Monday, September 3rd, 2018
Blue Collar Kid
I am a blue-collar kid from a family of workers.My dad never wore a suit to work. He wore “work clothes”—dark brown pants and shirt, always clean and pressed. He worked three shifts—days, nights and four- to -twelve. After retirement, he still slept according to the rhythm of those shifts. He carried his lunch and coffee with him each day.
We lived in a house with and alley and he would go out the back door and down the sidewalk to the car. His walk to or from the car was always the same. It was matter of fact. He was an oil stillman. As he said, “my job is boring until a tank blows up”. And one day more than one tank did. He was at home and ashamed not to be killed with his buddies. Slumped and sad, he wept all day smoking his Lucky Strikes.
My dad was pro-union and a member. He hated mistreatment or unfairness. I would hear him talk to my mom. He was asked many times to become a supervisor but would not, could not separate from his buddies. One year he took me to the annual Christmas party and I left loaded with more gifts I’d ever been given at one time. My dad was treated like a celebrity. He knew everyone. His nickname was Bud. (Probably because his first name was Withington.) I remember one group of his buddies laughing about how big a raise they could have had based on the cost of the party. It was good-natured cynicism.
My dad hated mistreatment or unfairness and so he grew to be decidedly anti-union as he saw the corruption in them and their betrayal of labor. He died a Republican with a nice investment portfolio. He believed in honest, hard work. And he thought capitalism was the best economic system, although at one point, I believe he was a card carrying communist. Not sure
My dad was refined (I smile because he worked in a refinery!!) His prized possessions were a collection of The Harvard Classics and box set of Famous Classical Music. We ate in the kitchen except for Sunday (depending on his shift schedule). He would be still dressed from church, white shirt with cuff links, tie thrown over his shoulder and he carved the roast or chicken at the table. He watched the first Julia Childs TV show on publication television and was a good cook when my mom let him into the kitchen. A too strong curry and a raisin pie were his worst experiments that we teased him about forever. His chocolate eclairs were famous and his pizza, homemade crust and all. He brought home our first ever avocado we ate it while it was hard as a rock. Who knew that is needed to be soft?
My dad labored to give me a college education. He called me when I was a new mom and said, “Your mom and I are coming to see you so you can take us out to dinner. I just paid off your college debt.” He made 4000 dollars more a year than my college annual cost. I never heard a complaint or grudge. He loved visiting me at college (DePauw University) in Indiana and made life- long friends with the retired CEO of a large oil company at one Dad’s Day. My dad was literally on strike at the time they met. They talked and talked and talked in a corner while his daughter and I were irritated that they weren’t going to the football game with us!
Every prom dress of special outfit I had came from my dad putting a good suggestion in the suggestion box and getting a bonus or from trading shifts and from working on holidays. He took me to buy my wedding dress.My dad labored with endurance and optimism that his work mattered to his goal of a college education for me and my brother. He labored with pride. He was never late and never called in sick.
I thank all of you (and those of us who might labor differently). And I wish for us all: respect for laboring, a livable wage, recognition and use of talent, and the knowledge that your work is worthy and matters. I’m proud to be a blue collar kid.