My favorite popular song? Impossible to answer.
But there's a song that's been on my mind lately. Coal MIner's Daughter. I've discovered it has a peculiar connection to my own history, in ways I never imagined. I wanted to write about it, but I hesitated.
But now I've been given a nudge, with this week's Red Room prompt: "Write about your favorite popular song." A few examples followed: the Beatles, Billie Holiday, Marvin Gaye. And then Loretta Lynn's iconic song, about her hardscrapple life, growing up as a coal miner's daughter in Butcher Holler, Kentucky.
Stories of Appalachia--and of miners--have resonated with me for a long time. I though it grew out of my love for traditional mountain music, which began during the four years I spent living in North Carolina, just after I finished college. I was a graduate student at Duke and my husband played in a bluegrass band. Later, at midlife, I fell in love with Cajun music. That led to a yearly pilgrimage to folk music camp in West Virginia.
Or maybe it was just my ability to empathize with people who were so different from me.
But now I've discovered the truth: my mother was a miner's daughter. That makes me a miner's granddaughter.
Her people--my people--weren't from Appalachia. They were Slovenian immigrants. I always thought of them as blue collar city people. Factory workers. And heavy drinkers. They lived in an inner city neighborhood in Cleveland, the town where I was born.
But now I've learned about the earlier chapters of their story. It turns out I have miners on both sides of my mother's family. Her mother's father, her own father, her uncle. They all worked in the mines. Coal mines and iron mines. In Minnesota and in Pennsylvania's Allegheny Mountains, the northern part of the Appalachians.
My mother likes to dole out her family story in bits and pieces. Her mother was born to Slovenian immigrants in Ely, Minnesota, a town in the Iron Range. Her grandfather, Louis Adamic, was a miner. After a few years, the family moved to a coal mining town in Pennsylvania. Her mother married at the age of fifteen, to a Slovenian immigrant named Louis Kozlevcar. He came to America in 1911, as a teenage orphan. His first job? He was a miner, in a town in eastern Pennsylvania.
Recently, my mother told me she remembers a family trip when she was about five, during the Depression. They drove her father from Cleveland, where the family had settled, to Forest City, a town in eastern Pennsylvania. Her father couldn't find work in the city, so he took a temporary job working in the coal mines. It was back to the first job he'd held, when he came to America.
I've seen a photo of the little town in Slovenia where my great-grandmother was born. They all came from generations of peasant farmers, as near as I can tell. But it looks just like Appalachia. Beautiful and harsh.
Loretta Lynn sang it: I'm proud to be a coal miner's daughter.
I understand the feeling.
Causes Blair Kilpatrick Supports
Louisiana Folk Roots, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Habitat for Humanity/Musician's Village New Orleans, Doctors Without Borders