Labor of love: Salute the flag, one year at a time

September 3, 2011 

  • Read David Lauderdale's musings, see his morning photos and get alerts about his latest columns by following That's Lauderdale on Twitter.

Labor Day is like Thanksgiving this year. It's a good time to be thankful for work.

I come from a long line of workers.

Mama, now virtually 83, just got a new iMac and has created a website.

As a little girl, she had a job to feed the chickens in her daddy's corner market after church on Sunday. Each Saturday, she delivered a fresh, dressed hen to a man down the street, and he gave her a dime.

Mama's daddy worked six days a week. He had no retirement plan, vacation or sick days. In his spare time, he dug out the basement to build an apartment that would help him pay the mortgage. They also took in "roomers."

Mama's mother worked in a department store in downtown Atlanta, where they taught her that the customer is always right. She also worked in the office of a Coca-Cola magnate. We recently came to the conclusion that Mama was one of the first latch-key kids.

In retirement, my grandparents bought the family farm and started a herd of black Angus cattle, and planted cotton and corn and a huge garden in the suffocating heat of Georgia's gnat belt. The only day they didn't work was Sunday. Even then they went to church and took fresh flowers from the yard and taught Sunday school and fixed a big lunch. No, they had no retirement.

My father's daddy was a preacher for 60 years in Rockbridge County, Va. When he got there as a young man, he had two churches miles apart and he walked back and forth between them. In his spare time, he married and buried thousands of people, and he visited every holler. They still say there were places in the county that only Brother Lauderdale and Doctor Brush ever visited.

My father said that the worst tongue-lashing he ever got from his father was when he wrote a column for his college newspaper about how to while away a summer afternoon. His father believed "there's not a moment to lose."

My father-in-law worked until he was almost 82. He worked 49 years with Milliken & Co. in Spartanburg. Roger Milliken worked his people hard as he built one of the world's leading textile and chemical companies. Milliken people were always on duty. The joke is there are two reasons cardiologists will always make it rich in Spartanburg: the Beacon Drive-In and Milliken.

My father-in-law taught me that when things seem to be going bad at work, you get up and go to work with a smile on your face. "Salute the flag," is how he put it.

When I asked to marry his daughter he said it was fine as long as the write-up in the newspaper listed my job and my address.

My wife's mother told her this about a job: "You can do anything for a year."

We were taught that you never quit a job unless you have another one.

None of this is to suggest that my generation has had it hard. Quite the contrary. I can listen to Carolinian Dorsey Dixon's recording of "Babies in the Mill" and appreciate that I really don't know a thing about harsh work.

My first jobs were mowing grass and doing yard work. Before that, I sold seeds door-to-door to win swell prizes like a genuine leather baseball mitt and a transistor radio, made in Japan. I sold Cokes at Georgia Tech football games. I bagged groceries. I had a huge paper route, with two little kids helping me. I had summer jobs building chairs for Days Inn rooms, and cheap kitchen cabinets for apartments. I worked in an engine rebuilding plant. I was a framer on construction sites. I pumped gas and stuffed envelopes. I worked for Bekins Van Lines on local moves, and I still get a nervous twitch when I see a piano. I had a Christmas job at a discount store. I took temp jobs working in warehouses. In college, I worked in the library and filled vending machines.

I taught school for two years, and my wife taught for 31 years, speaking of hard labor. Now she works part-time in retirement.

Sometimes our children will tell us how hard they're working. And we say good; it's good for you. You can do anything for a year.

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