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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
Wildflowers and Train Whistles: Stories of a Coal Mining Family is a memoir written by Lillian Crone Frazer. Frazer grew up in Minden, West Virginia, a small coal mining camp town, during the 1950s and '60s. She was the youngest of a family with seven kids. Her mom and dad had also both grown up in Minden. Her maternal grandparents were Hungarian immigrants, and her dad’s parents had moved from Virginia. Coal mining provided families with homes and the necessities of life; however, heavy rains brought with them the spectre of flooding, and at one point a landslide wreaked havoc on the town when the towering slate dump outside of town became destabilized by the rain. Frazer shares her experiences as a child playing outdoors with the other kids in her community, and airs the growing concerns all the residents shared as the mine’s coal veins dried up and the miners were laid off. She includes an extensive collection of photographs of her family, the neighboring countryside and the coal camp homes of Minden.
Lillian Frazer’s Wildflowers and Train Whistles: Stories of a Coal Mining Family is a sheer delight to read. Frazer has a genius for telling stories, and I found her accounts of growing up in Minden, West Virginia to be irresistible. This is one of those books that’s impossible to put down until one’s finished the last page. While I was superficially familiar with coal mining and the company store made famous in song, nothing prepared me for these honest and moving accounts of growing up in coal country. I especially loved reading about the outdoors adventures Frazer, her brothers and sisters, and her friends shared as they were growing up, and the Crone family quickly became people I knew and cared about. Frazer’s photographs are superb! They work so well with the text to make Minden, the environs and Frazer’s family come alive. If you choose to read one memoir this year, this is the one I would pick hands down. Wildflowers and Train Whistles: Stories of a Coal Mining Family is most highly recommended.