Opinion

Workers Day | Editorial

When I think of the Labor Day holiday, I think of my grandfathers. Each was born just before the turn of the last century. My father’s father, Johan, was born just a few months after his family made the long journey by ship from Reykjavik, Iceland, to the promise of America. As a young man, he held many jobs in small towns from Minnesota to Montana. Later, with his family in tow, he continued to move wherever the work was — willing to do everything and anything throughout the lean years of the Great Depression. He worked in a gas station, drug store and many small town businesses.

My mother’s father, Aloysius, was an Irishman born in Chicago in 1894. He and my grandmother settled in a small town near Peoria, Ill., where they had a gray house with a wide porch near the edge of town. They had nine children and usually an extra relation or two who needed a roof above their heads. They had an enormous garden and chickens. My grandfather, an infantryman who fought in the trenches in WWI, considered himself a lucky man. He had a job. He was a mail carrier. Mail was sorted, then delivered twice each day to the boxes along the rutted roads in the cornfields.

These men were as different as two men could be. One was a Mason, the other a Roman Catholic. One a Republican, the other a Democrat. Yet they shared similar values concerning work and family. Their identity was not defined by what kind of work they did, but by the fact that they had work. Neither had much education beyond a year or two of high school. Neither expected much from their work except their pay. They worked six or even seven days each week. There was no talk of retirement. But they found joy in their lives, their families and communities.

Every Labor Day, I think of those men, and my own hardworking father who shared those values. Today the meaning of the holiday is sometimes lost in back to school sales, end of summer vacations and the like. Yet at the picnics and barbecues that will take place on this first Monday in September, I bet many people remember their parents and grandparents who made it possible for them to live the lives they have now.

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