Labor Day or Enable Day? As I get older and the pages of the calendar turn faster than I can stand up with sore knees, I often find myself thinking once in a while. It’s kind of a curmudgeonly comparison, the multitude of issues facing our society today compared to the great days of yesteryear.
And we all know it was better back then, right?
Bluebirds sang and rainbows dotted the sky as Mom prepared a breakfast of French toast and bacon. Calories didn’t count and cholesterol was a foreign word spoken only by doctors.
How could homemade cookies and gravy, half a dozen fried eggs, and a spatula full of easy, greasy, nice hash browns be bad for you?
Maybe calories didn’t count because we worked, played, and exercised — though we might not have labeled it as such.
Pulling weeds from the garden was not a punishment but a daily chore that was the norm. The same with sweeping floors and porches, mowing grass, and washing dishes by hand in the sink (No dishwasher? Oh the torture!).
Life back then was a hodgepodge of movement and face-to-face interaction. We didn’t need Facebook to connect, or Twitter and Instagram to see what was happening in the lives of friends and family.
Decades ago, we talked — over breakfast tables, through fences, and while waiting in lines at the grocery store.
I thought about this recently while waiting to pay at a local store late one night after work. The man behind me seemed vague. He was hovering at the gum and mint shelf with a 12-pack of beers and a shadow at 5 o’clock that said 10 p.m.
His face looked familiar.
Was he on our list of mandates?
I refused to make eye contact, while carefully checking his demeanor and character. Soon I realized that my daily consumption of crime and mayhem had made me a bit paranoid.
On closer inspection, the man simply looked tired at the end of a long work week and needed a Budweiser to celebrate the start of the weekend.
We played hopscotch with a rock.
I write this with a sense of amazement while dwelling on the present moment.
The sidewalk squares were drawn in white chalk often borrowed from the metal rack under a blackboard in the classroom.
Cell phones didn’t exist, and the only video game available featured two vertical lines and a simulated bouncing ball. His name was “Pong”.
Despite our fascination with the game, our time was limited. Plates and bowls accumulated water stains in the drainer. It was time to grab the towel and dry it.
Work has always been a four letter word. But, decades ago, it wasn’t dirty.
“An honest day’s work for an honest salary.” It was my grandfather’s signature statement.
He worked on his knees in the coal mines when unionization was an ideal but frightening goal. Still, he and others held on when it wasn’t easy.
His brother, my great-uncle Ken, got in “trouble” early on when Mercer County strikers marched on the train tracks in protest.
Softly spoken family lore tells me that blue-eyed Ken – known only in photos of younger generations – was offered two options by the judge: jail or war.
Ken chose the second.
He enlisted in the army and fought as a tail gunner in World War II.
Ken died when his plane was shot down, but letters remain detailing his fear as he flew over the White Cliffs of Dover.
I no longer play hopscotch or pong, but I still dry the dishes when the need arises.
And, I often wonder what has happened to the work ethic in our society.
The Grocery Line is an eye-opening place, where food and culture share secrets in a metal cart and card reader.
I do my best not to judge – my mother raised me better than that – but sometimes it’s hard.
I know the faces and the background. I recognize names on the list of mandates and I know many of those who do not have paid employment.
I see children and wonder – and worry – about the example set for them.
I see my tax money being hijacked by those who choose not to work, finding it easier to live off the vast array of government entitlements.
I am happy and eager to lend a helping hand to those in need, but when does that become alms?
Are we rewarding laziness instead of challenging others to get the desire for the 9 to 5?
I will celebrate this weekend by keeping an eye on my family’s past, its honor and its desire for a life filled with work.
Yet all the while, I will wonder about the red letter day on our calendar which also commemorates those who do not toil.
Labor Day or Enable Day?
Samantha Perry is the editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at [email protected] Follow her @BDTPerry.