I have seen the work of men and women, observed it as a child and taken its lessons to heart. I earned my first money suckering tobacco in a neighbor’s field. For two hours’ work in ’62 I was paid fifty cents. For my daily work milking cows, helping with hay and all the other crops we raised, I was fed, clothed, sheltered and schooled.
I saw hired hands sweat in the sun, eat at our table, help with the harvests. I saw my mother and sisters work hours in the garden and kitchen as they picked, cleaned, prepped and canned. They drove trucks and tractors, helped out in the barn and fields.
I saw neighbors in the hard work of farming, worked alongside old men and boys, sweated, blistered, callused. A few were overcome by sun and fatigue. Some fainted and fell to the ground; others had to be helped down from the wagon. Even though we sometimes worked with tools honed to a sinister edge, I never saw anyone injured to the point of needing medical help. Nonetheless, I did know one man who nearly lost a hand to a corn picker and another who did lose an arm to one. That didn’t keep them from continuing their lives of labor on the farm.
Like them, I’ve stacked hay in barns so hot that three minutes in would have me drenched with sweat. I’ve taken an axe and chopped through pond ice so cattle could drink and I have milked with numb feet and aching hands. I’ve worked for gentle men and harsh women. I’ve worked for the wealthy and for the weak. I’ve worked for some who were generous and some who were stingy. I’ve worked for the compassionate and for the indifferent.
I’ve known work, hard work, since I was a kid. When I was five years old, like my brothers before me, I woke in the dark and dressed for work in the milk barn. I fed cows and calves, hogs and pigs, carrying buckets I could barely lift. It was the way of life, as natural to us as breath and motion. It was expected, demanded, common to our culture and core to our existence.
In these sixty years of knowing work, I’ve seen a few shirkers and a lot of hard workers. I’ve seen people take pride in simple tasks, in doing them well. I’ve seen many who asked for nothing other than to be treated fairly and with simple dignity. They sought no attention, no recognition other than an acknowledgement that they had done their jobs. As long as they were paid fairly and treated decently, they would do whatever it took to get the job done. In fact, often in spite of being paid poorly and without decent treatment they got their work done.
It is to people like this that we owe our existence as we know it.
The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the tools we use, the vehicles we drive, the homes in which we live, the schools where our children learn, the churches in which we worship, our highways and backroads, our stores and shops. We drink clean water, enjoy the conveniences of air conditioning and indoor plumbing, and every other aspect of our lives because of the simple fact that people do their jobs.
We should give thanks for them every day of our incredibly blessed lives.