meet earl

Earl Franklin Puckett is the inspiration for the surname of this project. He is my grandfather and the strongest, bravest, most consistent man I know.

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He grew up in Oak Hill, West Virginia and became a coal miner like his dad and uncles and brothers. When I was young, he would come home from the mines covered from head to toe in coal dust. The whites of his eyes and the outline of a respirator around his mouth were the only features on him that weren’t black as coal. After kicking off his boots, unzipping and getting out of his coveralls, he would set down his lunch pail and give us all a kiss on the head. I thought of him in those days much like a hero coming in from battle. The stories that were told of the mines around the supper table were of pitch darkness, roof pins that might buckle at any minute and entire days spent in a space the size of a refrigerator box. I didn’t know at the time what hard work was, but I imagined I would be measuring my effort against his for the whole of my life (I was right).

Even after he retired over 20 years ago, he continued to work daily on his cars, or a woodworking project or keeping his yard impeccable. He can take apart an antique car (I mean ALL the way apart) spread all the bits and pieces out, clean them and put it all back together! It’s amazing to watch him work. I kick myself for not spending more time with him out there soaking up his vast understanding of things. In the years before my grandmother got sick, my memories are of him always working with his hands; building, fixing, washing, mowing, working. Oil from the car or dirt from the yard were pressed into the ridges in his fingerprints. This became for me a symbol of strength and manhood.

His hands are still so beautiful to me, so strong.

He is the courage I call on when I’m feeling scared and the voice I listen for when I am unsure of what to do.

with gratitude,

your granddaughter, jenni earle

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