Monday, May 3, 2010

(Not a) Coal Miner's Daughter

Listening to President Obama's eulogy for the men lost in April's mining disaster at the Massey mine in West Virginia last week reminded me of a my Dad's (short) mining career.

Like many Appalachians, my grandfather spent much of his working life mining coal. He died, at the age of 78, of Black Lung, the cancer that dispatches miners who manage to escape the collapses and explosions.

Mining is a hellish way to make a living, and Grandpa was determined that his son not follow in his footsteps. Despite that, Dad spent the summer after he graduated from high school working in a coal mine.

That and ballroom dancing.

I only saw Dad dance one time, when he was in his late 60's or early 70's. He'd invited all of his kids and their spouses to join him and his date at a public dance at the Officer's Club on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. My mother was never a dancer, and although he always swore he never missed it during the 30 years they were married, he went right back to it after she died.

Told you that to tell you this: the man was thistledown. He made Fred Astaire look like a talentless hack.

Anyway, Dad and his sister, my Aunt Virginia, often participated in local competitions. My dad was 5'10" and my aunt was a tiny little bird of a woman, so I'm not sure how that worked, but apparently they were the power couple on the dance floor and frequently took home prizes.

One Friday, after a long day's night in the mines, Dad showered,

donned his white suit,

loaded up the Plymouth,

and headed off to Madisonville, thirty miles away.

At the ballroom, they signed in and got their numbers. That was in the days before air conditioning, so when they started dancing, Dad began to sweat. The coal dust that was embedded so deeply in his pores that a mere shower didn't touch it came flowing out. After a half-hour, he said, his white suit was gray with grime.

They didn't win that night.

Soon after that, my grandfather went to mine management and told them he'd quit if they didn't fire my dad. Either Granddad was a hell of a worker, or Dad wasn't, because they did just that.

Which is how I missed out on becoming Loretta Lynn.

(Well, that and being tone deaf.)


Rachel Cotterill said...

Ha! That's so funny. I can't imagine asking someone to fire your child in this day and age!

Steven G said...

Ok....excellent writing, great story.

This one made me feel like I just saw the whole movie and came out if the theater feeling sad, but good.

Thanks for this wonderful insight!

Steven G said...

Ok....excellent writing, great story.

This one made me feel like I just saw the whole movie and came out if the theater feeling sad, but good.

Thanks for this wonderful insight!

Vodka Mom said...

my grandfather died of black lung, as well.

here in the mountains of OREGON.

Poindexter said...

awesome story - well told! your Granddad was a foreward thinker - thank heavens!!

SkylersDad said...

I come from a long line of miners also, they settled in Colorado in 1859 when they struck gold in the mountains.

Jeanie said...

The town where I live is an old coal mining town....some of the old miners are still alive with stories to tell, but yours was the best yet.

Far Side of Fifty said... are not a about the dancing part..did you get some of those genes? Great story I really enjoyed it!! :)

Kabbalah Rookie said...

How lovely that you got to see your Dad dance, even if it was only the once!
My Dad loves to jive and I remember being spun around our lounge several times when I was small. He's a bit of a show-stopper when he gets going - not quite Fred Astaire, but good entertainment...

buffalodick said...

I like your dad already..

Chef E said...

I agree with S.G.- I felt like I was totally involved in this story as if it was a movie!

My 'crab' issue turned more into a 'crabby' moment when I discovered my eyeglasses are swimming with the fishes, or should I say a crab may have better eyesight than his neighbors!

madtexter ☺☺☺☺☺☺ (corey james) said...

Love this story. I come from a line of miners from Richlands, Virginia and also know about the black lung. It's not pretty and I lost an uncle and a grandfather because of it.

Miners are tough people who are scared of nothing. I'm very thankful to my parents for leaving the hollers of Virginia and raising their family elsewhere.

少于毓芝 said...


Pauline said...

Your story has taken me off to memory lane. I remember seeing my father dance when I was a child. He would come home from work, scoop the baby of the family into his arms and waltz around the lounge room signing "Ilene Goodnight". And when I started to learn to dance he gave me waltzing lessons, he just loved to dance. Thanks for your wonderful story.

Roshni Mitra Chintalapati said...

wow! What a lovely story! What a great dad your grandfather was, to be sure!!

Keats The Sunshine Girl said...

Great story - grandfather knew what was best for your pa.


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