn’t cut anything that shouldn’t be cut except me. My one uncle and I kept trimming and providing the pork that would be ground into sausage. It was a demanding job; fast enough to keep ahead of the grinder and slow enough not to lose a finger.
The ground up pork would be seasoned with black pepper and mixed by hand. The mixture was taken upstairs where the women would put it into a press that would squeeze the sausage out through a teat near the bottom. The casing had already been slipped over the teat and the sausage would fill the casing as it was pushed out through the opening at the end of the teat. Deft twists by the women controlled the length of each link.
Next it was time for the beef. The bull was killed and hung up on the tripod to be gutted and skinned. It was quartered as well and laid on the tables to be cut up. The bits and pieces and the bones were passed to me and my uncle to strip any remaining meat to be ground into hamburger. The steaks, chops, and roasts were removed by deft hands long before the beef was passed to me. (I never did gain enough experience to move up in the ranks of cutters before my grandfather died.)
All of the meat had to be placed into jars and be cold packed and sealed against spoilage. That changed once my grandparents bought a freezer and the meats had to be wrapped and frozen.
Each family took home some of the meat as a thank you from Granddad for all of the help. None of the families were wealthy and the fresh meat made life better for us all.
~ Three More to Go ~
This year the Rugg family celebrated their 97th annual reunion, only three more to go to hit one hundred. The first one that I can recall was held at my great-grandfather Curtis Rugg farm in Mill Run, Pennsylvania. I have described the food laden sawhorse tables in the orchard and the 20 gallon crock of lemonade that was perched on an end table. My great-grandfather Curtis and my great uncle Wesley sitting on the front porch swing and the old water pump in the back yard.
After Curtis’ death, the next place for the clan to gather was my great-uncle George’s home. Curtis’ farm could be seen from the front yard. George’s back yard wasn’t as spacious as the farm, but there was room for tables and for us kids to run, play, and find things to get into.
When George died, the baton was again passed to the eldest living Rugg, which happened to be my grandmother, Rebecca Rugg Miner and the location shifted again to the picnic areas behind the Indian Head Community center. It was a little less homey and the trek to the restrooms was a little far for the older members. The consolation was there was a ball diamond for the folk to play games of softball.
With the death of my grandmother, the location shifts again. For the past several years, the reunion has met in Indian Head, Pennsylvania at Resh’s Park located behind the fire hall. The pavilions, the playground, and room for the kids to play make it an ideal place to gather. This year, we were able to rent a bouncy castle for the kids. The turnout was lighter this year, due to a recent death in the Rugg family.
It was still well attended and great to see cousins, see their kids, and grandkids. Sometimes names allude me, but seeing familiar faces and meeting new additions to the family is what reunions are about, securing the roots and seeing the new branches.
~ Scared, Skating, and Shaking ~
This incident occurred when I was in sixth grade. Skating at the Indian Head Community Center was a change of pace for me and privilege that I looked forward to doing all week. When this incident occurred, the Indian Head Church of God wasn't there and the land was still a part of my granddad's farm. There were no homes or summer cabins along that stretch of route 711/ 381. It was dark, deserted, and desolate.
Every Friday evening, my mom and dad would allow me to go skating at our local community center. For twenty-five cents I could skate for two hours safe and supervised. When it was over, I would walk the quarter mile to my grandparent’s house until my parents could pick me up later after shopping.
Friday was mom’s grocery day. Dad would drop me off close to six o’clock P. M. and they would leave to shop or our food. It was the earliest that Dad could be ready after coming home from work and get cleaned up. Dad sometimes worked Saturdays and they had established a routine to do their shopping on Friday evening.
It was completely dark in late autumn when the skating activity left out at eight o’clock P. M. There were no houses between the community center and my grandparent’s big farmhouse. The only light was from passing cars and the windows of their farmhouse.
There was only one home closer, but it was on the opposite side of the community center. It was another farm that belonged to a man named Harold “Snuffy” Gallentine.
Darkness had fallen when I left the center and I felt ill at ease. I’d walked to Grandpa’s place many times before and never had this feeling. It was nothing I could put my finger on, but something just didn’t seem right. I moved to the center of the highway. I had to walk through a cut in the roadway between two steep banks that were about seven feet high. They were crowned with thick tangles of mountain laurel.
The dark green leaves and the depth of the banks of earth made it seem dark and oppressive. I felt a little nervous as I entered. I became more nervous when I heard some soil and rocks being dislodged from the bank and trickle down the side. I could feel the hair on the back of my neck start to rise.
I wound the strings of my skates around my hand, fashioning a weapon of sorts in case something was there. I wanted to get one good hit in if something attacked me. I picked up my speed. I wasn’t running, but walking faster than normal.
I left the roadway to climb through the field to my grandmother’s house. Soon I was safe and secure inside and thought nothing more of the incident until my dad said something the next morning. “ Snuffy had a pig killed last night. Something ripped it open and ate the kidneys and heart. He thinks that it was a bear.”
Was it the bear that caused the small landslide the night before? I will never know, but it still gives me chills when I think of it.
