“ All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr. ~
By the time the first Monday in September rolls around, many of us are prepared for and look forward to that particular day. Labor Day, the first Monday in September means different things to different people.
For some it signals the last day of summer even though officially autumn arrives a couple of weeks later around the 21st of September. When I was a young lass, the school term usually started after Labor Day. I look back now and compare the early start of school systems today and ponder the difference. I suppose back in my day it was delayed until after Labor Day because we went to school in buildings that lacked air conditioning. September does tend to bring cooler weather.
Labor Day is the last big “hurrah” of the summer, instigating many last minute jaunts to beaches, mountains and places of pleasure. For many adults, Labor Day is the last chance off a needed day off before the end of the year’s holiday season.
Fashionistas view Labor Day as the demarcation of the proper time of the year to wear the color white. In case you’re wondering: any Southern gal worth her weight in turnip greens would never be caught dead in white after Labor Day. Also you would never wear seersucker after Labor Day.
Labor Day also drives certain events. It’s the second largest retail sale weekend, just behind Black Friday. And, Labor Day weekend usually marks the official beginning of college and professional football season. Here is Alabama, a state that has held the last four National College Football Championships, the anticipation builds to an almost torturous crescendo until fans can gather in their respective stadiums and shouts the first “Roll Tide Roll!” or “War Eagle” of the season.
But, what is Labor Day exactly? Do you know the history of the day? If you pause and inspect the day it will dawn on you this is a holiday that doesn’t mark the anniversary of a military victory, an accomplishment of one man or one particular historical event.
Maybe that’s why Labor Day has an identity crisis…
You see, Labor Day is a celebration of the achievement of the American worker (I could say North American worker because Canada also celebrates Labor Day on the same day.) This holiday grew out of the recognition of the labor movement of the 1880s.
To put is simply, Labor Day celebrate and recognizes the hard work this country was built on and the hard work that strengthens this country and leads it to prosperity.
I know many of us would agree our country has been “sick” for some time. We have unemployment rates way too high and if truth be known those numbers are higher than reported because millions have run out of unemployment benefits and have given up looking for work. Certain segments of our population have enormous unemployment rates. For one of the first times in our history we are now having people underemployed because companies are only creating part time jobs. And, our economy is growing at a snail’s pace. We could probably watch grass grow faster than our economy is growing.
A few weeks ago a speech was delivered to a group of our younger generation. It came from an unlikely source – actor Ashton Kutchner. Given his Midwestern roots, it’s probably not hard to see where his thought processes developed. To paraphrase Mr. Kutchner, the jest of his speech was this: Opportunity often knocks in the form of work; his first job did not see him starting at the “top”; he never had a job he was too good or high and mighty for.
As, the kids say today, “Word.” For you baby boomers, that’s the equivalent of, “Right on, man.”
Looking back into my own family history I see hard, hard workers. One of my personal pet peeves has been the tendency to paint women from bygone eras as mousy little things that were always barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. Not in my family!
My granddaddys were hard workers. My Pawpaw farmed, was a master carpenter and clerked in the company grocery store. He also was the substitute mail carrier in Cade’s Cove, a route my daddy made with him a time or two. My PaGee was a barber, pastor and business owner.
When the WPA brought in Italian stone masons from New York to build the beautiful bridges and tunnels you see around the Smoky Mountains, Pawpaw and Mamaw boarded three of those stone masons in their home. One day when I was enumerating the 1940 census, I discovered Mamaw listed her occupation as “laundress”. Yes, she took in laundry and ironing – she worked hard to help take care of her boys.
My MaGee was a teacher, a pastor’s wife and later a business owner.
My grandparents were honest, decent, good, hard working people. The kind of people who make up the backbone of America.
On that same 1940 census, my great-grandaunt Eliza proudly listed her occupation as “seamstress”. When I look at her quilts I know the pride she took in her work.
My great-grandmother, Becky Shaffer McGee was the county midwife in Lawrence County, Tennessee. She quilted, gardened and left a loving mark on her family that followed her for many generations.
These people lived during the Great Depression and survived – many coming out on the better end. How and why? Well, because like Dr. King, they knew work uplifts humanity, gives it dignity…and they did it with painstaking excellence.
Happy Labor Day, America.
© 2013 Beverly Hicks Burch All Rights Reserved.