Labor Day always seems to signify the end of summer — the last hurrah before we bed down for the pending winter that looms ahead.
When Labor Day rolls around, I tend to reflect on the various odd jobs I’ve had in my life. For more than seven years I’ve worked here at the Troy Daily News. It is by far the most enjoyable career. Sure I have my bad days when I get ripped into by a local official or received hate mail from a reader — fairly tame occupational hazards compared to most careers beyond a desktop.
It’s hard to fathom the working conditions more than a century ago that led to the government’s recognition of a Labor Day holiday. Sweltering heat, unsafe machinery, back breaking labor with no end or means to leave. Labor Day was first approved by the state of Oregon in 1887. It wasn’t dubbed a national holiday until 1894 when Congress passed an act to reserve the first Monday in September as a legal holiday.
I like to look back on the other various jobs which led me to this gig that I truly enjoy 365 days a year — give or take the issues of the day.
My first “job” was of course helping on the farm. I lasted one day. The first time I was allowed to drive a tractor was when my dad and grandfather were baling straw. I was allowed to drive the tractor and they got the hard part of pulling bales and stacking them.
I had one set of instructions and was told to keep checking behind me to make sure the baler didn’t get jammed or if they were getting overwhelmed. I was nervous, but thrilled just to be driving anything at the age of 13.
My first “real” farm job lasted all but 30 minutes. I was fired.
It took 20 years before I was allowed back behind the wheel. And so the labor lesson I learned was to always pay attention to your surroundings.
My first “real” job, other than babysitting or mowing the yard, was when I was a senior in high school. I had just turned 18 and received my first speeding ticket. I didn’t tell my parents, but I was scared they would find out. Yet, I figured they couldn’t take my driving privileges away if I went out and got myself a job. So, the day I paid my ticket, I stopped by a local country-themed restaurant and filled out an application. I was given a short orientation, a brown apron and my first set of hours. Luckily it ended up being a fun job because many of my high school friends joined me so we could work together. We’d have cornbread battles at the end of a shift or host epic checker tournaments in between shifts when the dining room was slow.
While it was fun, it also was hot. I was on my feet for 10 hours at time. I learned that grits were gross. I also learned there were a lot of characters in the food service industry. While this was just a “fun summer job” for me, for many it was their way of living and I quickly learned to respect that. The labor lesson learned was I’ll always treat wait staff with a little more respect I learned during my time with the tray. I tip really well.
Probably the most satisfying, yet difficult, job I ever had was working in a steel factory for two summers when I was in college. I made union wages therefore I banked up my paychecks and made them last during the school year. I had to wear steel-toed boots, a hard hat, goggles, ear plugs, and Kevlar gloves. The thing I remember most was that there isn’t air conditioning in a factory. It was hot even during third shift hours of 10 p.m to 6 a.m. You quickly learn that there aren’t breaks unless the whistle blows. You always look busy, even if its holding a broom.
It was dangerous work with blades slicing through steel, cranes moving thousands of pounds of steel overhead. I would sometimes would find tiny shards of steel embedded in my arms. I would be covered in oils and grease. But it was at this job I gained an appreciation for those who clock in and out each day to earn a decent living. The labor lesson learned was that there’s a great deal to be said for a job you can just walk away from at the end of the day with a sense of accomplishment. I also learned the value of a job that you didn’t have to “bring work home” in terms of emotional baggage or the like.
So to all of you who clock in and clock out and make America a great place to live and work — whether you wear a badge, scrubs, boots, suits and ties — enjoy your day off.
You deserve it.
“Twin” Melanie Yingst appears weekly in the Troy Daily News. She thinks everyone should work in food service at least one day in their life.