LABOR OF LOVE, LOVE OF LABOR
I noticed a pattern when I was looking through the old family photos for Suzanne’s birthday post: in all the group shots of any combination of the kids, Gail is actively mothering one of us five younger ones. In the two below, she is helping me celebrate my first birthday.
Apparently I had a love of books even at age seven.
Gail is the second-oldest; the oldest daughter. After her, the rest of us arrived three, four, six, ten and thirteen years later. It fell upon her to help Mom mother however and whenever she could.
And help she did.
Mom used to tell the story of Gail waking up from a nap in the afternoon, bleary-eyed and still half asleep, walking by Mom changing the diaper of one of us, picking up the (cloth) diaper while still appearing to be mostly asleep, and depositing it in the diaper pail.
She was well trained. She knew what to do, even when she wasn’t fully awake.
Those years may have been the last ones that she ever got really good sleep.
I was not a teenage angel; I stayed out far too late many times. I, however, could blame it on the two brothers just above me: we had one vehicle to take into town—a five mile trip, and I had to carpool with them. So, if they were able to stay out later, then so could I. I don’t recall ever getting in trouble for getting home late.
Gail, however, did. I can’t expand here; it wouldn’t be fair. Suffice it to say she served her share of time grounded at home. She played hard.
She worked hard, too. She was responsible for so much of the day-to-day labor in our household. In general, the four boys were outside, and the girls were inside. Gail did both. Unlike Suzanne and me, she knows how to drive a tractor/combine/truck. While she was filling these outside roles, she also cooked meals, baked—doughnuts were her specialty, cleaned, did laundry, mothered and did whatever Mom needed her to do.
And she did it well. Without complaining. Day after day, year after year. Suzanne and I helped too, but not nearly at the caliber she did. Gail would be happy to tell you the story about when she was preparing to leave for college. I was twelve. Mom and Dad gently took me aside to firmly let me know that since Gail would be leaving soon, I would need to take on more responsibility.
I went to my (shared) room and cried.
Suzanne reproduced once, I reproduced twice and Gail x 4. After caring for all of us for all those years, she had it in her to have her own brood.
And she had it in her to keep working. Even in high school, she worked. She waited and cooked at the Pizza Hut 20 miles away. She would eventually go on to manage it; a fitting continuation of her humble food service beginnings at home. After moving further west with her second husband, she would turn that love of doughnut-making into a Daylight Donuts franchise.
After learning the hard way with all of us that life is indeed too short, she closed the donut doors six months after Mom and Dad died. Since then, she has served as the office manager for the lone chiropractor in her town. She took several years to catch up on sleep—she was typically up all night—and then she undertook a part time gig as a bartender/cook at a local establishment. She also has a successful side business with Pampered Chef. It would stand to reason that she would seek out a business that involves cooking/baking. She also continues to cook, bake, garden and can at home as well, she seems to have a non-stop whirling dervish quality about her. Oh, and she has a little artistic quality that she parlays into another endeavor she calls a hobby; it could be considered a business. That, along with Suzanne’s and my creative sides will be covered in the future; stay tuned.
This work ethic is deeply ingrained into her brain, likely never to leave.
Now, Suzanne and me, well, our productivity levels don’t quite match hers—alone or together. We all work to pay bills, but Suzanne and I could walk away from it all much easier than Gail could. We wish the work wasn’t a necessity, but it is. We sometimes wish we hadn’t had to learn the Midwest farmer’s daughter work ethic, but it has served us well.
Gail defines enough work as anything past the standard eight-hour workday. Suzanne and I define it as whatever it takes.
Suzanne works in banking; she has a sense of precision and accuracy with not only her own money, but everyone else’s. She is responsible for large amounts of money every day, and she handles it well. She handles transactions without handling money, and she physically touches large amounts of cash every day.
She works the standard 40-hour week.
My productivity and income is not measured by a clock. In several of my previous professional incarnations I did punch a clock, and I did normally log forty hours. Now, I don’t have a regular schedule. I have a loose one, and it can and usually does change. When duty calls with my contracts, I provide my services, and it works for me. My time measurement at work is fluid with actual delivery of my services, travels, time, paperwork, phone calls and infrequent meetings (ugh). Best of all, I actually get paid for some writing gigs that I contract on the side.
I have a love/hate/love relationship with my day job, and love always wins. I get to make a difference in people’s lives (hopefully), but the system and the sadness take their toll on me.
Unlike Gail, I really don’t want to work full-time; definitely not more. Some weeks I do work full time; once in a blue moon I think I actually work more than 40 hours/week. Ugh. When I consider working as much as Gail does, it still makes me want to go in my (private) room and cry.
I learned the hard way that while hard work is honorable and sometimes necessary to be responsible for ourselves and our families, it doesn’t necessarily make a woman whole. It may actually take pieces of her away, giving them to people, places and things that may not honor and respect the woman she is, or the woman she yearns to be. For too many women, however, there is no other choice, and my heart goes out to them.
The eight-hour workday was a product of the Industrial Revolution. Factories needed to run around the clock, and three daily eight hour shifts became the norm. While this was a good fit for this kind of work, much of today’s labor force doesn’t have to show up for eight hours to keep the wheels turning. It still works well for some folks. Others, like me, thrive in a work environment that doesn’t tick-tock. This is the information age, and for many, hours logged at work may not look the same as they once did. I learned this as a student of the most influential and brilliant professor of sociology, Rose Arnhold. As my instructor for Introduction to Sociology as an elective class in college in 1985, she inspired me to become a degreed sociologist. On the lucky and auspicious day of Friday, May 13th 1988, I walked across the stage, never to look at life the same again. She gave me new lenses with which I could see the world in its broadest social form, granting me a greater understanding of the human group, and why we act the way we do with and without each other.
