Thursday, February 23, 2006

I "Grew up" in a Coal Mine

The recent mining disasters around the world brought back many vivid memories of growing up in a coal mining town and actually working in a coal mine.

I grew up in the anthracite coal mining town of an Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, in the northeastern corner of the state.

When the miners emerged from the mines, thirsty and tired and sore, the first thing on their minds was washing the coal dust and dirt down with a couple of cold beers.

The first thing they saw as their eyes adjusted to day-light brightness or evening lights was a neon sign that read, Borowski’s. My father owned a bar one block from the Susquehanna Coal Company colliery.

My father’s bar was one of six taverns on or near the corner of Church and Fairchild streets.

I can still remember the names and the stories of most of my father’s patrons. Each of my father’s steady customers contributed to my education and my success in some way. Each taught me valuable lessons that have served me well in my personal and business life.

The recent mine accidents, disasters and tragedies have prompted me to speak and write about my experiences in hopes that others may gain from the lessons I learned.

For others who have lived through similar experiences, I hope my words bring back memories of the good times and thanks giving for living through the bad times. For many, the bad times outnumbered the good.

Coal mining is hard work.

I believe hard work is a concept far too many people do not understand. Many people moan and groan and bitch and complain about how hard they have to work.

I’ve seen the anguish and the suffering and the pain in the eyes and limbs and words of my father’s customers. Nobody knows hard work like coal miners.

From my earliest recollections of growing up surrounded by coal miners and miner’s families, one phrase - one piece of advice - one message -still rings my ears and in my mind.

"Use your brain, not your back."

Every miner, every laborer, every person who ever had anything to do with mining operations all said the same thing at some time to me.

I count myself as one of the fortunate people who were able to escape the need to rely on the mines for a living.

But, 50 years after growing up in an environment where any minute could bring news of the injury or death of someone I knew and loved and respected, I am troubled and angry that families still endure that anguish.

I guess I can say, "I grew up in a coal mine."

The lessons I learned from those coal miners and the lessons I learned actually working in a mine helped me "grow up" mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Before I sign off for today, let me explain what I mean when I say I worked in a coal mine.

Indeed, I was a card-carrying member of the UMWA - the United Mine Workers of America. I was classified as a Laborer. I was not a coal miner.

I worked for the electrical gang of the Glen Alden Coal Corporation. This electrical gang was a group of linemen who were responsible for installing, repairing and maintaining all of the electrical equipment needed to keep the mines, breakers, collieries, and front office operations working.

As the muses move me, I will share my stories and lessons, along with photographs and links of this great American heritage called coal mining.

And, I invite you to do the same. Please send me stories and photos and links that I can use on my blog and in my speeches.

Today’s work force needs to know and understand what hard work is.

Please share your wealth of words, wisdom and wonder.

Copyright Al Borowski 2006 All rights reserved


At 1:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Al, I know what you mean. I "grew up" in a malleable iron foundry. A foundry is not nearly as dangerous day-to-day as a coal mine, but the work beat the men down just the same. It was hot, dirty work, even in the winter and they had to keep up no matter how tired or sick they were. Like you, I learned a lot of lessons from being around that type of work and the men who did it. Is there a way to convey those lessons to our children? I surely hope so.


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