Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 400
Bartoletti enjoyed listening to and telling family stories. She collected the oral histories of men and women who grew up in Pennsylvania's anthracite coal region and conducted research at museums and libraries. Silver at Night and Growing up in Coal Country were inspired by the stories of her husband's grandfather, Massimino Santarelli, who emigrated from Italy as a boy and worked in the coal mines for fortyfive years. Growing up in Coal Country tells the stories of miners and their families through oral histories, historical research, and photographs.
"Slowly, I was able to piece together what life was like for the children of coal country... [the] children who lived, worked, and played nearly one hundred years ago... . This is their story." The first half of Growing up in Coal Country describes work at the mines. Chapters 1 through 4 are titled "The Breaker Boys," "Nippers, Spraggers, and Mule Drivers," "Mules and Rats," and "The Miner and His Butty." The noisy breaker room, the starting point for the children who worked at the mine, was filled with young boys who endured backbreaking work picking out coal from the chutes. Boys were also the nippers, spraggers, and mule drivers, and men were the miners. The dangerous underground shafts where men shared their lunch with rats and their prized mules were also where they made their way to freedom through the miles of underground tunnels. "The Black Maria" and "Strike!" detail the tragedies of working at the mine and the attempts by organized labor, boys, and miners to gain a living wage and humane working conditions.
Life outside the mine was still dominated by it politically, socially, and economically. The reader learns in the second half of the work, in the chapters titled "The Patch Village" and "After a Hard Day's Work," of the hard life led by all members of a mining family. Bartoletti writes of her husband's grandmother: '"I was thirteen when I married,' said Pearl Santarelli. 'Massimino was twenty.... I had to stay home and cook and clean.' . . . At fourteen, Pearl had her first baby." To escape the drudgery of work, people used their own ingenuity for recreation and relied on Old World ways to provide continuity from generation to generation.
Bartoletti concludes with a commentary about the legacy of "Coal Country," a list of the resources she consulted to write the book, and a list of photograph sources.
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.
- 30,000+ book summaries
- 20% study tools discount
- Ad-free content
- PDF downloads
- 300,000+ answers
- 5-star customer support