Some artifacts have the power to keep us connected to those we have loved and lost. They may look like useless items from another time, but they contain the essence of those who have touched our lives. Just one touch can activate many memories.
I keep Daddy’s union ring in a small jewelry box. The gold is tarnished with age, but the words “U.M.W. of America” can still be deciphered on the front. Daddy was a proud member of the United Mine Workers of America. He worked in coal mines for many years, from eastern Kentucky to western Pennsylvania. Each month, he would peruse the UMWA Journal, even though he couldn’t read or write. Coal mining was the portal to a good livelihood, giving him the means to take care of his family. And the Union made it possible. Before I knew who George Washington was, I knew the importance of John L. Lewis.
Daddy was a volunteer fireman in my hometown of Hills Station. When the siren pieced the air, he would grab his black hat with the big “1” on the front and head for the fire hall. A few minutes later, I would see the white fire engine racing down the street with Daddy on the back. Hours later, he would return with stories about the blaze he helped to contain. I display the hat in my living room, a reminder of Daddy’s bravery and sense of duty.
Daddy loved gadgets, especially instant cameras. I have one of his Polaroid Land cameras from the fifties, still in its original gray box with matching flash, as well as a box camera from an earlier decade. One afternoon, Momma and I stood outside for hours while Daddy took pictures of us. We stood around watching as the images developed slowly in black and white. Once it was ready, he would smooth the emulsion over the photo, preserving the image. But Daddy was always the photographer, as he rarely allowed others to touch his expensive equipment. I still have some of his photos in an old black photo album.
Daddy was also an auxiliary policeman. When on duty, he wore a navy blue uniform with a badge on the front and another badge on his hat. I thought he looked very handsome in his uniform. The silver police whistle was used to direct traffic during parades, funeral processions, and at Halloween. I keep the whistle on a keychain with my keys. It makes me feel like Daddy is still protecting me.
When he was young, Daddy played baseball in one of the local amateur teams. Over the years, he never lost his love of the game. When I was young, he attended Pittsburgh Pirates games at Forbes Field with his best friend. As he got older, he never missed a game on KDKA, whether it was on the radio or on television. A slender, light tan Louisville Slugger kept vigil in his closet for many years. When I moved to California, I left the bat with my best friend, who kept it near her bed. Each time that I go back to Pennsylvania, I hold the bat in my hands, feeling the roughness of the black tape that Daddy put on it to improve his grip. One day, I’m going to bring that bat to California, if I can get it on a plane.
Even though Daddy has been gone for almost thirty-seven years, these keepsakes remind me of the man who taught me how to tie my shoes, ride a bike, and persevere in spite of obstacles. I celebrate the legacy of John Hogg on this Father’s Day.