underground miner to underground musician

My grandpa (my Mom's Dad) was an underground iron miner in my hometown of Ishpeming, MI. He operated the elevator taking men, supplies, and iron ore up and down the shaft, deep into the earth. Now he's 94 years old, and earlier today he admitted himself into a nursing home. He left his house this afternoon for the last time...the house he built by hand 60 years ago: he cut down the trees himself, cut them into 2X4s himself, and nailed together the house where my Mom and her brothers grew up. What a solemn and strange day.

The above picture has become one of the most meaningful photos I've ever had taken...it's from two months ago. That's me, my Dad, and my Grandpa in the underground tunnel that leads to the elevator cage beneath the "C" Shaft at the Cliffs Shaft mine in downtown Ishpeming. I took my Grandpa on the mine tour (which opened to the public in 2002). The mine itself shut down operations in 1967. After starting his job there in 1932, my Grandpa left when the mine closed in '67 and never returned. Until August 2007, that is, when we took the tour. How incredible for me to walk back into history and see this strange subterranean world where my Grandpa spent his entire working career. And to go back to that mine shaft with him for the first time in 40 years! Amazing. Each miner was assigned a number...my Grandpa was #68...and his rusted numbered tag was still hanging there in the tool-check room...we saw it there, untouched since the last day of operation.

Here's a photo I took of the T-shaped mine shaft tower that is the focal point of my hometown skyline. You can check out a cool aerial view from a blog I posted back in August. Dad and I pushed Grandpa in his wheelchair all around the now-shuttered mine and surrounding offices, laboratories, and garages. While I was growing up in Ishpeming all these buildings were hidden behind huge barbed-wire fences, so you never got to see them up-close. It was so cool to walk around this formerly forbidden zone, and to be guided by somebody who actually worked there and knew every inch of the place.

Here's an amazing photo that I swiped from the Cliffs Shaft Mine Museum webpage (which is not really working right, as you can see...it's pretty much just a clickable menu). The photo holds a copyright by James Schuster, so James, if you want me to remove the picture, just let me know and I'll take it down. BUT, I hope you'll allow me to post it, 'cause it's amazing. What you're seeing here is the view from the TOP of the "C" shaft tower, looking over the old "A" shaft, with snowy downtown Ishpeming in the background. Grandpa told me that when he worked at the mine, every Saturday the fire inspector would arrive to inspect the elevator and the shaft, and Grandpa and his colleagues would use that time to go up to the roof of the "C" shaft and look over the town. I've always wondered what it would look like from up there, and now I can finally get a sense of it.

So, Grandpa is 94 years old, and 40 of those years were spent beneath the ground. And today he begins a new phase of life, residing at a nursing home. I'm sure it's incredibly sad and difficult for him to move there, but I know there's no way he could continue to live on his own. It's tough to get old. As Grandpa said to me in August, "Once a man, twice a child."

It's strange for me to think of this reality: the way things work with families in Ishpeming, it's totally possible that I could've grown up to work in the mine, and right now I could be hauling iron ore out of the ground, instead of writing songs and performing. Grandpa was an underground miner, and I grew up to be an underground musician. It's so mysterious the way that life unfolds.

Next time I'm back in town, Grandpa, I can't wait to visit you in your new home, as you enter a phase of life that few folks ever live to see. I hope that I, too, will follow you towards the century mark, up from the underground.


Bridget Delaney said…
This is totally unrelated to this entry (other than to say it's cool and I wish I knew more about my family history than I do, but my grandparents aren't much into that), that I was looking at what teens like in music these days, and wow, I must be getting "old."

I went through a list of songs on a girl's stand alone player that she has on mypsace. I am about nine years her elder, and here is what I feel about the songs on the player.

Am I getting old??? Hee!

These are songs you may find me listening to willingly, even by my own choice.

Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen
Take On Me by Aha
hey there delilah by plain white T's
Potential Breakup Song by Aly & AJ
Concrete Angel by Martina McBride
Memory from Cats
Your Guardian Angel by The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus
Life Is A Highway by Rascal Flatts
Whiskey Lullabye by Brad Paisley
Breathless by The Coors
Sadie Hawkins Dance by Relient K
Bubbly by Colbie Caillat

These are songs that I'd agree to listen to if others want to listen tot hem.

Here in Your Arms by Hellogoodbye
The Great Escape by Boys Like Girls
Sweet Child O Mine by Guns n Roses
Moonlight Shadow by Missing Heart
One Winged Angel from Final Fantasy 7
What's This? by Fall Out Boy
Numa Numa by Numa Numa
Final Fantasy 7 ROBOVoice OC ReMix by Joe Redifer
Fukai Mori from Inu Yasha
keep holing on by Avril Lavigne
Welcome To The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance
False Pretense by The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus
Dance Floor Anthem by Good Charlotte
Lithium by Evanescense

I'd rather not hear these songs.

Teenagers by My Chemical Romance
Thnks Fr Th Mmrs (Thanks for the Memories?) by Fall Out Boy
Sanctuary by Utada Hikaru
Time to Dance by Panic at the Disco
Dance, Dance by Fall Out Boy
The Music For The Misery by Fall Out Boy
Boom Boom I Want You in my Room by Venga Boys
Toy Box by Best Friend
Maichick (Malchick?) Gay by Tatu
All The Things She Said by Tatu
Every Heart by Boa
Naruto Ondo by Uzumaki Naruto
Fighting Dreamers by Naruto
Harder Better Faster Stronger by Daft Punk
Hamtaro Ending from Hamtaro
Bleach 1st Opening by Blue Knight
bleach opening 21 by gg
Sweet Sacrifice by Evanescence

I don't want to hear these songs at all

Stupid MF by Mindless Self Indulgence
Technologic by Daft Punk
Love Me or Hate Me by Lady Sovereign
Kanashimi wo Yasashi from Naruto
Shut Me Up by Mindless Self Indulgence
Not Gonna Get Us by t.A.T.u.
Nymphetamine by Cradle of Filth
steve s said…
What a great photo. My grandfather spent his entire career working for CCI. I went to the museum the summer it opened. I didn't know you could go underground now.

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