Chapter 6

The story so far: Katka bonds instantly with her Aunt Lily.

At 5 a.m. the next day, men's voices awoke Katka. It was still dark outside. She put on her clothes and crept, quietly, partway down the stairs. In the dining room, she could see Uncle Anton and eight men dressed in coveralls seated at the long table eating a breakfast of rolls and jam, hard-boiled eggs and bacon. "Teta Lily!" one of the miners called. "More kave, prosim." In Slovenian, teta means aunt, a sign of respect to women who are not your mother.

Lily appeared with a carafe. The boarder was young, only seventeen years old, tall and thin. "Milo Blatnik. You meathead. How many times do I have to tell you? English only at this table. We are in America."

"Where I come from, Teta, " Milo said, choosing his English words carefully, "one who have contempt for his mother tongue, does not respect his mother." Lily smacked him lightly on the head. "What is it with you? Every morning, a different proverb it is. Didn't your parents ever teach you anything useful?"

"Poetry. Would you like to hear some poetry from the old country?"

"I got a poem," another miner said. "I heard it at work, I did. From a real cousinjack American. It goes, "I once knew a man from Nantucket …" The men hooted.

"No proverbs," Lily said. "No poems. Just eat. You men are going to be the death of me."

As Lily topped off young Milo's cup, she saw Katka on the stairs and called her down. All of the miners stood. Anton introduced her as his niece and the men told her their names, one by one. Old Joe, who sat at the head of the table, opposite Anton, had a long gray beard and a slightly crooked back after nearly ten years of working stooped over underground. Most of the miners, however, were in their early twenties. "A pleasure it is to meet you, Miss Kovich," Milo said, bowing slightly.

Katka responded in Slovenian.

"No, dearheart," Old Joe quickly corrected Katka. "Nice-to-meet-you, too," he said loudly and slowly, deliberately contaminating his own nearly perfect English. "We-English-only-here." Everyone laughed, including Lily.

"One day you will all thank me," she said. "What day? I can't say. Katka. Come with me. I could use some good company for a change." Lily beckoned, and Katka followed her into the kitchen.

The kitchen was the largest Katka had ever seen. Unlike at home, the cook stove was inside, not outside. There was a wash basin full of soapy water. A good-sized icebox stood next to the door. A long table was pushed against one wall. On it were eight lunch boxes, each stuffed with a towel. "We must get the pasties packed," she said. "Give me a hand?" From the oven, Lily removed crescent-shaped pies filled with meat, carrot, onion, rutabaga and potato. Following Lily's lead, Katka wrapped them tightly to help them retain their heat. Lily explained that all miners ate pasties for lunch. They were filling and men could, if they needed to, eat them with one hand. They closed the tin boxes and each carried four, Lily balancing her load on her belly. "Follow me," she said, leading Katka through the dining room, past the boarders who were finishing breakfast. When he saw them coming, Anton opened the strong oak doors that led to the tavern.

It used to be the front porch of the house, until Anton persuaded Lily they should renovate. "It will be like the pubs from back home, I tell you," he had said. "Who will want to come to a tavern with no gambling? No women? Good, decent men, who want nothing more than to share a pint with some folks who speak his language, that's who, I tell you." Anton kept a running tab for the lodgers and when they paid their rent, they also settled the bar tab. If a boarder could not pay, there was always a new immigrant worker waiting to take his place.

Katka and Lily lined up the lunch boxes on the bar. The boarders soon entered and put on their mud-caked work boots, which were arranged neatly along one wall. They put on their grimy coats and hats, which were on hooks above the boots, and grabbed their lunches. They left for the St. James mine, which was a little less than three miles away.

Once the men had gone, Katka and Lily washed the dishes. Then they sat down. Lily rolled a hard-boiled egg on the table and, when it was cracked, she offered it to Katka. Lily spoke to her in Slovenian. "You missed your bath. I went up to get you, but you were fast asleep."

"Yes," Katka said, starting to peel the egg. "I'm sorry."

"It's nothing," Lily said. "I took it. It was lovely. I noticed something, though, when I went to get you. I noticed you have a typewriter."

"My old priest gave it to me."

"Can you use it?"


"Will you teach me to use it?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"I will teach you to improve your English. You will teach me to type. It is agreed?" Katka nodded.

"I've been wanting a typewriter for a long time," Lily said. "I begged my father for one, but he laughed. He said women can't write."

Tomorrow: Chapter 6 continues.