Dreams of My Father and the Meaning of Labor Day

By Alden L. Benton

Labor Day.

The last holiday weekend of summer.

A time of slick and noisy sales campaigns, picnics, and travel.

But somehow, the real meaning of the holiday is obscured.

Labor Day is not about unions. Rather, it is about the common everyday American who works hard every day to bring home a check to support his or her family. It is these average Joes and Janes that built this country and continue to be its backbone.

My father was one of these unsung heroes.

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, my Dad was 18 years old in the depth of the Great Depression in 1933. Despite the scarcity of jobs, he always managed to find work, no matter how menial, to support himself and my mother. In 1937, my parents decided to take a chance and build a new life in California.

The industrial development of World War II and not yet begun, but my Dad found work at a brass and copper company. It was hard, back-breaking work, but he never complained, and never missed a day’s work

In 1945, my Dad was drafted into the Marine Corps. He was 30, married, and had one child, my brother. By the time he had finished training, the war had ended, but the Marines sent him to China to help establish order in a country devastated by nearly a decade of war, a country on the brink of a bloody civil war.

Upon his return, my Dad returned to his pre-Marine Corps job. In 1950, things changed again. After I was born, my parents decided to take two more risks to improve their lives, and the lives of their sons. My Dad quit his job and went to work as a driver for a new trucking company. At the same time, my Dad borrowed $100 from one of my uncles to make a down payment on a new tract home on the edge of the suburbs that were just beginning to spread out from downtown Los Angeles. The company survived and grew, and my Dad worked for them for the next 23 years. We lived in that little tract house until 1981.

During those years, my Dad never missed work unless he was injured, and that happened only twice. He came home every night, and on Friday, turned his paycheck over to my mother to manage. On most weekends he did yard work and then relaxed by barbequing just about anything that was edible. Come Monday morning, he was back behind the wheel of his truck.

During my summer vacations from school, we went on family vacations, what they used to call a busman’s holiday, because despite driving for a living my Dad loved to drive on the open road. We saw most of the western United States, stopping to read every historical marker, and visiting every museum or visitor center we encountered. We read every word, took thousands of pictures, and talked to dozens of people along the way on every trip.

At least two or three times every year, we packed up our car and went camping in Kings Canyon National Park. These were magical family times. My Dad worked hard setting up camp and teaching my brother and me what he knew, and shared with us the joy of discovery when we finally figured out how to do something we did not know before.

We hiked, we swam in the icy waters of the Kings River, and in the evening, we would always attend the fireside interpretive programs presented by the park rangers. We all sat attentively as the rangers spoke on the wonders of nature. On one evening, we all sat in silent awe as we watched a man-made satellite move across the night sky

These are more than fond recollections of my father and my childhood. They represent the true nature of labor in the United States, for it is men and women like my parents who not only worked hard to complete the jobs that our nation needed to grow and prosper, but they represent the labor of love and commitment of parents to raising children who are strong, honest, and willing workers, but also educated and respectful adults.

This has nothing to do with the job one does, or one’s level of education, but everything to do with character and instilling that character into one’s children. I can only hope that as my parents look down on me from heaven that they are pleased with what I have become and they, and their generation, are pleased with what America has become.

Their labor, and the labor of all Americans in making this country great, is the labor we should celebrate this Labor Day.
©2011 Alden L Benton/Independence Creek Enterprises


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