Chapter 23: Dallas County Coal Mines


Lila May was an interesting character; a little less than the average height for that time; strutty, like a banty chicken. 

The taller, older, Edna was studious and serious. This is probably because Edna always had to anticipate Lila May’s shenanigans. Now Lila May wasn’t out to hurt anyone or cheat them, but she had a couple of personality flaws, 
besides the way she drove a car. 

Lila May had trouble keeping a secret, unless the keeping of the secret gave her a sense of superiority over others. 
She had a problem with that. 

When they were girls, her older sister, Edna could memorize a poem during a tornado, while Lila May would be distracted by a tree branch swaying in the breeze. Naturally then, Edna did better with her studies. This made Lila May long to know things she could speak of, before Edna could.  So Edna had to be careful what patient information she shared with Lila May. 

Lila May also had a tendency to interpret Edna’s patients’ maladies and form a diagnosis before Edna ever landed in the treatment room to survey the patient. This habit led to more than one lively exchange between the sisters. 

Edna finally had to say to Lila May, “Dear, your job is to look after the front desk. You don’t need to be in the treatment room with the clients. To be blunt, they want to hear from me, not from you.” That brought forth a vigorous response from Lila May that I won’t repeat, but she no longer visited with patients in the treatment room. 

Even so, Edna relied heavily on Lila May for many things; mostly friendship. 
While Edna was the main breadwinner for the household, Lila May pulled her share of the load and was the sunshine of the house, even if sunshine is the main source of a sunburn.  

Edna could cook and Lila May could bake. There is a difference between cooking and baking. 
Some people are good at both, most do people do better one than the other. 
The perfect Sunday dinner was Edna’s roast beef with potatoes and Lila May’s cherry pie. 
When it came to housekeeping, Lila May could scrub, and Edna could organize. A tidy home requires both talents. 

It is strange that Lila May, once so distractible, learned how to tat and bake. Both skills require concentration. 
But, as we grow up, we can force ourselves to master our weaknesses.

They played SomeRset and marbles for entertainment. The sisters would join their merchant neighbor and his wife to play SomeRset, a card game invented in 1902 by Mr. Hodges of Carroll, Iowa, who also worked several years in mail cars. 
When by themselves, marbles was played on the rug in the front room. This was a kid’s game they never outgrew. 
They had to use a stiff rug because the wooden floors were too uneven for a marble to sit still on its own. 
Since this was way before television, they would turn on the radio and listen to programs and music while they played. 

The Palmer sisters enjoyed Dallas County. Every Sunday afternoon the weather was decent, they would go for a ride. 
They made a point of visiting to two or three towns each trip. One time it would be to Dexter, Redfield, and then up to Linden. Another time, Bouton, Woodward and Granger. Or they might hit the southern pass and see Earlham, DeSoto and Booneville.  Of course, Edna had to have pie and coffee at the Hotel Pattee in Perry once a month, and passed through Minburn on the way. Ice cream socials at local churches were a favorite past time as well. 

One of their regular stops was the coal mining community in southeast Dallas County, in the Clive/Waukee area. 
Iowa had several active coal mines when steam locomotives ran the tracks and when homes were heated by coal. 
Coal was also used to generate steam power for factories before electric motors were available. 

The Shuler Company operated a coal mine in the Clive/Waukee area and workers lived nearby in their Worker Camps. 
The camps eventually had their own school and teacher, when county leaders realized it cost less to have a school there, than transport those children to other schools in the area. 

Edna had a couple of clients she would treat every other Sunday afternoon. 
She worked on two or three men there, (with their wives watching) and then the pair were invited to eat a bite afterwards. Edna would take half of her fees in garden produce; canned or fresh, and in fish and poultry. 

There were a lot of Italian families in the camps.
The men would play an Italian lawn game called 'bocce' on Sunday afternoons. 
Bocce uses two different sized-balls called ‘jacks’ and ‘pallinos’. The smaller pallino was thrown underhand onto the court first, then players would see how close they could get their jacks to the pallino. 
It was legal to use one’s own jack to move the pallino or an opponent’s jack. 
The objective was to own the jack closest to the pallino after all eight jacks were played. 

Lila May was interested and tried to get the drift of the game. When a couple of young men showed an interest in her, 
she tried to smile her way into a bocce game, but that didn’t work. 

One of the wives told Edna, “The bocce games are closed. They are for men only.” 

This made Lila May unhappy, but she stayed quiet about it. 
On the way home that day, Edna was surprised to notice that Lila May was humming to herself as she drove. 

“What did you do back there, Lila May?” asked Edna. 

“Whatever do you mean, dear sister?” Lila May said with a lilt in her voice. 

“Listen, dear; your request to play bocce was denied and now you’re humming. What did you do?” 

Edna and Lila May began to argue on the way back to Adel, and that is how we leave them. 

Eric J. Rose
middlegrade mysteries.com
photo: waukee.org
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