Today there are people sweating in the fields, in the mines, in the factories. Today there are other people clinking cocktails on yachts. Is today Labor Day? No, but every day, for many people, is labor day.
My father worked in a brick mill until long into his seventies. He stood on a concrete floor beside a lathe from seven in the morning and punched out only when the whistle blew at three in the afternoon. He carried the same dented steel lunchpail for decades, and his old thermos still bears his greasy fingerprints and still smells of sour coffee, cheap supermarket-brand coffee. My father had hands like shovels, thick calloused fingers, yet he sewed his own work aprons from denim woven by that very mill and mended his bib overalls with beeswaxed carpet thread. He was a union member and proud of it, because the workers in the cotton mill were exposed to dangerous conditions, and many eventually suffered from brown lung, and they left the factory doors with shreds of fibers decorating their hair and infiltrating their insides as well. A silent killer followed them home, but the union was never strong enough to do more than contribute to the funerals.
My father is gone now and the mill is nothing more than a massive pile of displaced bricks. The dam that powered the mill, the dam my father risked his life to repair on stormy nights when this or that piece of machinery had failed, that dam has been removed and salmon once again swim the river as they migrate upstream from the ocean, its waves warmed by the ghost of the nuclear plant that haunts the shoreline.
A white-collared businessman may have owned the mill, but it was my blue-collared father’s tools that ran it.
Causes Mara Buck Supports
Kennebec Valley Humane Society, Amnesty International