Friday, November 19, 2010

Magpie 41 Grandpap's Pick Axe

I cannot explain why this came into my head and to the keyboard with this week's Magpie Prompt, but we all can look at the same object and see different things in our imaginations; maybe you cannot see this in the picture but I did and here is my vignette for Magpie

In a far corner of the basement, deep into what was once the coal cellar, barely visible from the dim light that reflected in through the block glass window, I found Grandpap's miner's  pick axe, hobbled by spider webs, speckled with rust on the barren head and long forgotten.  Behind it on the wall  an old tin mirror  reflected the worn handle and  the somewhat  splintered metal of the axe head, aong with another odd  piece of iron pipe .  How many whacks had this axe taken at walls  freeing how many  pounds or  lumps of coal buried deep in the earth?  How many miles had Grandpap trudged axe over his shoulder, metal lunch pail in the other hand, dirty boots laced tightly on his feet to another  day down the dirt or muddy road in the mining camp from the shack that was their home, on toward the mine, the hole in the ground.  

He told me tales when I was  growing up about their life in the mines unless Grandma overheard and chastened him. "Pap, don't you talk about that with her!" I loved the stories, they were our secret.   I remember the pride still in his face when he told me that he'd  bought his own axe, purchased with scrip at the company store, the only store in  the coal town; let those other miners  use the poor tools the company furnished, not my Grandpap!  He wanted his very own axe, a solid one, one that would do a good days work, one that he knew was safe and  well cared for, not a cheap one where the  head could fly off and  take vengeance on the unsuspecting miner's skull.  No, my Grandpap knew about tools and  caring for them and valued ownership. 

He'd talk of how the coal dust covered the miners so that he emerged from working, his face like a "czardnja" the Polish word for  black person, black surrounding those bright blue  eyes.  As he got older, nary a grey or silver hair lightened  his full head of coal black hair and he would laugh that the coal dust had so stayed in his  blood that it darkened  his blonde hair black transforming him  from a blonde boy to a  czardnja ( black) head.  Strangely this reflects in me  today as I age and my hair gets darker, stumping my hair dresser; most  people get grey with age not darker.  I who have never been in a mine or around coal dust wonder about genes, could the coal dust  have stayed in the blood stream of descendants?

He told me tales of being on strike and of fighting off the scabs who'd try to break the picket lines, boasting how he a loyal union member would bust them a good one if they got near his part of the line.   He  told me how happy he was when he got the job in the factory, never more to have to go down the mine shaft, pick axe no more to strike the dark walls; but he'd kept the axe.  Strange to find the axe here, a dim reflection in  the  tin mirror. Grandpap's been gone since 1961. 

Grandpap was never one to squander or waste anything, there would always be another   use for it someday so here it was.  I have just the spot at home in my rose garden for this, new  art decor, I'll  hang a bird feeder from the splintered long handle; Grandpap's  axe will see the light of day and recover from all that time spent in the dark.  A tool, still useful today, that someday for something else.  Grandpap would smile; he'd be  proud.  

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  1. I come from a long line of coal-miners from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and this post was really wonderful to read. I'm glad that Mag #41 took you in this direction!


  2. nice. i have been in a closed mine in the hills of KY...scary places they went into...neat tale...

  3. Wonderful take, nice memories... sharing a moment in time with the recent difficulties beset those who work them today. Realizing how much it must have meant when the factory job came.

  4. I enjoyed this. I always think of the song "Sixteen Tons" when I think of miners.

  5. Oh Pat how great. My father in law was a miner and my husband tells me tales he brought home. You are so right we all see something different. I have not figured out what I want to write about this prompt.

  6. I hummed "16 Tons" too when writing this; I have enjoyed combining my memories and family with the posts; embellishing fiction with life or vice versa.....Now praying for those miners in New Zealand, that news broke after I wrote this.

  7. fabulous tale.

    bittersweet and insightful.

  8. Pat I love your family stories. Glad to see you back at Magpie, my friend!!

  9. great tribute to your Grandfather- I love your stories.