Sixteen tons and what do you get?

My dad "pops"

It was a strange 50th birthday..

It couldn’t be the usual champagne popping have a blast carefree type of a day as my dad had to have a procedure at the Bons Secours hospital in Cork.

This was very strange as 50 years to the day I was actually born in the very same hospital – who could have predicted that?

We were with him first thing in the morning as the nurse came in to bring him to the theatre. As usual even though he was apprehensive about what lay ahead he couldn’t help being his usual charming and funny self!

I’ll bring you down to the theatre Michael, will we get a wheelchair?” the nurse asked

My dad looked at her as if she had two heads – no way was that happening!

He bounced out of the bed and started joking with the nurse, relaxing my mum, me and Dee.

In the corridor he stopped her and he went into his usual routine, the routine he does with everyone, and one that makes us all smile. Even my six year old niece in the U.S. can recite this because he taught it to her when she could barely talk!

If you see me comin’, you better step aside
A lotta men didn’t, a lotta men died
One fist of iron, the other of steel
If the right one don’t a-get you
Then the left one will

This seemed so appropriate and defiant and he delivered it with clenched fists and a charming smile – nothing is going to beat this man and definitely not today!

You’re lovely, I’ll go anywhere with you he says” and he linked the nurses arm.

We stood there watching as my fantastic dad (“pops” I call him) walked away from us with the nurse laughing and joking down the long corridor to a place that neither he nor any of us wanted to be on this March day.

I was curious about where the words for my dad’s little routine came from. They come from a song made popular by a guy called Tennessee Ernie Forde in 1955. His version became a huge hit and it was later covered by many artists including Johnny Cash and even Robbie Williams!

It was first recored in 1946 by a country singer called Merle Travis. The clever, catchy song is about a coal miner who has broken his back shovelling coal all his life. He never sees actual pay because the workers used get paid in vouchers, which they could exchange for goods at the company owned store:

Some people say a man is made outta mud
A poor man’s made outta muscle and blood
Muscle and blood and skin and bones
A mind that’s a-weak and a back that’s strong

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

I was born one mornin’ when the sun didn’t shine
I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine
I loaded sixteen tons of number nine coal
And the straw boss said “Well, a-bless my soul”

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

I was born one mornin’, it was drizzlin’ rain
Fightin’ and trouble are my middle name
I was raised in the canebrake by an ol’ mama lion
Cain’t no-a high-toned woman make me walk the line

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

If you see me comin’, you better step aside
A lotta men didn’t, a lotta men died
One fist of iron, the other of steel
If the right one don’t a-get you
Then the left one will

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

There was no point waiting around so I went about my day, which included meetings, lunch with Dee and my two kids, Brendan and Ellen, a little clothes shopping spree in Brown Thomas and a drive to Dublin.

We got news that dad had recovered well from the procedure but he still isn’t quite out of the woods yet. Not quite what we were hoping to hear.

That evening we ended up having dinner at Leinster House with a good friend and some interesting people – the last thing on this strange day that I could have expected was people singing ‘Happy Birthday‘ to me there!

It wasn’t a perfect birthday but I spent it with people I love, I loaded some coal, I had an unexpected evening and I watched one of my all time heroes charming a nurse and defiantly saying “If you see me coming, you better step aside

Now it’s time to load some more coal ..

Greg Canty 

Greg Canty is a Partner of Fuzion who offer Marketing, PR and Graphic Design services from our offices in Dublin and Cork, Ireland

Tags: , , , , , ,

9 Responses to “Sixteen tons and what do you get?”

  1. Naomi Sirmans Says:

    Your Dad sounds like an amazing man! I hope he is back to his full strength soon – I love his optimism. You didn’t fall far from that tree! Happy belated Birthday, Greg!

  2. irishminx Says:

    Greg hope your Dad is healing. Enjoy the weekend.

  3. irishminx Says:

    Hope your Dad is healing Greg and enjoy the weekend.

  4. Denis Says:

    Struck a cord with that! Best wishes to your Dad and happy birthday!

  5. Malcolm Allan Says:

    I had heard this story from your man Greg on Saturday and had been introduced to Pops so reading the post was not news. What was news was the words of the song which I remember hearing on my grandmothers old Bush radio sometime in the early 60’s on the old Light Programme on the BBC, and the words tripped a memory circuit iny brain and there I was sitting on the train into London singing them out loud and a tear trickling down my cheek. The girl sitting beside me asked if I was alright and all I could say was Tennesee Ernie Ford. Thanks Greg for introducing me to your dad and giving me a powerful reminder of the power of song to evoke movies of people and place. You are some man sir.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: