I grew up in the U.P. – filled with tales of miners working coal mines, iron mines, copper and nickel mining and more.
Many life-lessons came from the work in the mines that Daddy passed on. Instinct, 7th sense, discernment, and spirit-presence were all a common thread of those stories. As was the canary.
In the early days of mining there were few, if any, detection systems that could warn of carbon monoxide before the miners went down into the earth. Someone cleverly (or cruelly, I thought as a child) came up with the idea to offer the life of a canary to test the air safety.
The bird was brought into the mine in a cage. If the bird stopped singing, it meant carbon monoxide was present and they exited – if the bird died, they had to get out as quickly as possible.
The canary was a tool that gave an opportunity to correct a dangerous situation before it was too late.
Daddy likened our inner sense to a canary and warned me to listen to the canary.
I especially recall one day when I did.
I had a part-time job delivering telephone books he office for the pick-up location was inside an old warehouse in a run-down area of town. The manager routinely explained the system of calling, picking up the books in the back, and only coming to the office on paydays, and shook hand in a goodbye gesture. I felt Daddy’s presence, hearing inside his familiar encouragement to “make yourself friendly” and without further thought, surprised the manager when I asked if I could meet the staff I’d be dealing with by phone. He smiled thoughtfully when I explained my hereditary training to ‘put a face to a voice’, and willingly led me to each of the four cubicles that lined the wall beyond his office. “You’ve already met the receptionist?” he smilingly asked as he pointed to her desk just inside the front door and across from his office. I acknowledged that I had, and he chatted pleasantly at the conclusion of the little tour, idly mentioning that the phone books had to be stored near the receiving area of the dock, in the room behind the receptionist’s desk, as the basement was too musty for storage. I had no idea how crucial those bits of information would soon be.
Day after day, I queued up in line with others at the dock for my trunk to be filled with the heavy yellow-bagged volumes. Each Friday, we entered the front door instead of the dock, to turn in delivery slips and receive our pay. Each week I blessed Daddy’s memory as friendly voices called out from the cubicles and I was able to greet the workers by name, sometimes stopping to visit or inquire how their families were doing. Each time I connected with someone, or made a new friend, I felt Daddy’s presence and mentally sent up a “Thanks” for the good training. His presence was especially powerful that final week when I walked in and the hair on my neck stood up.
Instead of the familiar female receptionist, a tall bulky man, seated awkwardly on the edge of her chair, looked up in surprise. Noting his coat and hat, I grew alarmed and quickly glanced to the row of doors on the left. Other than the large shadow of a second unknown person to my left, the entire space – the manager’s office and every cubicle, was empty. Each person’s name – known only because of Daddy’s be friendly teaching, went through my mind. Something was wrong, and a chill ran up my spine.
The canary had died.
“Oh Daddy, help,” I pleaded silently, and a vignette flashed through my mind. I knew what I had to do.
Suddenly empowered by a hidden strength, I whipped back to the unknown man, anger rising in me. Loudly, my voice continued like a soap opera, demanding to know why the manager ‘never’ seemed to be in his office. His eyes widened, and he slid the chair back as I continued to intimate that the manager was intentionally hiding to avoid paying me. His smirk and quiet response deepened my fear. “He and the others are all in a meeting downstairs. If you’d like to join them I can show you the way.” Every nerve in my body reacted. Because of Daddy, I knew there was no meeting room in the musty basement.
Fear for my new friends fueled anger and I was no longer acting. screaming, “I guess not! I am sick of being treated this way. How convenient of him to be in meetings every time I am supposed to be paid. Well, you can give him a message for me and tell him I quit!”
Slamming my paperwork on the desk, I turned and fled the dark surprised eyes as quickly as I could without running to my car. Barely cognizant of what I was doing, I slammed the car into gear while pulling the door closed and raced several blocks from the warehouse before pulling over to shakily dial the Crime Stopper number I’d seen displayed on nearby billboards.
Fearing recognition, I stayed home, checking the police beat in the newspaper. I didn’t have long to wait for the simple facts that read like script for Sergeant Friday on Dragnet: the date, the place, and the time: robbery in progress. No injuries. Staff had been locked in the basement.
Weeks later, employees were informed by phone of a new distribution location. When I declined further work (I was lucky my husband was going to let me out of the house after the scare) I was put on hold a moment for the manager. I couldn’t have spoken, if I had known what to say, because of the lump in my throat when he said, “We’re so glad you were so friendly.”