The Register-Herald

By The Associated Press

Lumps of coal in a Christmas stocking would normally make a child cry.

But an eight-year-old Louisiana girl has had visions of coal dancing her in head. She will wake up this morning to find West Virginia coal under her tree — coal she actually requested from Santa Claus.

Moss Bluff, La., resident Randy Perkins said his eight-year-old daughter Devan learned about the benefits of coal — like how it provides heat and electricity for so many people’s homes. Devan fell in love with coal so much that she asked for it for her Christmas present — telling Santa Claus to forget about the toys for which she had asked.

Thanks to West Virginians acting as Santa’s helpers, her Christmas wish will come true. Perkins, a 46-year-old mechanic and agriculturalist, said Devan is a very open-minded girl, who he has taught to voice her opinions and stand up for herself. One day, her teacher said something with which she disagreed. Another classmate told her those “misbehaving” ways would make Santa put a lump of coal in her stocking.

That afternoon, Perkins picked Devan up from school, and she told him what had happened. He could tell she was heartbroken, but he told her coal was not bad. It was a natural resource that literally helps power the country.

“I said that coal is good,” Perkins said. “It provides us with heat and electricity, and you need it. She said, ‘Dad, you’re the smartest dad in the whole world.’”

For that entire day, Devan wanted to learn more about coal, Perkins said. The young girl found it fascinating enough to revise her request for Santa.

“My daughter wrote to Santa saying she didn’t want toys,” he said. “She wanted coal for her stocking. That has to be the first time an eight-year-old actually asked Santa for a piece of coal.”

Perkins was eager to make his daughter’s wish come true. He said he and his nine siblings grew up in an economically disadvantaged household, and he has always wanted to give his daughter a merry Christmas since. On top of that, his daughter has two grandparents who are seriously ill, who possibly do not have much time left.

“We have a lot going on here,” he said. “She says, ‘They will get to go to Heaven, and I want to get coal to keep our house warm.’”

He began doing online research about coal and the industry. He never fully understood what it provides, but he too, became a coal lover.

“I never knew all of the benefits,” he said. “If someone tries to boycott this, it’s ridiculous. The benefits definitely outweigh the negatives.

“...I wish I would have known about this 20 years ago.”

From that research, he found out about the West Virginia Coal Association. He called the organization, and he spoke to a woman named Sandy Davidson. She, too, wanted to help make Devan’s wish come true.

In the mail, Perkins said he received the coal for his daughter — along with coloring books and pencils for children. He plans to share those materials with Devan’s classmates. He has prepared an essay about the coal industry he plans to read to the children.

He has already purchased a mount for Devan’s coal, too.

Louisiana and West Virginia have a major common bond, Perkins said, because natural resources is a large part of Louisiana’s economy. Just like coal mining, some environmental groups want to halt the oil and gas industries. Work in both states’ natural resource industries can also be hazardous.

“You all are fighting a battle, but they need to leave you alone,” he said. “The mines should continue.

“...We fight that on a regular basis. ... People are working to regulate and restrict us or shut us down. We have pickets at our plants. They’re trying to shut down our plants, like they are with your mines. They need to leave us all alone.

“...Every day, every stinking day, something at one of these plants ignites a spark, and people die. I’ve lost some very good friends.

“You have no idea how much commonality there is. It’s like opening a book and seeing Page 1 and Page 2 — and they’re both identical.”

Perkins said he once visited the Huntington/Ashland, Ky./Ironton, Ohio area when he was 21 years old. He called the area beautiful, and he “absolutely” loved it. Now, he would like to visit West Virginia again, and this time, bring his daughter. Devan is fascinated by history, always wanting to know more about her Native American and Irish ancestors.

“I’d love to bring my daughter there so she could see, firsthand, what it’s all about,” he said. “She loves history — loves it.”

He also had another message for West Virginians.

“Please don’t stop doing what you’re doing. We need it,” he said.