way it's 'sposed to be

I would like to take this opportunity to say “Happy Labor Day” to those workers who produce the tsunami of goods swamping America’s retail establishments. I would like to do this, but, regrettably, I do not speak Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Hindu, Pakistani, or any other Asian dialect. (Levi’s are now made in Egypt, for pete’s sake. Pete is the American who lost his job.)

But, to be fair, due to the uptick in the economy, many more Americans have, thankfully, found employment; however, in most areas of the country, an Ivory-billed Woodpecker is easier to find than a good-paying job.

The Women's Auxiliary Typographical Union's Labor Day float (1909)
The Women’s Auxiliary Typographical Union’s Labor Day float (1909)

Americans are culturally disposed to work our tails off. We are the hardest working people on the face of the earth; dedicated to our jobs, even though the corporations treat us more like a nuisance, than an asset. We even buy toy tools for toddlers to play with, so they can get with the program early.

Most adults will never again know the absolute freedom and joy we experienced as children during the long, summer recess from school. After we start filling out job applications, the fun goes out the window.

For an American, work is life, and life is work. We identify ourselves by our jobs. Our labors can start at an early age and last late into our dotage, well into the time when our efforts are mostly in vain or seen as intrusive, and our remarks make little or no sense. (I.e., Dick Cheney.) The first job assignment I ever had was to empty the family slop jar each morning, before leaving for school. While this was an unpaid, largely ceremonial position, emptying the slop jar and leaving it to air out in the sun, greatly enhanced the tenor and civility of our, sometimes grating, domestic situation. Seeing that the slop jar was properly tended-to gave a sweeter rhyme to the humble poetry of our simple mill-village life.

I am sure there are younger readers who have no idea what a “slop jar” could possibly be. To them, I will say, “It is just as well that you do not know.”

The first paying job I ever had was after a drunken neighbor, who was barbecuing a goat in his back yard, hired me to count the moles on his head. I was about ten years old. This fellow and a buddy, who were drinking beer on his back steps, got into an argument over who had the most moles in his hair. Since I was the only objective bystander – and known for being good at math — they asked me to search their Vitalis-reeking scalps and take a mole census, which I did.

My neighbor won the contest with, as I recall, thirty-something strawberry-pink moles hidden in his black, greasy locks. His head was a virtual wart housing project.

For my assistance, the smug, happy winner gave me a dollar bill; a dollar that I took home and proudly displayed to my parents.

This windfall appalled my mother. She insisted I give the money back, and never to go into that fellow’s yard again, especially when he was drinking. (This would have been always.)

As I started out the door, my daddy pulled me aside and whispered for me to keep the money. He said a dollar was a dollar.

I did not appreciate just how sage his advice was until many years later. After I started living on Social Security, I realized that truer words were never spoken.

I got my first regular job at 14, when a grocery store hired me as a rookie bagboy during the Christmas holidays. I was at work the first day, for all of ten minutes, before I was summoned to perform above and beyond the call of duty. (After joining the work-force for eleven minutes, I realized that being an adult was not all it was cracked up to be.)

The store had quart glass jars of Sand Mountain Sorghum Syrup stacked in a giant pyramid in the center aisle. It was an accident waiting to happen, and the accident happened about nine minutes after I began my new career. A rambunctious little kid, who had jerked the shopping cart away from his mother, tore off down the aisle and crashed into the syrup display. It all came a-tumbling down.

There were maybe 100 glass Mason syrup jars in the pyramid, and 99 of them broke, leaving glistening shards of shattered glass floating on wide amber waves of syrupy, sticky goo.

After pushing a shovel and mop into my hands, the manager barked for me to get up the mess. When I desperately asked for instructions on how to clean up a disaster of that magnitude, he ordered me to get busy. Red-faced, he growled, “Figure out how to do it yourself! Next time you won’t have to ask!” Welcome to the working life.

Actually, this advice served me well in years to come. In the cotton mill, they often ordered us clean up somebody else’s mess, without offering a tiny clue as to how to proceed. Usually, they had no idea of how to proceed.

I spent nearly a half-century working in textiles. First I was a “mill-hand,” then an “employee” and, at the last, teetering at the edge of the eternal unemployment abyss, they labeled me an “associate.” Of these three, being an associate was by far the worst.

When a company starts referring to you as an “associate,” it is high time to head for the exit. Climb the fence if necessary. Things are about to get ugly and totally out of hand.

Let us be honest here — most people have to work, but few of them actually enjoy their jobs. Our lives would be a lot better if we did not have to interrupt our fun and go to work.

Once I asked my sainted grandmother why we had to squander so many of our precious hours on earth performing tasks we had rather not be doing. At the time, I was miffed because I had to cut the grass, bring in stove-wood,feed the chickens, go to school, things like that. Granny spit her Bruton, stopped snapping string beans and peered over her glasses, and replied, “That’s just the way it’s ‘sposed to be.”

According to some interpretations of Genesis, Man was evicted from a toil-free, non-laboring paradise in Eden and sent to the employment office after Eve sweet-talked Adam into eating that apple. Just a bite of the wrong fruit instantly snatched us out of a barefoot, butt-nekkid, sashaying around life into a world of dress-codes and mill whistles. Every time I give my wife grocery money — money earned by the sweat of my brow — and she comes home with a sack of apples, the supreme irony of it all overwhelms me.

It is truly beyond our feeble minds to grasp; even though that is the way it is ‘sposed to be. My wise, sweet granny told me so. And Granny never steered me wrong.


Click here to read Can You Hate Your Job And Still Love Labor Day? Part Two


  1. The first thing I learned about labor was I hated it…post hole diggers, esp

  2. I sure do love your writing and stories, Paw!
    My first job was at the Chick-fil-A in the Auburn mall when I turned 16. A man called me a racist and threw his change at me when I wouldn’t lower the price of an ice cream cone. Cause you know, I had that kind of authority.

    Your favorite grand-daughter-in-law,

    1. JL Strickland

      Pretty Lori —

      She sees it right, calls it right, says it right.

  3. Sure glad I’m retired. Now I have more time to work! Loved your story, JL. I just read it to Jody over breakfast and she said she’d shake your hand, but is worried that you haven’t properly washed it after emptying those slop jars. As a country girl, she knows what those are, too. cheers

    1. JL Strickland

      A few years back, I ran into a lady who collected slop jars. She called them “chamber pots.” Not sure she knew exactly their original purpose. She seemed very proud of them…

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