Maybe I should have cut him some slack. With his broken wing and a lifetime of eating roadkill, he probably had a lot to be ungrateful about. Too much hard luck can create a permanent meanness of spirit in any creature.

In this quote, Jeannette describes Buster, their old pet buzzard in Battle Mountain whom Jeannette found intolerable and ungrateful. Her reflection about the way a difficult life can change a being for the worse is an early manifestation of the theme of how trauma has long-range effects. Buster has a lot in common with Erma, Dad’s mother, whose cruel treatment of her grandchildren certainly shows a meanness of spirit. We learn that Erma was orphaned at a young age and shipped off to various relatives who mistreated her throughout childhood, and this “hard luck” made her mean and abusive. This pattern also appears in Welch as a whole, which Jeannette describes as a violent town. The miners constantly struggle for financial stability, leading to anger that they take out on their families. While Jeannette herself does not appear to develop a meanness of spirit, her ability to fight off muggers in New York shows a toughness that her hard life gave her.