Category Archives: labor day

Labor Day – Celebrate a Job Well Done: The American Dream? Go Get a Job

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1960’s dime store, similar to the one I worked at.

As the daughter of a Union trucker and his hard working wife, who waited up to serve him dinner on a lap tray, I learned four basic rules of life:

  1. Say please and thank you
  2. Take a weekly bath (using the same tub water, beginning with the eldest to youngest).
  3. Clean your plate, never leaving a scrap of meat on the bone

AND… the most important…

  1. Get a job – keep it – be grateful for it

One day early in my job history, my boss politely asked if I would please duck under the counter. To which I replied, “ Uh… okay.”

This was a time when a power outage meant using a crank on the electric cash register. It was a year before we were allowed to wear slacks, not jeans to public school. A time when dime stores like Woolworths and Ben Franklins carried everything your heart desired without a supersized building a city block long. The uncluttered shelves did not have 30 competing brands of toothpaste, but you could buy fabric by the yard, stock your aquarium, select a gallon of paint and have a key made for your front door while enjoying a chocolate soda from the fountain.

I was fifteen and although this was not my first paid job, it was a ladder rung above my prior burger joint positions. If I’m asked to duck under the counter, I’m there waiting to see if I’m told to quack. In my household, earning a paycheck was more important than good grades, perfect school attendance or even being kind to your neighbor. Besides, the early job release program meant abandoning my jobless classmates three hours before dismissal bell. It just never got old… slapping my book shut, rising to exit as if called on a mission doomed to fail without my assistance.

I noticed the request to hide under the counter or slip out the back door of The Main Street Variety Store happened whenever two fellows wearing drab brown suits with matching brief cases appeared. One day, when curiosity outweighed the suspense of hiding, I dallied long enough to get eyeballed by the men in suits.

Minutes later, Alice, my elderly co-worker (who later fought my plight to wear pants to work because she’d been traumatized by a large woman in pink stretch pants), summoned me to the office. My boss was sitting at his desk, looking as if he’d been pistol whipped, but no blood or bruises backed my theory. He introduced me to the men from the Labor Union who asked me redundant questions, taking notes as if the weight of my “yes sirs, no sirs” were a matter of national security.

One month later, I received a check for $250 with a notation reading: Retroactive Payment. In addition I was given a raise from $1.50 to $3 per hour. This was before the Washington State lottery, but to me I had won, big time. I felt bad for my boss… for about 10 minutes.

The point is, I’m grateful for a family who instilled a strong work ethic to the core of my being. Certainly we need to stop and sniff those roses and not neglect our families. Just as anything we put above God, a job too, can be idol worship. I’m not saying the unemployed should be damned. I am shouting praise that my life is better because I was taught to embrace work as a privilege.

My na-na loved her job so much she lied about her age, enabling 10 additional years of labor before retirement. Her job? Scrubbing floors at the hospital.

Mom diligently served our family, taking on the never ending task as if paid a worthy salary. When a financial emergency arose, like dad falling off a tanker truck breaking his hip, she took a paid position at a nursing home, caring for the patients most basic needs, like diaper changing. After hours, or days off, she’d visit the patients, giving haircuts and clipping unkempt toenails. Many times I witnessed Mom and Na-Na both, physically spent with aching backs, swollen knees and red, chapped hands from harsh detergent water, proclaiming love for their jobs.

I’m proud to say, I have this too (except I’ve been known to complain… okay, even whine). Still, I love my work. I’m blessed with no patience to stay at a job I hate, but resourceful enough to make it into something I enjoy. I could never survive living for the weekend, like many who hate their work.

My heart aches for those who falsely believe work is “a have to” instead of a “get to.” They miss the blessing that comes from “a job well done.” If you are among the fourth generation welfare age who’ve learned a paycheck comes from the mailbox, I’m sad for you. You’ve been deceived. The good life is not staying at home watching reruns on TV. A check you did not earn is not a gift, but more so a curse that traps and keeps you unemployable. It steals your opportunity to dive into the work force making your first of a thousand mistakes, each error a personal trainer pushing you into self-sufficiency.

What’s the solution? I don’t know. I do know we need to squelch the lie that says we are owed a life of slothdom, and remember that living the American dream means we have the freedom to work. The benefits go way beyond the paycheck.

Do we turn away from those in need? Of course not. But when does a handout slap the purpose of a helping hand up? I believe everyone is blessed with something to give back in return for financial aid. Who wouldn’t benefit from knowing they had contributed in order to receive their support? What homeless shelter couldn’t use some help? What government office wouldn’t be more efficient with extra hands? How many zillion tasks could non-profit organizations use some help with? Those with physical limitations could read to patients, water flowers, be an extra set of eyes for security. Everyone can do something… lick a stamp? Stuff an envelope? Greet people? Listen to someone?

I think we should all have a calling, a motive, a purpose. One that we know is a blessed gift from God. One we are compelled to share. One that we know enhances the lives of others no matter how mundane it may seem.

My heart aches for those who have had this basic right stripped away. I don’t blame them. They are innocents, trapped, held in bondage, by one whopper of a lie.