Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Labor Day

I gladly take advantage of any Federal holiday. In fact, I think there should be more of them. Ben Franklin doesn't have a holiday, nor does John Hancock or any number of other founding fathers. They all deserve one. Each.

But on Labor Day I admit to a bit of guilt as I whiled away a beautiful day at our very nice state park.

While the kids were on the slides and I was pitching horseshoes (three ringers, thank you very much), I was thinking about my Dad.

My Dad retired from a local manufacturing company after 35+ years of service. Among other things in his career there, he was mainly a grinder. He'd grab a tray of little metal things to be worked on, sit down at his stool in front of a bench and belt grinder, and start in. He'd grind a bit, feel a bit, grind a bit, take a measurement, grind a bit, put the metal piece into a fixture to measure it, grind a bit, and eventually he'd decide that it was ready to go. He'd set it to the side, grab another metal piece, and repeat.

The parts that he made helped fly thousands of people through the air, helped countless military missions.

For a time I had a job that took me into the local GM plant. It has since gone the way of most Midwest manufacturing plants, to Mexico. There were guys in there who would start out the day with a ten-foot bin of brake calipers piled next to them. They'd spend the day in front of the grinder, caliper after caliper, cleaning them up and setting them in the done pile.

I spent a summer working as “summer help” at the plant where my Dad worked. We did grunt work : washed lights, cleared brush, swept, etc. I watched my Dad work for the first time, saw how he made a living, and wondered how he could have done it for so long. Day after day, year after year. I gained a new respect for the man who had seen me through childhood, paid for useless things like toy cars and bikes and bats and uniforms and marching band and... well, everything through his labor, his sweat and his mangled fingers.

And here I sit, literally, making my living by clicking a mouse and wiggling my ten fingers on a keyboard. Occasionally I have to lift a computer or blow the dust off of my official Compaq (tm) screwdriver and mount something in a rack.

It was that summer of work that made me vow to finish my education. I was thinking of other things, like travel and maybe car repair or a journeyman in a local trade. But my father, saying nothing, convinced me of the path I should travel. And showed me what being a father and a man was really all about.

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