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Fifty Years of My Life (1939 - 1990)
A Memoir by Jeff R. Noordermeer

Digging coal and drinking beer

As rough and tough as the coal mining work was, I always will remember the closeness of comradeship we had among the mine-workers. We grew up in a little town. Everybody was the same, nobody wanted to be different. We all went to the some school together. Our families had very little money. Our mothers were always home, and did all the house work and cooking. The fathers and oldest sons provided for the families. All my coal miner friends I knew had pretty much the same family life and traditional roles.

We worked very hard in the coal mines, and the work was very dangerous. We were young and strong and reckless and didn't even realize what danger was. During the 1950's Holland was at its peak. The managers from the mine-company were competing between each other as to who could get the most coal production on each shift. We had strong safety regulations, set by the federal government. Most of the time, they were ignored, especially at the late shifts.

The federal mine inspectors had office hours from eight to five, and would only come underground during morning hours. We, the workers on the coal strips, were always informed whenever they would make their inspection rounds, so that we had our working area in a safe condition. I hated to see them come around with their clean pressed mine uniform and their very strong head lights which were twice as strong as the ones we had to work with. There was so much class distinction between them and the workers, and we were the ones who gave them all their coal. I worked at many night shifts at coal strips where the foreman wouldn't even give us the time of putting an iron support between the floor and the ceiling, because we were pushed to get as much coal out as possible. This was very dangerous as the ceiling could have broken at any time since we took so many feet of coal away. All of this was against safety regulations, and the managers knew this all along. All he was interested in was to see those transport coal carriers filled up with coal so that he could load his wagons. He didn't have to worry about cave-ins, as he was always far away from the coal strip. Somehow those company managers used us, as we were young and strong, hard working, and obedient.

We were making good money and worked day after day in the same environment. We didn't even notice the danger. As much money as I made every paycheck, I would give to my mother. She would give me my pocket money, and most of that I spent on drinking parties with my friends I worked along with in the coal mines. In our town we had plenty of beer pubs. On every corner of the street you could find one. Most of those beer pubs were the places where people from the neighborhood would need each other. In those days there were not telephones in the houses, so it was always easy to find one of your friends in one of the neighborhood beer pubs. Even as small as our town was, and with all those beer-pubs in different areas, there were always a few strong men who would control everything. They were the biggest drinkers and strongest men around. Whatever beer-pub they were in, nobody would fool around with them. During the Lent time we had a carnival season. At that time the beer-pubs and dance floors were packed with people. There were many outsiders from other towns who would come in to celebrate. Many fights always erupted. We had three police officers and they patrolled the town by bicycle. Whenever they came, fights broke-up very rapidly. Nobody wanted to get involved with the police authority. That time of the year there were always so many drunks on the street. People had no cars, only bicycles. There were a few taxis around. Of course there was public transportation, a bus that would take us from town to town. On weekends when there was nothing to do in our town, we would usually take the bus to another town, as there was always somewhere a festival going on. We were always in a good drinking mood wherever we went. Some of those coal miners could really drink some beer. We would always stay until closing time, and it happened so many times that the busses were not running anymore. Many weekends we would get back early in the morning, and we had to be at the coal mines at six in the morning. All we could do was change our clothes, take our lunch bag and go to work. We didn't dare to miss a day's work, or tell our parents we had drunk too much beer and didn't feel like going to work. So many times I went to work intoxicated because I had drunk too much beer, but as soon as I started working at the coal strip, I perspired so much that in an hour I was sober again. It was very hard work but we never gave up.

Soccer was a very popular sport, and each town had its own team. Usually the teams' get-together with its town's large supporters was always in one of the larger beer-pubs. Before and after the game there was always a lot of beer drinking going on. Even the priest who joined the club and said the prayers before and after the games was having his drinks with the soccer fans. Local towns played against each other, and sometimes there were big fist fights among the fans. Professional soccer started to organize in the late fifties. A friend of mine with whom I went to school was drafted by one of the local first division clubs. From his first contract he signed he was able to buy a used Volkswagen. That was a big deal in those days. He took me for a ride one day, and we were the only car on the road.

CONTINUED: The roof of the coal mine collapses
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