last Friday I would tell you what this photo means to me. It was taken before I was born, and the third man from the right is the one I know.
This photo was taken at a UMWA (United Mine Workers of America) convention, and the man in the photo is my other dad, John B. (my dad, strange enough, was John Richard). Looks like he is having a pretty good time, doesn't he?
Pa (as the grandkids all called him) was a second generation coal miner. He made his living in a brutally hard, dangerous place over a thousand feet underground. He had four children, and I just happened to meet and marry his only son. (But that's another story.)
My first memory of Pa was the night I stepped off the plane from California, and into the waiting arms of my in laws. (Read about that here.) I was living with them until Steve could get mustered out of the Air Force at the end of his four years of duty, and so I had a chance to know them before Steve got there.
My father in law was kind. Honest. Had a legendary temper (we call it the Tittle temper in the family and Stevie Wonder has it, my son has it, and his youngest son is showing signs at one year old of it). What is the Tittle temper? The men in the family are mellow and easy going, until you try to hurt or insult a family member. If you do, you can expect someone in a blind rage in your face, ready to do some bodily harm. Of course, I have never actually seen bodily harm done, although I did see Stevie Wonder puff up at an Alabama ball game because someone behind me threw a Kentucky Fried chicken leg at the drunk Auburn fan in front of me, and the guy turned around thinking it was me...it wasn't but Stevie W tensed up and started out of his seat to knock him down....all because he thought the guy was giving me a hard time.
I guess that is just the way the men in the family think, and it came from John B. (Actually from his Dad, but I never knew him.)
Pa was like a dad to me. We lived next door almost my whole married life, and it was wonderful to be able to go down and have morning coffee (I was the rogue, the lone tea drinker) every morning. It was a tradition that went on for many years, and one the four of us enjoyed. A time to sit, drink coffee, talk about what was happening in the family, and in the community, and whatever else popped up.
That was when I first learned of death announcements. Yes, it is exactly what it says. While we were drinking those first cuppas, the radio would be turned on to the local radio station, and the latest deaths were announced for the community and county, where the funeral would be and when the "viewing" would be held.
At first I was kind of appalled that we were starting our morning out with dead people. Then I saw why. When someone was announced, it would start a discussion. Who the person was, who their family was, where they were from and whether they were related to us.
Sound strange? It did to me too, until I realized I was getting a genealogy lesson of a sort. Kind of amazed me too, because they all knew everyone, or someone related to them, or through them, to the dead person. It reminded me of the Oracle of Bacon.
My fondest and funniest memory of Pa was the day I held a nail (I know, I was heinously stupid) for Stevie, who was not a Wonder that day and promptly bashed my finger with the hammer. Pa was sitting in his chair (yes it was his chair and no one sat in it but him) and he started laughing. I thought he was laughing at me (and he was) but what got me was when he said while he was laughing: "that didn't hurt me a bit" and I turned around and fired back at him "well it hurt ME!". I was galled later that I shouted at him, but he just laughed louder at me. And retold that story many times over the years, with great relish.
I never held a nail for Stevie Wonder again. I've come close a few times...and Stevie Wonder has asked me to hold one a few times, but I see the smirk on his mouth and the gleam of laughter in his eye.
And I hear the distant laughter of Pa, still enjoying the joke...on me.
I laugh along now. But I never hold the nail.
We lost Pa in 1985, from a disease that many coal miners have succumbed to...black lung.
I miss him still.