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When i was a kid, we used to cross US Route 6 into the woods and abandoned deep mines and working strip mines.  We swung on vines over a garbage pit, crawled into dog holes, read girlie magazines, and explored as far as our legs would take us.  There was an old man who came to the woods.  You always knew he was around, because he was always singing, in Ukrainian or Russian (I didn’t have the linguistic sophistication I have today, but it was definitely East Slavic).  I always wanted to talk to him, but the story was that he’d eaten a couple of children and was to be avoided at all costs. With that in mind, I avoided.

Kawliga’s an untold and unknown story.  There are plenty of stories from West Mountain, though.  The dog hole miners are a good one. The main crew was two brothers (bachelors by design) and a neighbor (married to a very domineering woman).  The pretext was to dig enough coal to last the winter, thereby saving money.  The reality was a quiet place to drink cheap wine and roll and endless cigarette.  The miners didn’t do much else, except an occasional walk to a nearby lake to drown worms.  The prey of choice was the bullhead, a small, brown catfish.  Tasty things, bullheads. Fishing, too, was done with wine.  My father and I fished there, too.  It was a summer day, bright Sun, just before dinner.  The miners had been there for a while and the wine was almost gone.  Before saying hello, the older brother grunted ”Bring anything to drink, Sarge?” My father told them to go to the little bar down the road if they wanted to drink, we were there to catch our dinner. “They ain’t bitin’Sarge.” sighed the younger brother. My father just smiled.  We moved down the shore about fifty yards away from the miners and threw out our lines.  In five minutes, we had our first two fish.  The neighbor began walking to the little bar.  The brothers smoked some more.  By the time the neighbor came back with two six packs of Gibbons, we had a stinger full of fish and were headed for the car.

Dinner was good, and afterwards, my father decided we’d drive out into the country for ice cream.  On the way past the lake, we saw that the miners were still there.  The brothers were sleeping and the neighbor was baiting a hook.  It was dark on the way back, but they were still there.  They’d built a fire and it looked as if they still had some beer.  It would be a late morning at the dog hole.

And it was.  Two of my cousins and I went up the mountain about ten that morning and the miners still weren’t there.  We hiked east, to the old railroad pond, where they drew water for the steam engines when there were still steam engines and jobs in the county.  It was around noon, so we broke out the sandwiches and sat around talking about fishing.  My cousins were going to get a treat on the big lake next week.  Their brother-in-laws friend had a big boat and they were going to fish for sea bass.  We were all between ten and twelve at the time and none of us were all that big.  My cousins were hoping not to catch one of these transplants which might take a grown man fifteen minutes to half an hour to land. Like most of us, they preferred perch, blue gill, and bullhead.  A one fish meal for a family of five was just too much hard work. Ten or fifteen little fish were a lot easier on the constitution.

Aside from fishing and camping, we didn’t have much to talk about.  None of us knew anything about girls and none of us cared.  We sat in silence, finishing our sandwiches, when the sirens started up.  Ambulance or fire truck, they used the same siren and most of the same volunteers, except for the few trained medical technicians.  We went over to the cliffs to look down at the highway.  There were three police cars and two ambulances and they were heading towards us.  We ran down in the direction of the mines and there we saw the ambulance guys and the cops walking into the stripping pit where the dog hole was.  The neighbor was standing where the dog hole used to be, gesturing frantically.  One of the cops just said “Shit” and went back to the cruiser.  We could see him talking on the radio.  In about twenty minutes, there were search and rescue teams from three townships digging out the dog hole.

The brothers came out smiling, looking very much like they did every day: dirty, and drunk. After a check by the EMTs, the police and ambulance crews mounted up and drove away. One of the brothers crawled back into the dog hole and came out again with a gallon of wine.  They drank deeply.

copyright 2010: john zavacki (the elder)