Daddy Was A Miner
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by Frank Shortt
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I was at a gig playing for Alzheimer’s patients at an old folk’s home in Evergreen, Ca.
some time ago. I am not a great guitarist, not the greatest singer, so I was only doing what I knew, playing behind my songs.
I sang old favorites, such as Indian Love Call, Four Walls, Folsom Prison Blues, etc. There was little response, maybe a little applause.
It was when I began to sing an old Merle Travis concoction called ‘Dark as a Dungeon’, that I noticed some interest in the front row.
She was a short, skinny, emaciated lady, sitting very erect, staring straight forward,
with her slender little hands folded in her lap. She had not spoken a single word to anyone nor even moved the whole time I had been
Something happened to her as I began singing, ‘Dark as a Dungeon’. She came alive!
Her eyes lighted up and began to dance! Her agitation was very visible, as if she could not await the end of the song.
As the last strains faded away ‘way down in the mine’….. she stood up suddenly, speaking at last!
“My daddy was a coal miner. He used to take the train from New York down to Pennsylvania to go to work each morning. After work he
would take the train back to the New York station. I could hardly wait for him to return as I would go to the station each day to
walk back home with him. I would wait patiently for him to open his dinner bucket for the inevitable treat that he would leave for
me. It was something that my mother had made and packed for him.”
Just as suddenly as she
had stood up, she sat back down, folding her hands in her lap, staring straight ahead as before. Her sudden ‘opening up’ was contagious.
Other patients began saying things about the songs I had sung. Some would talk about seeing Nelson Eddy and Jeannette MacDonald in
‘Rose Marie’. Some spoke of Johnny Cash some about others they had seen in the past.
thought, “What a way to bring these folks out!” But alas, it is so sad how some people just dump their old folks off at some care
center. They would rather pay for someone else to entertain their parents than to make arrangements for their mental welfare.
I found out later from a friend of mine who ran the entertainment portion of the home that this particular little lady had been literally
abandoned by her relatives in New York. She had ample money to insure her wellbeing, but no one to visit her, soothe her, or embrace
I hear the sirens at night coming to the care home. Someone is missing each time I
I think, “what if that was my mother?”