As funerals for fallen W.Va. miners begin, busy floral designers help in the healing

By Vicki Smith, AP
Friday, April 9, 2010

Florists toil in own way to honor fallen miners

BECKLEY, W.Va. — Hours after closing time, the phone is still ringing and bits of ribbon, flower stems and sheared-off thorns are dropping to the floor in a steady shower. The sweet scents of thousands of flowers — lilies, roses, snapdragons and more — mingle with the spice of a pepperoni pizza the staff at Jay Roles Floral is sharing for dinner.

On a normal day, they fill about 25 orders.

On the eve of four coal miners’ funerals, they have filled 91.

And the weeks ahead? They don’t dare guess.

The explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine in nearby Montcoal has killed 25 people so far and could claim four more still trapped underground. Seven bodies were brought to the surface, and at least five families have already planned services.

Tina Buckner, Linda Toler and Melanie Showalter will work as late as it takes to ensure every order is one that pleases both sender and recipient.

“My father was a coal miner. My husband was a coal miner. My son is a coal miner now. This is our way of life,” says Toler, the acting manager. “This is our role. You want to do your best for these families because you think, ‘This could be me.’”

Buckner painstakingly assembles an elaborate bow from a roll of sheer purple ribbon, then pins it in artful waves to an “Amazing Grace” throw, adding purple nylon butterflies above the card from the Black Castle Surface Mine in Seth. She pays attention to detail, hiding the pins, making sure every project is unique.

“It really does matter,” says Buckner, 43, of Beaver. “This could be somebody’s uncle, somebody’s brother, somebody’s husband.”

This throw is going to the family of a miner from Bolt, Carl “PeeWee” Acord. Sons Cody and Casey were the center of his world, says daughter-in-law Lindsay Acord — until baby grandsons Chase and Cameron came along.

“He loved riding the boys on his tractor and was looking forward to doing that even more this summer,” she says.

Showalter, several fingertips covered with grimy Band-Aids, sticks shiny stems of jade and shower white-pink spider mums into a block of green foam as she begins assembling a showy, multicolored arrangement that’s also for Acord.

Coal companies from across West Virginia and Kentucky are calling in orders, she says. So did a church from Florida, requesting a peace lily be sent to every miner’s family.

Her work is personal. Though Showalter does not know this man, her husband was in school with a few of the others. In a way, she feels she knows them all.

“I don’t think anybody in this area thinks of anybody as a stranger, especially when it comes to the coal mines,” says Showalter, 38, of Cool Ridge. “Everybody has had somebody who worked in the mines.”

For her, it was grandfather Jack Walker, who spent 44 years underground before retiring, battered but alive.

As a child, Showalter awaited the leftover Little Debbie cakes from his lunch box and drank the cold, clear water he brought out of the mine, unbothered by the tiny bits of coal in it.

“I really didn’t realize what he was dealing with,” she says, choking back the tears that are forming. “It’s sweet being ignorant.”

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