Welcome to the front porch
Sit yourself down on our front porch, 4022 North 18th, Tacoma, Washington, circa 1965. There’s always something to talk about on our front porch, and there’s always room on the stoop for you. Welcome! Can I get you a beer? A Double Cola? Lemonade?
Mom and Dad just left for work, so it’s just you and me, and if you don’t mind, I’d like to steer our conversation about that very topic, namely work.
The truth as I remember it
I watched my dad go to work for the better part of twenty years.
I never saw him call in sick.
Let that sink in for a moment. He worked full-time, day in, day out, all kinds of weather, all manner of distractions, for the twenty years I was his son, and he never once missed work for an illness or injury.
Lord God Almighty, how is that possible?
To add to that discussion, I don’t remember my mom missing work either, not during that same twenty-year span.
Two people, from 1948 to 1969, Dad working full-time, Mom working part-time and full-time, depending upon the year, and neither of them called in sick. In the spirit of total transparency, I can’t remember the number of times I have called in sick with hangovers or aches or pains or just “don’t-give-a-damnitis during any twenty-year period, and I like to think I’ve got a pretty good work ethic.
But never? No chance!
They were called the G.I. Generation, a couple years before The Silent Generation, and that collective group of people experienced some serious challenges. They were kids, or teens, during The Great Depression, and the deprivation during that span of time cannot be overstated. My dad literally dropped out of high school, as a sophomore, and rode in boxcars to distant towns looking for work so he could send money back home for his parents. My mom held down two part-time jobs, as a teen, to help her parents. They stood in bread lines. They saw their parents lose possessions. To my parents, a job was a sacred thing, and you did not devalue a sacred thing by calling in sick. You strapped on your big girl and big boy panties and you went to work, no matter how you felt, end of story.
And they then moved from that horrendous period of time to World War 2, Dad enlisting at eighteen, Mom working as a welder in the shipyards, death touching them both in lost relatives and lost friends, all before either of them reached the age of twenty-one, and the sacredness of daily labor remained, etched on their souls for all-time.
The American Dream
And the war ended, and all of those soldiers and welders were free to chase the elusive American Dream, and the only way to get ahead was to get a job, work hard, save money, and do it all over again, and again, and again, until, well, you finally, hopefully, had a front porch to sit on at the end of the day, bone-weary, mind-weary, and a cold drink and harsh memories to keep you company, the white picket fence bordering your tiny piece of a giant pie.
Into that family I was adopted, and I heard the stories, and I grew to value a job, my first job in a bowling alley at fifteen, making $1.50 an hour, all bowling free, and I thought I was King of the Hill, you know? And then a warehouse job during summer vacations, a Teamster job, ten bucks an hour and I thought I had it made in the shade, baby, money to burn and not a care in the world, and followed that up with a couple college degrees, the first in our family to do so, and multiple jobs, and a family, and my own little slice of my parents’ dream, day after day, year after year, until one day, I can’t give you a specific date, I woke up and wondered what the hell I was doing, chasing my own tail for what?
Fast-forward to today
It’s different today, don’t you think? Of course, of course, there are still hard-workers, people who value a job and do their damndest to be good workers, but there is also a boatload of people who don’t want to work, who play the system for freebies, and many who just don’t see the point of hard work at all.
Toss in those who, no matter how hard they try, never will find a good-paying job, and those who work multiple jobs and never will experience the American Dream, and have given up hope, and see no value in even trying any longer.
It would take a considerable amount of time to discuss the why’s of it all. How did we go from the G.I. Generation, and their work ethic, to today? How did we go from so many opportunities to so few? How did the quality job pool shrink so drastically for so many? Why did so many stop dreaming?
I have my suspicions, but those are for another day.
Is there any chance of reversing this social trend?
I don’t know, to be honest with you. The income gap is growing wider. That’s not some liberal theory. It’s a fact, Jack. The rich are getting richer, and trickle-down economics simply did not work. So I understand why some simply say “what’s the point?” I also understand the bitterness. When I graduated from college in 1970, there were opportunities for many of us. I had a good-paying job within two weeks of graduation, and by and large I’ve been paid well my entire work career. But I was put in that position, a position of possibilities, by hard-working parents who sacrificed so that I could go to college. I was put in that position by being born white and having that head start in the job race. I was not born into poverty. I was not born into a world of “no chance.”
And now we have this COVID-19 thing going on, and unemployment reaching twenty percent in some parts of the country, and the opportunities are few and far between for millions of people, and for many the American Dream is a pipe dream never to be realized.
So why try at all?
Words from long ago
These words flow through my veins, words from my Dad, and they will be with me until I die: you never give up! You never back down! You never give up ground won! For sure, they are “just words” to many who are beaten down and see no way back up, but to me they are a philosophy of life, and they saved my life thirteen years ago.
Are they valid for you? Are they valid for the tens of millions of people who are struggling and have no hope? I can’t answer that. It would be ridiculous of me to shout down from the mountaintop my words of salvation, and tell you all that those words, that message, are universal in nature. They are not!
But they were for me!
That’s what we do here
On the front porch, from yesterday to today, we talk about life, something we all have experienced. There are some truths which have stood the test of time, and it never hurts to talk about life, and truth, right?
Thanks so much for joining me. You’re welcome any old time. I’ll always have a cold one waiting for you.
2020 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping human beings to spread their wings and fly.”
H.O.W. (Humanity One World)