~ The Wire Christmas Tree ~
One year, with the farm work and working the night shift in the coal mines, Granddad Ray Miner didn’t have time to go to the woods and cut a Christmas tree for my grandma Rebecca. But she was a talented and imaginative person. She handled it with her usual creative aplomb. It was a story that was told most Christmases and also passed on to me by my mom.
Grandma knew that she couldn’t cut and haul a huge pine tree to fit her twelve foot ceiling, so she went to the basement and gathered the tools and supplies that she would need for her idea. Using a saw, she went outside and cut off a few of the lower branches of the pine trees at the front and side of her house. She dragged them onto the porch.
She had carried up a hammer, some long pieces of wire, and two sturdy eye bolts. Using the stepladder, she screwed one of the eyebolts into the ceiling and one directly below it on the floor. Using the wire she ran several strands of the wire through the eye bolts, making the “trunk” of the tree. Cutting and shaping the branches she had cut, She wired them into place on the “trunk” of the tree. Slowly she shaped and grew the tree. The wires were hidden beneath the thick pine boughs.
It must have been spectacular once the ornaments, lights, and decorations were hung on it. Each one of my aunts and uncles said it was the most beautiful Christmas tree that they had ever had.
Often when we were gathered together, someone would lift the carpet and show the hole that the eye bolt left in the floor.
Her creativity wasn’t limited to the Christmas tree. She would borrow the “Sears and Roebuck” or the “Montgomery Ward” catalogue from the neighbors. She would sit down with the girls and decide which outfits they liked best. Using only newspaper and scissors, she would cut out patterns, cut the material, and sew them into clothing. The girls always went to school in the newest fashions and Grandma was able to stay within her budget.
At Christmas one year, she used orange crates to make a table and chairs and a cupboard for the girl’s dolls. She painted them a bright red. They looked beautiful under the Christmas tree and the girls loved them, but this story did not have a happy ending.
One of my uncles was upset that Grandma sent him to the basement to cut some kindling for her wood cook stove. When he came back and dumped it into the wood box, the girls noticed the red paint. The kitchen was filled with loud wailing as each girl found out that their red play set had been destroyed. All of their furniture had been chopped up.
I never heard what punishment my uncle received for that incident, but whatever it was, he deserved everything that he got.
~ They Refuse to Stay Buried ~
Many times memories refuse to stay buried and will resurrect. These are mostly what I write about and share. While I was stationed in Keflavik, Iceland, I got a telephone call from my mom, Sybil Beck. With phone rates being so expensive other than local calls, I was surprised. I was 20 years old and no longer a teenage kid, what she had to say hit me hard. My grandfather, her father, had died. He was the first really close family member to die. A coal miner at night and working his farm to feed his family during the day, he had finally worn himself out.
Hardening of the arteries had been overtaking his mind for several years. He was so used to tending the farm and caring for his animals, he was constantly restless creating problems for my grandmother Rebecca. She had to constantly on the alert to keep him from wandering off. All of his animals were sold off and the barn had collapsed, but in his mind, they were still there and needing him.
Multiple times he would rise from his padded rocker and slip on his shoes. Grandma would ask, “Ray, where are you going?” He would reply, “I have to take care of the horses.” Grandma would have him look out the window at the rubble from the fallen barn and remind him, “The animals are gone, Ray.” He would shake his head, kick off his shoes, and settle back into his chair in front of the television. His tobacco spit can beside him n the floor.
Chewing tobacco was a habit that he’d picked up at the coal mines. Many miners chewed tobacco to remind themselves not to swallow the coal dust laden saliva. It wouldn’t be long until he would become restless, finally rising out of his chair and there would be a replay of his desire to check on his animals.
Grandma did have a helper. It was a stray that they got named Laddie. It was a large mongrel, collie mix, mostly black with some brown and white markings in its coat. It was an outside dog and would follow granddad when he managed to escape grandma’s watchful eyes. Laddie was a faithful companion, hanging close to Grandpa’s heels. Laddie seemed to assuage Granddad’s restlessness and the need to have animals near.
The phone call was hard for me to bear. The time, finances, and the distance made it impossible to attend his funeral, but my memories of him refuse to stay buried.
~ Uncle Ted Miner ~
In my past posts, I’ve mentioned that my Uncle Theodore Miner only had the mental capacity of a child in the fourth grade. While he was walking along the highway near my grandparent Miner’s farm, two men stopped their car and tried to get Ted to drink some alcohol. When he refused, they beat him severely. The assault was so intense that he developed brain damage because of the damage he couldn’t continue his education. His mental capacity to learn was stymied.
The one thing he had going for him was a great work ethic. He always found odd jobs to earn spending money. In the summer, Ted often walked for miles pushing his bright green “Lawn Boy” mower. He had several customers and made his way to their various homes and manicured their lawns.
In autumn he would gather nuts and store them until winter, then he would crack open walnuts, butternuts, and hickory nuts. Sitting in the basement, he would pick out the nut meat goodies, weigh them, and bag them. Ted had regular customers who ordered the nut meats well ahead of time to finish their baking projects of Christmas cookies and cakes.
