Hello, Manual Labor--Long Time, no See
to those who have never witnessed a pair of mules pulling logs from inside a thickly-wooded areas. This event was formerly named as "Mule Logging," and thanks to the huge timber corporations in our country, not many mule with logs anymore. But I can tell you the truth: I would wager (and win) that my good friend, Robert Ballard, fiddleman, would know all about Mule Logging. When I was a boy, I watched a man who lived near my family and he made a good living pulling logs for people who worked as loggers. The photos on this narrative are NOT those mules, but I did not want a bare narrative to be published. What would people think?
First of all
True Manual Labor, have you and I forgotten how to really work? From getting my first job, age 16, I worked—pumping gas, washing windshields, and checking air in customer’s car’s tires—I was in retrospect, a Texaco Star Man Resurrected. I thought then that I had really performed “work.”What I left out of my “work” definition was, in addition to pumping gas for customers and making sure their tires had sufficient air, water in the radiator, and other car-related things, inside of this small country store, I swept floors, dusted and put up stock and kept the general appearance of this store: Collins’ Country Corner, highway 43 north, Hamilton, Ala., in tip-top shape.
Tip-top. I hate that sound. Tip-top. Pure derision—makes me think that Tip Top was the name of a famous clown or does it sound more like a sleazy nightclub in the 1940s with a Jazz band, filthy flirting by cigarette-selling waitresses with a gang on their knees Shooting Crap in the back room, all the things that made (this) era so meaningful to our nation and to myself?
I loved everything about this era. Along with the other things like cigarette-selling waitresses, were those stylish, sleek automobiles that were longer than a city block. Men and women’s fashion were sharp, sleek, and sassy enough to stand down 12 drunken Marines on leave. Even women and men’s hairstyles were in tow with the fashions of that day—sleek, sharp-edged, and saucy enough to attract fruit flies. I have always wondered if I had not lived in the 1940s, but in someone else’s body.
Well, I ain’t going there and talk about Lee Majors or Rod Serling . . .but since I lead off with the topic of True Work, let me introduce you to Logging for a living. Logging. The trade is still active in my area of northwest Alabama—but with bigger and more complex machinery. No longer does a man cut the logs, a mule (probably named, “Cecil”) pulls the logs out of the woods, and that man manages to load those logs onto a wagon that that same mule, “Cecil,” has just pulled from the woods and that same man drives that wagon load of prime lumber to the nearest Sawmill. All by the grace of God and by sweating like “Cecil,” and sweating like a country creek. That, friends, is True Work.
Normal people writing Award-Winning essays would not mention animal names, “Cecil,” or items named like “creek,” which is a small body of water, and the term, “sweating,” which is more commonly called, “perspiration. Terms are like women’s and men’s fashions and hairstyles can change on a dime. But of course, you are familiar with the things that I have named and not showing you any shame in the process.
But . . .I am far from “normal,” and from this statement forward, you will agree with me.
I want to take this term, True Manual Labor, and break it down to One-Man Logging, because logging did not start as a job, but for men to have a roof over their heads when our country was an infant. A man and his family, husband, wife, three kids or more, bought a few acres of Pure, Raw, Wilderness mingled with Thorns, Briers, Poison Ivy and Oak, and every single square inch of this family’s land had to be cleared By Hand. All of it. There was no such animal as calling up a Land Clearing Company. For that matter, the telephone was just a distant dream. Things for the early settlers in the south were in dire straights.
Many times, the woman (chose) to stay at home to help with the kids if they were toddlers, and if they were older, they were expected to help the husband clear their 5 to 10 acres of land in order to have a house, acreage for crops to grow corn and cotton to sell, but in (this) case . . .I am talking about One-Man Logging. Sure, the term is not politically-correct. But it’s correct, and that is all I want.
This one guy arose each morning at 4:30 or 5 pm, ate his breakfast that his wife made, and the family all ate together. There is another American tradition that has taken a beating. But I am talking about One-Man Logging—that the man started clearing the timber to get the lumber from the trees to help his kids and wife build their home and if the kids were too small to help work, the wife pulled double-duty as a babysitter and help the husband “fall” the timber and cut the smaller limbs from the trees so the man could measure the lengths of logs so he could take it to the nearest sawmill (if one were near or even existed) and lumber was used to build this family’s home. Tough work? What do you think?
From daylight until almost dark, the family worked. By hand and every hour of the day—to just have something that they could hold in their hands. This was a deep evolving time of our country. But the people did not take time to complain, because who would listen to them? Many early families in America did not build homes in Housing Projects built by City Governments or even from Federal funds to make housing affordable for low income people.
