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.)