My father was a miner in his youth, before I was born, before he was wed. Third of an English widow's seven sons, he lived in Illinois where English, Polish and Belgian immigrants worked in the mines, the mills and smelteries, to build old Kewanee. Pickax and sledge, cart and burro brought the coal out. My father and his brothers, black with coal dust, hauled it into town, touched their respectful caps, mumbled condolences, stopped along streets, and swapped their fabulous stories.
My father bought a farm and moved away (went into debt for it for thirty years) Not very soon did it become his life. His talk was still of mines. Their fascination accompanied him as he walked the furrows behind his plow and team of Belgian horses, or milked the cows, stacked hay, repaired his fences, or visited with others on the slopes of struggling lawn grass, under our growing trees. What he shared went clear back to Worcester: tales his mother had told of what she knew in the old country; black damp, open pits, men who seldom saw the light of day in winter, and wolves that howled outside the paneless windows of her first cabin. Hostile to injustice, my father often brooded (between spells of quoting Kipling, Tennyson, and Lord Byron!). Over and over he lived the lives of miners in the bituminous and anthracitic dark. . . .
But one morning -- it must have been a perfect morning --
when he lay late abed and must have wakened suddenly easy, probably not thinking of flood or drought or mortgage payments due, I heard his voice -- amazed, gazed at my mother. She, of her private knowledge, smiled at me. (Sun must have been very bright, pouring in his windows.
His tenor tones rose lyrical and free. . . .) My father was a miner -- and he sang!