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For miners, all workers, my father

Dad would wait for supper, exhausted, in his worn cushion chair. He would finally be home from another day in cramped mine shafts. Yet, his reassuring smile still comforted us that he could work another day. Dad’s smile once was broader, his hair slightly darker, his back a bit straighter. Still, his simple presence somehow calmed Mom’s worrisome jitters. My father was not an overly large man, though in our eyes and in providing for his family, he was a mountain of a man.

The sweat had been washed off aging muscles. Muscles swollen and strained under a mountain of crushing rock, all for a few grains of company gold. Broad, scarred hands would open the local paper to the slumping economy and wavering market prices. Very soon the mountain would be beaten and drained of its ore, its essence. Dad’s worries for his family would then be realized. With no other work skills or substantial savings for the future, his 35 years of labor would be meaningless. In his later years, Dad needed glasses to read. His hearing was getting weaker. His skin had become tight and dry. When he was younger and had the energy to, Dad took Mom and us boys to picnics or anyplace else away from work. At times he hated the gold mine. The mountain was respectable work and had been the livelihood for generations of many families, but its never-ending stubbornness that challenged sweat and pain to conquer it is what made Mom and me secretly despise it.

My brother used to love the idea of that mountain, of working with his hands and his back. A few years before, when both were younger, my brother would always jostle and wrestle with Dad. My brother would, of course, always lose. In the later years, my younger brother wouldn’t wrestle, because he might have won. Dad was no longer a sure-spoken fighter, but an older, tired man who didn’t have the option to quit fighting. Constantly modernized machinery, young college-graduated engineers, cheaper labor in other countries – all made his struggle even harder. Dad had just simply grown tired, so very, very tired. Time would eventually win. Fighting that mountain to earn a decent living for his family was slowly killing him. Mom knew this and bit her lip.

But still, the joy was there when Dad stood beside my brother’s growing Herculean form. I guess a new strength shows in a man when at least one of his sons is like him in body and spirit. For awhile, this loving old working man was mighty in his armor of sweat and a son.

For awhile.