- Associated Press - Saturday, March 8, 2014

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) - Little Hallie Marie didn’t know it as a 10-year-old, but those treats her dad doled out of his dinner bucket at the end of his shift - the extra half of a sandwich, that little sliver of pie - weren’t originally intended for her.

She found out later, as an adult, that he stored extra food in case he got trapped in a coal mine cave-in.

Hallie Marie” is the creation of Karen Vuranch, who introduced her character to an audience at WVU’s Mineral Resources Building on Feb. 28.

The idea was to get people to understand the dangers of early mining in West Virginia and the resilience of people who lived in those camps.

“This is how it was,” said Vuranch, a writer, actress and professor who grew up in a family of Teamsters in Cleveland.

She also portrays West Virginia icons Mother Jones and Pearl S. Buck in other shows.

Hallie, she said, is a composite from hundreds of interviews she conducted with West Virginia families whose roots are deep in mining.

In her one-act play, “Coal Camp Memories,” Hallie goes from a bubbly 10-year-old to a coal miner’s wife suddenly widowed and left to raise children on her own after her husband dies in a mine disaster.

It ends with Hallie Marie as an aged matriarch delivering wise counsel from the camp she never left.

Her performance was hosted by WVU’s Royce J. and Caroline B. Watts Museum, in the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.

The museum has items and photographs that depict the daily lives of coal camp residents.

Royce Watts, a retired WVU dean who was born in a Randolph County coal camp, said Vuranch’s play is just about the Appalachian tradition of storytelling as it is practice that served as its principle industry for generations.

Watts said he regrets not talking more to his parents about their coal camp memories.

“Every generation has valuable knowledge to impart,” he said. “Unfortunately that rarely ever happens because people don’t talk. It’s like they say: ‘Yo u ‘ll never know where you’re going, until you know where you’ve been.’ “

Tom and Michelle Warner, a husband and wife from Fayetteville who perform old-time music, provided a soundtrack for Vuranch with their voices and guitar.

The first song they played for the night? “Nine Pound Hammer,” the coal-mining ode written by Kentucky guitar-picker Merle Travis.

“… When I’m long gone, you can make my tombstone, out of No. 9 coal, out of No. 9 coal .”

Tom Warner’s guitar rang out, and Hallie Marie carved a story.


Information from: The Dominion Post, https://www.dominionpost.com

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