I wish I’d written the lyrics to Alabama’s song “Forty-Hour Week”. My eyes tear up every time I hear it. I’ve got blue-collar DNA, and the last few years, I’ve had the privilege of working in close proximity to men and women who work with their hands building and retrofitting the infrastructure of this nation. It has been an amazing experience.
I don’t know why these last years were such an eye-opener. I grew up around people in the trades. My dad was a mechanic and a heavy equipment operator. His formal education stopped after the eighth grade, but informally, he never stopped learning. He read Popular Mechanics, automotive manuals, the dictionary, and the grocery-store-premium set of encyclopedias my mother collected when I was in middle school. He could fix anything, and since we always lived in remote areas, far from places big enough to have repair shops, people would come by to have him look at their car or washing machine or lawn mower and see if he could fix it. He always could.
My husband grew up working with his hands and made college and mission money working as a carpenter. He spent twenty-five years of evening and weekends making a polyester purse out of our old sow’s ear of a farmstead, starting with plumbing, then wiring, then tearing out walls, installing cabinets, and finally, installing flooring. Our oldest son, from an early age, showed an amazing ability to visualize mechanical and electrical things, diagnose problems, and make repairs. He’s worked for years as a Ford technician. It wasn’t until my youngest son came along that I realized not every male on the planet comes with the innate ability to fix a washing machine. Or put together a pre-cut, pre-finished book case.
About ten years ago, my husband worked for a contractor who liked to bid on difficult stuff, and he (husband) got to do some fun (his word) jobs that were one-of-a-kind, usually involved danger, and always had some knotty logistical problems that had to be solved before they could even begin.
I was offered the job as his job-site secretary because of my writing skills, as the owner had delayed the job and everyone knew the contractor would be making a claim. I was in charge of documentation. I left a perfectly wonderful job in education to do that, and I’ve thought many times in the intervening years how lucky I was to have the chance to live in the world of industrial construction. I didn’t have to work in the rain and the snow with the rest of the crew, but I shared the long hours and walked down the same soggy path to the chilly sanican.
I saw the dedication these men had and their grace under pressure. I witnessed their skill in solving problems, in translating the lines on a set of blueprints into a solid, working, three-dimensional reality under the worst of conditions. I felt privileged to sit in the job shack and support their efforts.
So, here’s to you, the blue collar workers of America. This Labor Day, I thank you for your service. We would not be the nation we are without your work ethic, your know-how, your willingness to solve those problems and get ‘er done. In your honor, here’s a link to Alabama’s “Forty Hour Week”
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