Down in the Mine

Disaster and Survival

By Lorie Palmer Russell

Photos Courtesy of Lorie Palmer Russell

One day when my Grandpa Roy Cooper was a little boy walking to school with his sister May, they encountered a large tree that had been left across the road by the previous night’s windstorm. It was either move the tree or go back home. When he dragged that tree to the side of the road, May started calling him “Samson” from the Bible story because he was so strong. This stuck. After he grew up, his fellow miners agreed he was an exceptionally strong man and also called him “Samson” or “Sam.”

When he had a son, it was natural for the newborn to become “Sammy.” That was my Uncle Sam. When my dad was eighteen years old, he had the privilege of carrying his baby brother, Roy William Cooper, Jr., or “Sammy,” out of the hospital in Wallace.

Dad was fifteen when his mother, Loretta, married Roy William Cooper in Kansas. She had a grown daughter and two teenage sons: my Aunt Donna, who was then nineteen, my Uncle Russell, seventeen, and my dad. They all made the trip from Kansas to Idaho in the back of Grandpa Cooper’s pickup. Although the marriage took my dad from his beloved Kansas to Kellogg, he found it difficult to be angry at a man with such a strong work ethic and so much positive energy. Indeed, Grandpa Cooper was the happiest person I ever met: positive, smiling, just an ever-present joy. Plus, he made my grandmother happy.

When I first learned that Grandpa Cooper wasn’t my dad’s biological father, my little girl mind was confused. My dad—and many others—called him Pop. To my brothers and me he was Grandpa, sometimes Pops or Pappy, but he was always ours. He walked with us, played games with us, sang with us and picked blackberries, apples, and huckleberries with us. He sneezed abnormally loudly (unless he was in church), called Grandma Cooper “Mama,” and got so excited while watching wrestling that he broke a chair once. As I mentioned, he was a big strong man.

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