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Coal Miner's Daughter

"I'm 15. I'm getting married. My mother doesn't want me to get married." But that's just the beginning of the story.

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So they fought. Betty kept insisting that her daughter wear heels and stockings; Jenny would not hear of it because the hand-me-down dress was a little short. She wanted to wear the gold-and-maroon-striped tube socks and sneakers she wore to the fitting. “I was not giving in on the shoes,” she says.

In the end, Jenny compromised, walking down the aisle barefoot.

On October 15, 1986, she gave birth to a baby boy and named him Darrelle James. The marriage didn’t last, but the mother-daughter bond held fast.

Within a year and a half, Jenny and baby D.J. came home to Betty’s house to live with her and her second husband, Jimmy Toler. D.J., now 19, just left their house in Clear Fork, West Virginia, for Florida; Jenny lives a quarter-mile down the road from Betty with James Belcher, whom she married 12 years ago, and their two sons, Seth, 7, and Brian, 10.

Betty, now 57, says she enjoys nothing more than scouring yard sales with her grandkids for toys. After nine years digging coal—she quit in 1987 with health problems she chooses not to specify—she says she still misses it. “I loved my work,” she says in a wistful rasp. “But I’m too sick. I have oxygen 24/7 and am supposed to do breathing treatments every day. But I never do what I’m told.”

Betty and Jenny saw the Stanfield photograph for the first time only recently, after I e-mailed it to them in the course of researching this article.

And? “I think it’s just an amazing picture,” Jenny says. “It tells so much but shows little.”

Betty says it evoked a feeling she has lived with for 20 years—the feeling that she had failed her daughter: “I actually cried. It took me a little while to get over it.”

Jenny, once again, was firm with her mother: “I told her there was nothing she could have said or did that could have changed anything. It was all my decision. She did not let me down.”

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