Chapter 34

The story so far: The strikers show their strength in numbers.

 

In a mining town, people tell time by the sun and by the shift whistles. Social gatherings, where punctuality is not of the essence, often begin at sundown or high noon. Formal gatherings, like funerals and the secret meeting of the Knights of Columbus, commenced with the shift whistles. Unlike the weather, the whistles never changed and folks considered them more reliable.

Two days after the walkout, the shift whistles from the mine stopped blowing. Katka and some of the women in town overslept, just a bit. They were more exhausted than ever. They had an extra meal to prepare and more bodies to clean up after. The meeting had run late. Katka hadn’t arrived home until after 11 p.m., and when she got there, she spent almost an hour recapping the evening’s events for Lily. When morning came, she slept until the baby’s cries woke her at 5 a.m. She scrambled out of bed and rushed to get the morning chores finished, milking the cow, gathering the eggs, setting the table, starting breakfast. As Katka scurried about in the kitchen, she heard the boarders enter the dining room.

“Milo!” she yelled. “Milo!” His first response had been drowned out by the other voices, talking excitedly.

Milo poked his head in the kitchen door.

“Take this coffee pot,” she said. “Tell the men to pour for themselves. I’m behind.”

After he left, she finished heating the ham and carefully placed the hard-boiled eggs in a basket with the hard rolls and jam. Using her hip to open the door, she backed into the room holding a fry pan in one hand and the basket in the other.

The men, most of whom had taken saunas the day before, appeared at the breakfast table clean-shaven and dressed in Sunday shirts.

“What’s this I see?” Katka said, looking around. She whistled. “Somebody getting married and forget to invite me to the service?” She walked around the table, plopping a slab of ham on each plate.

“If one of us was getting married, Miss Katka, you’d be sure to make the list,” Dusca said. “Somebody got to cook the wedding feast.”

“’Course,” Old Joe continued, “You might have other plans. Maybe you don’t like the feminine jobs anymore. Gonna trade in your apron and become one of them rebel girls.”

“Every girl’s a rebel girl,” Katka said. “Some just keep it on the inside.” She walked back in the kitchen and heated water for the dishes. The dining room got quiet and Katka knew mouths were being filled.

The men ate heartily, then filed out to the mine. They left without their candles, matches and shovels. Today would be a different kind of work, and they were excited.

With the baby tied to her back, Lily came down and helped Katka clear the table. Then she nursed the baby while Katka did the dishes. “Anton left us his buggy. He said to bring the empty soda pop bottles to town and have Andy trade them for full ones. The strikers will be thirsty,” she said. “Also, we should bring the rest of the jerky, for those who didn’t pack a lunch. We can follow the parade in the buggy, give people rides when they get tired.”

When they got to the St. James mine around 7 a.m., things were just about to begin. The miners had already shut down all the mines east of Biwabik, but a seventy-five-mile stretch of mines loomed to the west. The miners lined up in parade fashion on Blood Red Road. Milo and Andre were up front. They held a banner that read “Industrial Workers of the World.” Paul stood behind them, holding a giant U.S. flag. Carlo Tresca, Sam Scarlett and the other two Wobbly organizers who had been freed from jail the night before milled about behind Paul. The Biwabik Marching Band tuned up behind the IWW men. They had a bass drum, three snare drums, two tubas, a trombone, three trumpets and seven accordions. Behind the leaders and the band, the miners lined up four abreast. They were followed by their wives and children, and a few sympathetic townspeople. The buggies came last, carrying the elderly, the lame, small children and pregnant women. Katka and Lily drove one of the last buggies to line up. Andy had loaded the soda pop and threw in two large blocks of ice for free. “When you get to Mountain Iron,” he said, “stop at L&M distributors. They’ll replenish you real good. Supposed to be griddle hot today.”

“Heard it might hit ninety.”

“For your sake, I hope it don’t.”

“Thanks, Andy.”

 

Tomorrow: Chapter 34 continues.