One of the greatest compliments several people have paid me about my blog involve the word “insight.” I give credit to Rose for giving me the tools to look at things differently than I once did, differently than many people do.
At the spry age of 75, Rose just retired from that position. I happened to be driving through my alma mater town on the way here, and she was home. I stopped to see her, to let her know once again how much she inspired me, and how it has made all the difference.
Having no one else to snap it, we settled for a selfie. Noting that we are looking sideways, she aptly stated that as sociologists, we do look at things a little differently. Indeed we do, and I will forever be indebted to her for that ability.
She will soon be moving to Denver to join her daughter, her only child. She lost her husband of 53 years after a tragic fall late last year. She speaks the language of loss, but also of moving on. I offer her what solace I can from my experience, but I will never be able to repay her for what she gave me. Hopefully I will be able to visit her here in Colorado after she moves.
Happy Labor Day. As I write this the day before, I am sitting in beautiful Cripple Creek, Colorado, laboring only at what I love to do: write.
Labor Day became an official federal holiday in 1894 to honor the American labor force that contributed to the strength and prosperity of this country.
Seven years ago this weekend, Gail, Suzanne and I were here, beginning a Labor Day tradition that we hope will be timeless. Sadly, Suzanne did not get to join us—again. Gail and I came in March without her, and we are here again without her. She had a little thing called labor getting in her way.
The tradition started in March seven years ago, when we decided to celebrate the black square on the calendar and March Forth, instead of staying put on March Fourth and perhaps feeling more blue, as we had on the first anniversary. We wanted to honor our parents on the day they died with joy, not sadness.
While not world travelers, they liked to travel. One of their favorite destinations was Las Vegas. Not to gamble, but to watch people. Feeling that Cripple Creek was a more feasible destination than Vegas, and would indeed be a fitting tribute to their love of travel, we decided to come.
So we came.
And we had so much fun, we decided to come back exactly six months later on Labor Day weekend. Except for last year, when we couldn’t swing another major journey on the heels of our Florida trip that began this blog series, we haven’t missed a Labor Day weekend here. We haven’t missed a March Forth celebration since the first one either.
This town, Cripple Creek, is an historic gold-mining town, with some active mining still taking place. The mother lode was struck here in the late 1800s, rivaling the California Gold Rush. It is rich with history and heritage, and was a major national economic force in its heyday. I titled The Sister Lode as such from the inspiration I got from this town.
Now, its economy is revitalized not just with efforts to celebrate this heritage and history, but with gambling as well. I would be a liar if I said I don’t enjoy that part, I do. Gail does too. Suzanne, being the smartest of us three with money both professionally and personally, chooses to leave it mostly behind.
On Sunday morning as I write, both Gail and I are still waiting to strike the mother lode downtown. As always, we continue to strike the sister lode every day.
We have found our own niche in this town, with the most gracious, hospitable hosts providing us top-notch lodging in what once was the county hospital. Rick and Mike’s Hospitality House B&B/RV Park is our home when we are here, and they treat us with graciousness and kindness, likely more than we deserve.
Christine. We love Christine. I mentioned her in the Nevertheless, We Persisted entry on June 25th . She is the owner and proprietor of 9494, our favorite jewelry/gift shop. It is aptly named after the town’s altitude, and her jewels, baubles and especially her sweet personality give us an even greater Rocky Mountain High than before we step in her door.
Our favorite waitress, Kaitlin, works at our favorite restaurant, McGill’s Pint & Platter. Irish pub fare always hits the spot for us.
We partake not only of the heritage, gambling and shopping, but the natural beauty as well.
I like to run and walk, so I hoof it through town every morning, just as the small herd of donkeys do. They are descendants of the original mining donkeys, and they are treated with earned respect. They mostly roam free, as they should.
The casinos do back-flips to keep their patrons happy. The easiest way—besides giving away money—is to provide a free concert. Saturday night, Zac Charles and the Reds were giving it all they had at the Brass Ass. I was ready to hang it up at my usual 10 pm bedtime, but when we crossed the street and heard live music coming out the door, I found a renewed energy to stay up a bit later. Their country/rock music vibe spread through the place, with dancing and singing adding to the mix. They are a local band from Colorado Springs,but should be on the national circuit with their incredible talent.
We have friends along the way too. Just outside of Colorado Springs, lies Peyton, Colorado, home of the Pop-a-Top Saloon. Gail begged us to stop for the first few trips, but Suzanne and I denied her. Now, we don’t miss. The locals remember us, and the barmaids, even though we don’t always see the same ones, quickly become our friends, like Krystal:
Teddy sat next to us. We swapped life stories, and will hopefully cross paths again. If not here, then online.
After that stop, and after passing through Colorado Springs and all the small towns along the way, it was once again time to hear John Denver serenade us. This time, unlike last time, both of us packed our CDs. Gail’s, however, was empty. I checked mine before I left home. We popped him in the CD player, and sang along like no one else could hear us (because they couldn’t). I did check satellite radio before I put the CD in, just in case. No luck this time.
Apparently, however, our special forces Above aligned with satellite radio down here, and John Denver did indeed, once again, perform for us while we were in Cripple Creek. The Force was with us.
Tomorrow we will drive home. We will be greeted in eastern Colorado and western Kansas by the annual coming-out of the Kansas state flower. Labor Day always brings them out in full bloom, and they help me make peace with the end of summer, my favorite season.
My mother loved sunflowers, my mother-in-law loves sunflowers, and my son’s girlfriend loves them, too. Karlee loves them so much that she and Joel took the two-hour trip to Lawrence, Kansas, to visit a famous field.
Happy end of summer to you. Thank you for your labors that continue to contribute to America’s strength and prosperity.
Happy Labor Day to you. May your labors be labors of love.