The husband, if he worked alone, did take a few left-over biscuits with left-over meat (if available) and covered it up for his lunch and took a jar of water to sit down and drink for I have witnessed the time when I watched a friend of mine, an older man, cut Pulpwood, which is pure Pine lumber, that he cut from a Pine Forest, dragged it from the forest by a Mule, but he cut it with a chainsaw—and sweated as if he were facing death. He said while he was sitting down to take a short break, I just had a light heat stroke. And it was not until years later that we found out how serious a heat stroke can really be.
But my friend used both his hands to load the Pulpwood until he had enough for a load and this was in 1970, and he was so happy about being able to buy so many Pine trees from a landowner, that he would cut so many loads of Pulpwood and make himself a profit—but at what price? The very wear and tear on his natural body was taking its toll on him, but as he also said . . . “I have to work so I can eat.” Simplicity can be our best teacher most of the time.
The man, not my friend, who was clearing his land for his family, would work so many hours until mid-morning and if he chose to, he would sit down and eat one of those left-over biscuits and meat chased down by a cool drink of water in the jar that he brought from home. I can say with a certain assurance that this man who had left-over biscuits, meat and water in a jar felt as if her were “Uptown,” when he worked himself to death each hour of each day until his acreage was cleared and the timber shaped by hand of sawmill so he and his family could have a nice place to live.
So far, we have looked at the One-Man Logging topic and how it relates to True General Labor in the general sense, but what about the Humanity concerning this piece of fabric that was securely-sewn into the American Fabric of History?
If you were this guy with the left-over biscuits, meat, and water carried in a Mason Jar, you were tired when you arose at 4:30 or 5 am and you tired when you and your family ate your breakfast . . .tired walking, not driving, to where you were clearing the acreage you lived in hope that one would be a Paradise for you and your family.
No, your wife or children did not compliment you every morning or every evening, but they loved you with a love that no one can begin to understand, much less express. It was, I know, by the looks on your family’s faces and eyes, that told you, I love you, dad and (my husband). Words are sometimes unnecessary.
And . . .when you were using what tools you had to cut down the Wild Grapevine, Thorns, Briers and all sorts of Poison Oak and Ivy . . .you suffered deep cuts, scrapes, and even falls if you got entangled by the Wild Grapevine. There was also that ever-present reality of Poisonous Snakes—Rattlesnakes; Cottonmouth; Moccasins and short-tempered and poisonous Copperheads that if they bit you, you had to use your common sense in how to survive—even if it meant for you to inspect the bite and see if you were able to suck the poison out of the bite and take your time in walking to where your home-place was being cleared, and get the necessary things like Rubbing Alcohol, Mercurochrome, and home remedies that your family had handed down from several generations.
We cannot ignore the annoying and poisonous insects—Wasps; Honeybees; Yellow Jackets and Hornets that took a wallop if you were stung by one of these critters, but you had no choice to either think your work through and take the Alcohol and other home remedies with you to work and this way, you could eliminate the walk back for medical attention from your wife and kids. And during all of these “smaller enemies,” many is the time that sweat would pour from the forehead to the man’s head who was clearing his land—and he either stopped to dry his eyes, or just “tough it out.” So what’s the big deal with two red eyes?
Speaking of the kids, aside from your Manual Labor in clearing your newly-required land, the kids had those Childhood Diseases—Measles; Mumps; Chicken Pox and Whooping Cough. No such thing as a doctor’s office or hospital in these days, but there were men who had studied Medicine and did write down several home remedies that saved the day for when the kids were ailing.
Your clothes, after an hour or so, were sticking to your body from the sweat. And you wore the same clothing from one day to the next, because you had not yet found a suitable place to have for washing clothes which was to be done at a later time. Most menfolk started out with the clearing of what my older ancestors called New Ground and one of them told me in a word how it was to clear it for planting purposes, “Work.” I put the Hard, Manual, and Sweaty adjectives as a preface.
If you or I were my friend with no name, in 2017, there is a term now being used, “Life Choices,” and the choices can be Bad, Safe, Dangerous or even Fun, depending on the choice. But if you were the man clearing the land in this commentary . . .his only two “Choices,” was to keep going and work until he couldn’t work. Or the other “Choice,” just sit down, chew tobacco (if you had any), sleep, sing songs and eat your food and go home and how much work did you do? NONE!
I would go further with my last “Choice,” but I think that my personal commentary covered (as best I could) how it was for a man (or woman) to face. . .
True Manual Labor.
Maybe you and I remembered our Old Friend?
© 2018 Kenneth Avery