SPOKEN: I never will forget one time when I was on a little visit down home in Ebenezer, Kentucky. I was a-talkin’ to an old man that had known me ever since the day I was born, and an old friend of the family. He says, “Son, you don’t know how lucky you are to have a nice job like you’ve got and don’t have to dig out a livin’ from under these old hills and hollers like me and your pappy used to.” When I asked him why he never had left and tried some other kind of work, he says, “Nawsir, you just won’t do that. If ever you get this old coal dust in your blood, you’re just gonna be a plain old coal miner as long as you live.” He went on to say, “It’s a habit [CHUCKLE] sorta like chewin’ tobaccer.”
Come and listen you fellows, so young and so fine,And seek not your fortune in the dark, dreary mines.It will form as a habit and seep in your soul,ill the stream of your blood is as black as the coal.
It’s dark as a dungeon and damp as the dew,The danger is double and pleasures are few,Where the rain never falls and the sun never shinesIt’s dark as a dungeon way down in the mine.It’s a-many a man I have seen in my day,Who lived just to labor his whole life away.Like a fiend with his dope and a drunkard his wine,A man will have lust for the lure of the mines.
I hope when I’m gone and the ages shall roll,My body will blacken and turn into coal.Then I’ll look from the door of my heavenly home,And pity the miner a-diggin’ my bones.
The midnight, the morning, or the middle of day,Is the same to the miner who labors away.There the demons of death often come by surprise,The fall of the slate and you’re buried alive.
It’s dark as a dungeon and damp as the dew,The danger is double and pleasures are few,Where the rain never falls and the sun never shinesIt’s dark as a dungeon way down in the mine.
By Merle Travis: singer, songwriter and fellow Kentuckian.
Coal. It’s what runs the economy for a large portion of eastern Kentucky. It’s what has shaped the personality of the people there. The men who take it from the earth are a special breed, and women now, work right along side them.
Coal mining and miners are a part of my heritege. I remember growing up listening to the tales of the bawdy coal camps that lined the valleys of eastern Kentucky. Tales of the great accidents, fist fights, gun fights, dog fights, gambling, whiskey and whores. I heard tales that would make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck or make your ribs hurt laughing. No better example of a people rising above adversity exists in humanity. These gentle people, primarily of Scotch-Irish descent, have risen to the occasion over and over again.
A close knit community that shuns outsiders to a large degree, but then look what the outsiders have done to them over and over again; taking advantage of their trusting nature. Big city lawyers and business men have come to the mountains, swindled the coal and timber rights from the hands of the people there, destroyed their homes with their rape of the land and made virtual slaves of the inhabitants. There is not much choice but to work in coal or timber or leave the mountains to find work.
I never could understand the desire to lay flat of your back in a coal boring machine and look down between your feet as the the huge augers twisted the coal from its place in the earth. Some mines are five miles or more back under the mountain before you get to the place the coal is being dug now. If something happens down there, you are just kinda on your own, ya know? Poison gases, floods or a cave in. One minute you’re here, the next they may not even be able to get to your body. And don’t forget the Black Lung…every miner that stays down there will eventually get it from the coal dust.
I don’t think a lot of people realize how much coal plays a part in their lives. Coal is what is producing the electricity that is running your computer as you read this. Or its importance in the manufacture of steel and other such commodities. Gotta have it.
So, here’s to all the miners and their families, that most special breed of people. America depends on you and we appreciate your efforts.
Copyright © 2007 Mike Lawson