By Nita Johnson
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
On this day, Labor Day, Americans celebrate the occasion in various ways. Whether it be a family cookout and/or camping trip, final vacation weekend, or just a day off work, Labor Day is touted as the last summer holiday each year.
Originated by machinist Matthew McGuire, secretary of the Central Labor Union in 1884, Oregon was the first state to actually adopt the day as a holiday in 1887. By the time the day was designated as a federal holiday in 1894, 30 states already set aside the holiday.
Labor Day began as a recognition of the labor unions but has become a day that the working people celebrate as a day off work, a reward for their efforts as citizens who contribute to the economy as the tax base that supports innumerable programs.
Once marked by parades and large celebrations, Labor Day has now evolved into a quiet day spent at home in preparation for the next coming work day.
But for me, Labor Day is more than just a day off work for many. It is a legacy of the strength and endurance of the people who settled this land. It is a recognition of hard work, determination and dedication, and the foundation of the country founded by our forefathers.
On this day, I will honor my ancestors who struggled through the wilderness to settle in the area. I will honor those hardworking men and women who knew no conveniences such as power tools and electronic devices, but who survived by the sweat of their brow and the fruits of their labor. I will honor those who raised their own food for their families and saved and scrimped to put food on the table and an unleaking roof over their heads.
I will remember the days of drawing water from a well, of lugging buckets of water to huge pot on a coal-heated stove to heat, then pouring the hot water into a wringer washing machine and into two large aluminum tubs for rinse water.
I will remember heaving heavy buckets of coal and blocks of wood through the snow and rain to have heat, and of shivering by the sooty black coal stove to wash off during the winter months.
I will cherish the memory of my grandmother donning her bonnet to work in the hot sun, hand hoeing the garden that gave us food. I will reminisce of the wood-burning cook stove that provided many meals to family and friends. Widowed with four children, all under the age of 10, she suffered from arthritis that settled in her left knee and stiffened it beyond ever bending again, yet she worked in her yard and garden, attended church whenever able, and helped her own children when they underwent surgeries and health problems. She did more physical labor with one bad leg than most people now do with two good arms and legs.
On this day, this Labor Day, I will honor the skilled workers who had little to no formal education but who used their talents and skills to build their own homes, repair their own tools, and took pride in their work.
I will honor those who toiled in factories and in fields of manual labor, those who started their own business, those who farmed garden crops and tobacco and whatever they could to provide for their families.
On this day, I will honor the women who, although not considered a part of the work force, who cared for multitudes of children, who cooked over the wood and coal stoves, washed in the wringer style washing machines, and made sure the children were fed and clothed. I will remember the days when teens were thrilled with one “store bought” dress a year rather than expecting a closet full of name brand items. I will remember when a person’s word and a handshake was more valuable than any document drawn up by a highly paid attorney.
On this day, I will pay homage to those who made this country what it is through a vision that wasn’t guided by a self-induced stupor from prescription drugs or driven by the quest for power, but from the guidance of God and the hope of a better future. I will honor those who have sacrificed their lives and their families to serve in the military, to protect us from known and unknown enemies who desire and resent the freedoms that made us what we are today.
On this day, this Labor Day, I will honor the work force from all angles for their contributions to this country and I will scorn those who abuse the benefits that the working people provide through government assistance programs. I will celebrate this Labor Day as a time to relish in the hard work ethics of my ancestors and I will hold that ethic as an inheritance passed on to my own descendants, for after my tax deductions that support so many unmotivated government assistance recipients, there is no chance of any other type of inheritance to my own family.