My dad, my hero and best coal miner in the whole world

Reported on Saturday, June 19, 2010

Note: Bill Evans of Summit Hill shares early recollections of being a miner's son in this moving tribute to his father.


If my memory serves me right I was about seven years old. It was a hot summer afternoon. My brother Dan and I were playing around the outside of the house.

I remember mother calling to us to come in and wash our hands and face. "Hurry up," she said "I don't want to be late." We went in and mom took a wash cloth and hurriedly washed our hands and faces. I never figured out why she thought only the hands and face got dirty, but that was her usual M.O.! She rushed us into the black 1948 Chrysler and off we went. We had no idea where we were going but we were on our way with mom heavy on the gas pedal.

It turns out that it was payday in the mines and mom wanted to catch my dad as he came out of the mine, to get his paycheck. The urgency turned out to be that mom needed the cash, so she could drive around and pay the monthly bills on time. In those days writing checks seemed to be alien to some people. My mother included.

As we arrived in the parking lot, at number nine coal mine, mom pulled in, near the office and close to the entrance to the tunnel. As my brother and I watched several miners came out of the tunnel. We bounced up and down in the back seat of the car trying to figure out which one could pick out our father first. Finally, one miner came toward the car.

My mother recognized him and called to him, "Buffalo," which was the man's nickname. He came over to the car and spoke to mother. Buffalo was part of a group of couples who played pinochle and penny poker and each other's houses on Saturday nights.

There were about three or four couples that met regularly on weekends. To a young kid it was very boring. As Buffalo stood by the car talking to mom, my brother and I were restless, still trying to pick which one of the miners, coming from the mine was our dad. Finally, after mom had to yell at us two or three times Buffalo said to us, "Do you want to go over and wait for your daddy coming out of the tunnel?"

Both of us shouted yes. But mom said, that only I could go because I was older, four years older than Dan. Buffalo took me by the hand and walked me toward the tunnel. I remember seeing many puddles of water near the entrance of the mine and as we got closer to the tunnel entrance the air flowing from the entrance seemed to be very cold.

I'm not sure whether we actually stepped inside the tunnel or if my memory just wants to remember it that way. But I do recall, for sure that it was cold, damp, and dark. Buffalo said to me "now see if you can tell which one is your daddy."

As I looked to the back of the tunnel I could see groups of lights, like fireflies, coming toward us. I looked for the brightest light. I knew that one would have to be my dad. After all in my eyes "my father," was bigger than life and I just knew he must be the best coal miner in the whole world!

As more lights came toward me I saw the miners pass with their dirty faces and lunch pails. I don't know why but somehow I thought dad's face wouldn't be dirty like all the others either. None of the lights in the second group of miners were my dad, and they walked on by. Finally a third group came with the electric lamps on their helmets.

By this time, all the lights began to look the same. But I kept squinting to see if one was brighter than the others. Then from the middle of the group, I heard my father's voice saying "Hey, what are you doing here?"

It was a cheerful greeting. I could tell he was happy to see me. He came over and reached out his big, strong, hand. I was so proud, my father's voice, with all of the love that came with it, was finally there. "My dad!"

He took me by the hand and he said, "watch that you don't step in the puddles, your mother will kill me if you get wet." I looked up to him like he was us like a god. He looked down at me with a warm, wonderful love in his smile that no amount of money could buy.

To a 7 year old it was the best feeling in the whole world. As we got back to the car Buffalo said to mom and dad, "We will see you on Saturday night" then he headed toward the wash shanty. Dad handed mom the pay check. I hopped in the back seat, and as dad went in to get a shower. Mom hot-footed it into town to pay the electric and water bills, and the bill at the local department store.

I remember when my dad came home he was all cleaned up and smelled real good. Now this was my dad, my hero. This wonderful man with his portly belly and his bald head had such a gentle and loving way about him. He only had to look at you and you knew how much he loved you.

As I grew from a boy to a man my father taught me so much: how to throw and bat a baseball, to catch and kick a football, to block and tackle, to shoot a gun, how to catch fish, and how to survive in the woods. He taught me mathematics and science, and how to read poetry aloud in front of other people. He was soft spoken and extremely patient.

He involved us in scouting at a young age. I remember how proud he was when I became an Eagle Scout, the first ever in town, and the first to ever earn to earn the "Ad Altarei Dei" religious scouting medal. The irony of the whole thing was, that as proud as he was of me, I was twice as proud of him for teaching me all of the things that I had to know to reach those goals.

My father never raised his voice, and he never raised his hand to either my brother or me - even though I'm sure there were times when we needed a swat! But his gentleness and his loving ways were far more effective parenting techniques than screaming and spanking. Dad never gave us anything but encouragement, and he never criticized. I never heard my father speak poorly of another human being. Dad's nickname was Deacon.

I'm not really sure how he got it but he somehow embraced it. The only thing I ever learned was that when he was as a young boy scout his job was to read the passages from the Bible when they had meetings.

He was proud to have served in the army during WWII, and was proud when both of his sons served in the military as we grew older. He always impressed on Dan and I to be grateful to be American and stand up for what was right. This was my father, my dad, like I said, to me, he was bigger than life.

As years went by, I began to realize just how brilliant this man was. Just about every kid in town came to him for help with science projects or with mathematics problems even in his 50s, 60s and 70s. He could explain mathematics, in a manner that I don't believe many people can. He would look at a complex mathematics problem and solve it in terms of a clear explanation, or by telling a story, and at some point in the story the solution would become apparent. He remembered details of physics from high school.

Even into his 70s and into his 80s he remembered much of the periodic chart from chemistry and had memorized many trigonometric logarithms. He made calculations in his head faster than I could with a calculator. One of his great pleasures was to recite lengthy poetry, from memory, that he learned in the fifth-grade. Even in to his 80s, I could see how brilliant he really was, but because he was my father and I had him my whole life, I may have taken him for granted. You see sometimes you just casually accept all of these attributes and feel that they will always be there.

Now, I'm an old man myself, and dad's been gone for 19 years but there's not a day goes by that I don't think of him. I think about how he impacted on me and so many other people in such a gentle and humble way. He was my father, and I still love him.

I never really knew just how much until he was gone. I think of my father every day of my life and continue to revel in recalling his intelligence and gentle love.

He was my dad, my hero, and even after all of these years I would give everything I own just to walk out of that tunnel one more time, holding his hand and tell him how much I love him.

Happy Father's Day dad

Bill Evans

Summit Hill

Author of article grew up in Seek

Bill Evans, the author of last Saturday's Father's Day tribute in the TIMES NEWS, in which he recalled his days growing up as the son of a coal miner, grew up in the Seek section of Coaldale.

Evans presently lives in Carney's Point, N.J., not Summit Hill, as the article stated.