The Day the Whistle Blew
by Marilyn Nesbit Wood

High Plains Press, 2014. ISBN 978-1-937-14708-2.
Reviewed by Ann McCauley
Posted on 12/13/2014

Nonfiction: Memoir

As a coal miner's granddaughter, I was intrigued by this title. The subtitle of the book, The Life and Death of the Stansbury Coal Camp, is a clear foreshadowing of what is to come. Marilyn Nesbit Wood opened her soul and dug deep to write this memoir. The Day the Whistle Blew deals with family dynamics on almost every level, as well as poverty, work ethics, public education in the 1940s and 1950s, the control of company towns on its residents, and the disparity of wealth between blue collar workers and the more elite white collar owner class. Wood captures the culture of the times spot on.

In Wood's memoir, life revolved around the underground mine, community, and family in the coal camp of Stansbury, Wyoming in the 1940s and 1950s. It was the idyllic model town Union Pacific Coal had built it to be. Families had homes with indoor plumbing, children enjoyed friendship and freedom, and the men had a steady income.

However, as demand for coal waned, desperate mine supervisors demanded more and more from the miners, often jeopardizing the miners' safety. Wood's poignant reflections are unforgettable about the day that changed her life forever: the day the fatal whistle blew, and her father lost his life in the mine.

Her descriptions of her first love are discreetly charming, as are their idyllic summer family tent-camping vacations at Granite Hot Springs, the annual company sponsored First Aid Contest and the town doctor's college scholarship money for Wood. She also includes snippets of her life that were shockingly appalling, such as her family's betrayal by an uncle after her father's untimely death. And the pressure the childless wealthy aunt and uncle put on Marilyn and her brothers during the children's long summer visits is palpable. She reveals frictions in her relationships with her siblings, school friends, extended family, as well as her parents. There are a few times I squirmed and wondered why she includes certain details in her memoir.

The chronological organization of this memoir makes it easy to follow, unlike so many memoirs that skip from one subject to another, or those that jump back and forth in time. She writes honestly and compellingly about mines and miners, coal camp kids, miner's wives, company towns, letting go, and acceptance. It is a well-written, structured, and paced memoir; a searing story of bittersweet survival.

This is Marilyn Nesbit Wood's first book. She lives in Laramie, Wyoming, retired from the University of Wyoming. She cherishes the time she spends with her three adult children and her grandchildren. She loves music and enjoys playing the organ, knitting, and quilting, reading, corresponding with Amish friends, traveling, and swimming with friends at the recreation center. Read more on the publisher's website.

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