Symbol of a Career: Miner's Name Tag
LIANE HANSEN, Host:
As we reported earlier in the hour, following the death this past week of 12 coal miners in Sago, West Virginia, we visited with retired miner Charlie Malcolm and his family at the Medallion Restaurant in Philippi, West Virginia. During our conversation his daughter Carol Malcolm-Parsons, told about a time when she visited her father on the job for a school project.
CAROL MALCOLM: We had to do a day-in-the-life-of assignment, and so I asked Dad if I could--you know, if he could get permission, 'cause he worked midnight shift, so it was a little easier for me to go down, take some pictures of him. So he arranged for me to be able to do that, and he was showing me how when the men go underground, they have tags. And each mine, I guess, can do it different. Some of them just have their Social Security number. Some of them have the miner's last name and first initial or something. So before you go underground, you have to move your tag to the section of the board that shows that you're underground.
And so I saw that his name was--I was like, `Dad, when you retire, I want that tag.' And he's like, `What do you want that tag for?' I'm like, `It's got your name on it, you know? And it was part of your career, your life.' And he kind of blew me off and just kind of rolled his eyes like--you know, it was just like a pen probably on my desk, you know, to him.
It was some years after that that a lady in the community, elder lady, had died, and her husband had been a coal miner, you know, just like everybody else. And her daughter is Dad's age, and she was there. They were having an estate sale. And there was this box that Dad found. It had just a bunch of junk in it, and they were selling the box for a dollar--you know, everything in it for a dollar or whatever. And so Dad was just kind of looking through it and found this lady's dad's mine tag. And so he just kind of casually took it out of the box, and he took it over to her and he said, `Open your hand.' And so she did. And he put it in her hand and whispered in her ear, `You don't want to sell that. That's your dad's mine tag.' And she just cried. She was like, `Charlie, I would have had no idea what that was.'
And then later that day when Dad was telling me that story, he said that he wouldn't have had any idea how much it might have meant to her, had I not told him how badly I wanted his.
HANSEN: At home for Carol and her sisters, there was another constant reminder of her father's years working in the mines: Charlie's lunch box.
MALCOLM: It's not a lunch box like kids take to school or like even people take to an office. I mean, it's metal 'cause it has to be durable. And I remember it always sat in the corner of the kitchen, and I would get in trouble 'cause I'd stand on it to get up to the top. It was also a big prize on Fridays to ask if Dad had anything left in his lunch box. It was a big day if it was a Little Debbie cake or a Snickers or whatever and I would get to eat whatever was left in the lunch box.
HANSEN: Carol Malcolm-Parsons talking about her father's name tag and lunch box from his 24 years as a West Virginia coal miner.
(SOUNDBITE OF "COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER")
LORETTA LYNN: (Singing) Just the memories of a coal miner's daughter.
HANSEN: It's 22 minutes before the hour.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.