WILKES-BARRE — The Luzerne County Historical Society concluded Anthracite Mining Heritage Month with an author meet-and-greet event that also gave attendees a chance to share their family’s stories.
Author Jayne M. Booth said her book, “Peeling Potatoes: Katie’s Story,” unfolded while listening to her mother and grandmother tell stories.
Although the story is technically a children’s book, Booth noted that many of the people who bought the book were adult readers who wanted to learn more about the region’s mining history and how it affected families and children.
She said the fictional story had historical origins and took place in 1914.
Booth initially wrote the story as a stand-alone book, but once she started, she knew there was more to tell.
As a result, the next installment in the series, “Cradle of Coal”, will be released in February.
While the book was written in about six months, Booth told a crowd of about 20, her research spanned more than 30 years.
“My mother was getting old and I thought I’d have to start writing these stories, preserving these stories, preserving the memory somehow,” she said. “I started interviewing my mother 30 years ago. That’s when I started gathering information.”
If anyone has a story about the mine, Booth is willing to listen and document it.
“What really surprised me was how much fun they had,” she said. “So many funny stories and a lot of laughs from all the hardships they’ve been through. It’s not all misery and soot. I know my kids will love these stories.”
One day her youngest daughter came home from school sick and asked to listen to her grandmother’s tape, which she knew was a winner.
“That was the first time I thought, ‘I’d better start writing it down and make it into a book,'” Booth said. “Because, as you know, cassette tapes don’t last forever, even CDs last about seven years. Books last forever.”
Listener Peter Gagliardi pointed out that although miners’ families cherish their lives, they also face many challenges.
“My grandfather was an alcoholic. There were Molly Maguires, the unions,” he said. “It’s not always a good story.”
Booth acknowledged that children of mining families do face many unique challenges. She says some of these challenges will be addressed in her forthcoming book.
Gagliardi added that many previous generations were reluctant to share their stories, so the book and the research behind it provide valuable insight into the lives of miners in the early 1900s.
Booth reads an excerpt from her book that describes her protagonist, Katie, who peels potatoes every night for her family’s dinner.
One Thanksgiving, she was invited to her best friend’s house to peel potatoes and share their holiday meal.
Friends’ is richer than Katie’s, and they offer a variety of desserts.
This is Katie’s first dessert.
When she sent her mom samples of cakes and pies, it was her first dessert, even though she was in her 30s.
Modeled after one of Booth’s relatives, Katie learns a lot about mining and life as she peels potatoes for the family’s dinner.
Janint Young from Mexico heard about the signing on Facebook.
Yang, who recently moved to the area from Utah, said she wanted to learn more about the history of anthracite mining.
Young said she liked the style of the book, which is both entertaining and historical.
“I don’t usually like fiction,” she said.
During the question-and-answer session, Booth said the theme of the book was that miners persevered despite challenges and poverty, leaving a legacy for future generations.
“Never give up on a bad day. Everything will be better tomorrow,” she says.