Ted owned a small scroll saw. He used it to shape pieces of wood from deconstructed apple crates. Fitting the cut pieces together, he’d nail them tightly with small brads, then paint the assembled project in bright red. The red sleigh was about 12 inches long by 8 inches wide by 10 inches high. It could be used as a nut bowl or hold Christmas ornaments for display.
Ted collected old tube radios that people would discard. He would check each tube in the radio to find which tube was causing the problem and make repairs, replacing the “burned out” tube. Radios that were too far gone to save, he would salvage the “good” tubes to use in other radios. He stored the usable tubes in baskets of all sizes then he would sort through the collection until he could find the replacement. Once repaired, he would sell the repaired radios for a few dollars.
Ted would sometimes allow me to trail along with him as he searched the wooded areas around the small town of Indian Head, Pennsylvania hunting for ginseng plants. He would wander through the rocky, leaf covered hills looking for the arched green stalks and clusters of red berries that would identify the elusive root. After digging out the roots, Ted would dry them thoroughly before selling them at Resh’s Red and White store in Indian Head. Resh’s was once a company store that still sold a variety of things from clothing to hardware and food.
~ Seeking Dad Among the Dead ~
Now that I am older, I wish I had listened more closely to the things that my parents said about themselves and their parents and had remembered them. So much history and wisdom was lost in my youth. I don’t believe that I ever learned how my grandparents met, fell in love, and became building blocks in my life. It is like the mortar that cements those thoughts is missing. How much more complete that wall would have been.
I didn’t ask those kind of questions as a child because it wasn’t proper. I didn’t ask how my parents met either, but I know my dad, Edson Carl Beck bought an Indian motorcycle on his return from serving in the Army during WW II. He was stationed in Australia, the Philippines, and visited Hiroshima. My mom Sybil June Miner worked at Resh’s Red & White store in Indian Head, Pennsylvania. One day as she walked home, a guy on a motorcycle sped by, grabbed the sleeve of her coat, tore it, and sped off. She blamed my dad and he vehemently denied it. They didn’t say much else about the dating.
Mom did share some of the places that they lived and some of the antics of newlyweds, but the meat of those stories have faded and become woefully thin. A water battle at the honeymoon cottage and the shrieking that worried the neighbors, a tug of war under a bed, and a night sleeping in the bathtub seem almost too nondescript to share without the details.Details that made my mom laugh and my dad smile.
Although my wife-to-be, Cynthia Louise Morrison lived less than five miles from my home, we met at a wedding. It was the first wedding I’d ever attended and was the best man for my cousin Alan Bottomly. She was an usherette and greeter. At the reception, I was my abnormal self and teased her, even hiding her shoes. Guests thought we were already dating, but no. It took one of her friends arranging a blind date to start the ball rolling. Although my wedding antics said otherwise, I was quite shy and that is hard to believe even now.
Much of what I record in my BlogSpot stories is to capture some of these moments before they disappear and are forgotten. I don’t want my children seeking information of their mom or dad among the dead.
~ Miniskirts and Grandma ~
My mother and I would take my grandmother Rebecca Miner to her doctor’s appointments. Mom would drive and I would be along for Grandma to hang onto when she walked. She did okay at home, but sometimes curbs and steps without a railing gave her problems. She was bow legged from arthritis and her hands and feet were gnarled and misshapen from rheumatism. She walked by herself, but sometimes when she was out she needed an arm on which to lean or to have a steadying hand.
When her doctor’s appointment was over, Mom would drive us to one of several nearby restaurants for lunch. Grandma looked forward to having a meal where she didn’t have to cook or do the dishes afterward.
Grandma Becky still wore the opaque “flesh-colored” cotton stockings that were held up by elastic garters and black shoes that tied and had short clunky heels. The hems of her dresses were always mid calf or lower. Although her joints were old and gnarled, her hair was still black with only a strand or two even into her late seventies.
We chose a booth near the door and had just settled in when the waitress came over and asked what we would like to drink, delivering our menus. After she walked away, I could see Grandma reaching her hand beneath the table and pulling at her skirt. Sitting there studying her menu, she would tug on her dress, not happy that her knees were showing.
The young waitress came back and took our orders while standing at the end of our table. Tucking her pad and pen into an apron pocket, she gathered the menus and carried our orders into the kitchen.
Grandma’s hand disappeared had already disappeared under the table and she was pulling at her dress again. Obviously she was feeling uncomfortable. I knew she would never relax while we ate our meal unless I did something.
Before I say more, I need to describe our waitress. She was attractive with long, straight blond hair and had shapely legs although they were very solid with full calves and thighs. This was the age of mini-skirts and her skirt bordered on the micro-mini. Earlier when this blond, long-limbed beauty stood at our table taking orders, the hem of her mini-skirt hovered above the table top.
So when Grandma’s hand delved beneath the table for her skirt hem again, I asked, “Grandma, did you see our waitress?”
She looked puzzled but said, “Yes.”
“Did you see what she was wearing?”
Again she replied, “Yes.”
I said, “Did you see her legs?”
Her answer was the same, “Yes.”
“With her walking around in this restaurant, do you think that anyone is going to be looking at your knees?”
We laughed and she settled down to enjoy her meal.
Copyright © Thomas Beck. Re-published with permission.