The irony of Labor Day, of course, is that most of us don’t work today. We do as little as possible, choosing to kick back, cook out and doze off.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, today is “dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers.” Remember that as you’re taking a break today: Labor Day is more than just an end to summer and a season of white clothes.
I have a problem with holidays. You see, I grew up in a family of hard workers.
There, I said it. It’s an addiction, I know. A sickness. It wasn’t my parents’ fault they were the models for the terms “workaholic” and “24/7.” I don’t blame them for passing it along to their children. It’s a gene that runs in the family.
As I’ve written before, my father was a small-time farmer who rose early so he could milk the cow, feed the hogs and chickens, fork hay to the cattle – all before breakfast.
After hitting the ground running, he put in a marathon workday. There was no reason to complain; it would have done no good. His slender frame somehow supported the back-breaking chores.
His was not a 9-to-5 job, and it wasn’t five days a week. Cows have to be milked every day; livestock have to eat on weekends. Crops don’t take two weeks off in summer so farmers can visit theme parks.
My mother worked just as hard. Besides raising a houseful of kids, cooking, cleaning, canning and the like, she helped on the farm, doing jobs that most men can’t handle.
These folks passed along the importance of hard work to us children, although I will admit that we had to be taught the lesson over and over as though it were Einstein’s notebook.
Dodging work is a required course of childhood, of course, and we became good at the game. Getting from Point A – the house – to Point B – the field or barn – covered a zigzag course that could take us hours and include stop-offs dangling our feet in the creek, chasing down the workhorses for a quick ride, eating pears from the tree or peanuts from the earth, or maybe enjoying the forbidden fruit of a patch of rabbit tobacco.
We usually got caught, and the seats of our pants came out the worse for it, but that made our next side trip even more devious. Somehow, despite our child’s play, we put in versions of what our parents did each day.
We worked more than we realized. One Saturday, my older brother, who was in high school and working a night-shift job in town, fell asleep on the tractor and plowed through (literally) the barbed-wire fence at the end of the row.
Despite it all, we somehow stayed in school, a luxury my father could not afford when he was a boy. We went on to our own lives of labor.
None of us, I should point out, stayed in farming after graduation. I mean, work is a noble endeavor, but you can carry anything too far.