When It’s Time
My grandfather would tell us tales of working in the coal mines in Southwestern Pennsylvania. One of the several stories that he shared was brought to mind while he was watching the news. The news story was about an airliner that had a door pop open during flight and a stewardess was sucked out and killed. At that time he said, “When it’s your time, it’s your time.” Then went on to tell, “We had just started a new mine and were still close to the surface. We were so often underground; we went outside when we could. It was lunch time and we went out to eat our food in the fresh air. We had just sat down and began to eat, when one of the miners cocked his head as if someone had called his name. The man laid aside his sandwich and walked back into the entrance of the mine. He had barely stepped inside, when the ceiling of the mine collapsed and buried him. It was as though God had called his name and told him to come into the mine.
Granddad always chewed Cutty Pipe tobacco, one of the cheapest shredded tobacco that the stores sold. Granddad picked up the habit in the coal mines. There were no such things as masks or respirators and to keep him from swallowing the coal dust that would collect in his mouth, he chewed the tobacco and would spit the juice out. If he swallowed the tobacco juice, it would make him sick. It became a habit and he chewed Cutty Pipe even after he’d retired from the mines.
The veins of coal were low and even though my granddad was a short man, he either had to stoop or crawl to swing a pick and shovel it out for the mine carts to haul to the surface. He worked the night shift with my uncle. What I didn’t know until after the death of my granddad and my uncle was that my uncle was lazy and slept during the night and my granddad would have to do double duty, shoveling and loading the coal for two. My granddad worked a farm during the day. I doubt if my uncle helped on the farm either.
My granddad died at the age of seventy-six, diagnosed with hardening of the arteries, but I think that much of the problem was he was worn out from burning the candle at both ends. Although my grandfather was short in stature and quiet, he stood tall in my eyes.