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Sunday, October 16, 2016

BLUE COLLAR WONDERS

Dad
Growing up on Long Island in the late 1950's and 1960's, I found jobs on farms: weeding, supermarkets (3), loading chickens into crates and dumping them on flatbed trucks, and finally in a factory. In all that time I got a better education from those I worked with than from high school and college.

The people I met were part of the Earth, the very essence of hope while they struggled, despair while they laughed and suspicious of anyone who was educated and had any money.

Often a young college graduate would show up and take a position of authority, and the rumors would spread, he was firing everyone, where they would be all on the streets.

"No college young punk is going to tell me how to do my job!"

I used to laugh at them because I was going to college. They looked at me different because I was working with them, I was one of them. Although their suspicions ran wild, they were only repeating history, the history of the poor and socially abused. They didn't speak English well, accents and poor grammar were part of the whole package. They smoked, drank and swore, they cried and always complained. If you saw them in their homes, they would apologize, thinking their poorness was a shame to be had. Cigarettes were a luxury and their only real vice in their lives.

There were widowed mothers, young and old, fathers who had physical disabilities, yet worked through the pain daily to as they say: "to put food on the table and clothes on their backs" It seemed the more I knew them, worked with them, shared break time with them and listened to them the more I realized what wonderful people they really were. No one had the financial power or arrogance to leave a spouse or abandon a family, they worked for those privileges of family life.

Not being rich myself, but not living uncomfortable either; we worked and contributed to the household while paying for college, I felt the pain they had as a poor class. Many of their children would not only not go to college, but would not even finish high school, as a pattern was continued of not having the money to continue for a better life.

But there was something about them that was very special, two traits that made me love them even more. The loved their family and were very patriotic. They had their own special take of the government, the armed forces and the rich. They imagined and only could because they could only compare to their own poor lives.

There was this one guy named Ron. He was an ordinary clerk, had two children and gave it all for his kids. He wore clean, well-starched shirts with old pants and shoes, scuffed and dirty. My Dad was the foreman of the shipping department, and Dad made everyone family, whether they wanted to be adopted or not. But when someone was willing, they became very attached to Dad. Dad would help them fix their washing machine, or mending something in their home, or helping them to fix plumbing or electricity, just so they could save money, money they couldn't afford to spend.

Often Dad would recruit me to help with painting or installing electrical chandeliers in their ceilings for free, giving them tubes and fixing their TVs' and often buying them clothes for their children. Christmas was often a secret Santa in the form of Dad for a poor family with no money and children. Mom never stopped him and seemed to never object to his need to do these things. Dad was a good man, he made his mistakes but he atoned in so many ways.

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