Janet Sheridan: A miner’s daughter

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Janet Sheridan

The miners from Twentymile caught my attention during the Romney campaign stop in Craig.

As they walked toward the security line or stood in the crowd—hands in pockets, shoulders squared, not saying much—I pondered the many reflective strips sewn to their heavy-duty work clothes.

“What would it be like,” I wondered, “to go to work dressed in clothing covered with bright strips that would make me visible in the darkness in which I worked and less likely to be injured in an accident?”

As I read the names printed on their hardhats, I hoped their families were proud of the miners they sent off to work underground.

Others who attended the campaign rally noticed and responded to the miners as well. A friend I chatted with at the library said she was grateful for their work and impressed by their presence: “I liked seeing the miners. They’re usually an invisible force. We don’t get to see them work the way we do those who have jobs around town.”

As we sat in a waiting room together, chatting about Governor Romney’s visit, an acquaintance remarked, “Do you remember Loretta Lynn singing about her pride in being a coal miner’s daughter? Well, I’m proud to be a coal miner’s neighbor.”

I’ve always known mining employed many in our community, but I didn’t have a visual of those who daily wrest coal from the ground until I saw them at Alice Pleasant Park, and I gave little thought to the difficult and potentially dangerous work they do to support their families.

But I should have because I, too, am a miner’s daughter.

During the thirties and forties Dad worked as a miner in the depths of Hoover Dam while his wife and infant son lived in a tent city in Henderson, Nevada. Next he blasted and mucked in search of gold at the Murchie Mine in Nevada City, California.

Mom once told me once how pleased Dad was when, thanks to union efforts, he came home and told her the mine was adding a shower and change room for the workers. She also remembered her reply,” Well, I’ll be happy the day they add a laundry service for your grimy work clothes as well.”

Later, Dad went to work at the U.S. Lead mine in Bingham City, Utah. While working there, during a routine exam, a suspicious spot was discovered on his lung. Responding to Mom’s quiet insistence, he quit mining and went to work for U.S. Steel.

As a child, I didn’t understand the problem with spots on your lung: after all, my best friend, Sheila, had spots all over. How could a freckle hurt anyone?

Recently, an ad in the Craig Daily Press reminded me of that naïve childhood assessment and of the continuing health threats that miners face.

“Do you have a miner in your family?” the ad asked. It then warned that exposure to “dust, fumes, smoke, radiation, noise, and chemicals” can put miners at risk for “serious lung conditions,” and offered a “free and confidential health screening” for those interested.

Three of Dad’s children were teachers who sometimes caught colds or the flu from their students. One of my brothers needed rotator cuff surgery after years as a diesel mechanic; another faces perilous conditions when he drives his tool truck along I-80 in the winter.

But none of us were put at continuous risk for serious health conditions by our employment.

As those of us who live in Craig rely on our mostly uninterrupted power and watch train cars stacked with coal leave our valley to fuel our nation, we should think about the human effort involved: miners who daily go into the dark to deliver coal and energy to us.

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