Monday, October 22, 2012

It Matters Where You Come From

 My grandfather was one of my best friends when I was growing up. We hunted, fished, and gardened together. I think what made me think about him was the fact that I grew kohlrabi in my garden this year. I pulled one out, peeled it, and ate it with salt the other day, just like my grandfather and I used to do. He was an underground coal miner. Tough as nails in his younger days. He told me they would go underground before the sun came up, and surface after the sun went down, for days at a time. That kind of work takes its toll. When they got a day or two off, him and the guys would drink. He said he did things that he wasn't proud of when he was drinking, but he never elaborated, nor did I ever ask what they might have been. My grandmother and mother also never said. I don't think they wanted to taint our relationship. The only thing he ever said to me was to not let alcohol ever influence my behavior, which it ends up I have been fairly successful at. My grandfather was an early union supporter. He understood how badly the company exploited them. They lived in a company house, bought company groceries, and when needed, got company loans at high interest rates. He said most of your paycheck was spent before you got it. At times, you owed them. He had trouble with that. For his union support, he received a broken back and a burnt down house. He never worked after that broken back. He laid on a piece of plywood for six months, then had an ulcer burst, which nearly killed him. As long as I knew him, he did odd jobs, like mowing lawns and painting. He was a slight man, not weighing any more than 100 pounds. He never said anything about the broken back, but I heard others say it was not an accident. Carts and donkeys were used to pull the coal out of the mine shaft back then. It was said one of the carts was cut free, and the cart hit my grandfather on the way back down the shaft. The company called it an accident, which apparently caused quite a commotion among the works. The miners refused to work for several weeks. Anyway, my grandfather never said anything about the incident. He did always say you have to take responsibility for the things you do. I think he was warning me to take up issues with caution and approach them carefully, because your actions will affect more people than yourself. It ended up my father died before my grandfather. We were sitting in his back shed not long after my father died when he said he wished he had died rather than my father. How much more of a friend could I have had, willing to die to make my life easier? He died about 6 months later. His body just wore out. I was 19.

No comments:

Post a Comment