My mama was a weaver most of her adult life. She ran a "stand of looms" on the first shift in the Osprey Mill, and I never knew her to "lay out" or call in sick. Never. Not once. She probably missed a day or two when her mother passed away, but that was it. She was proud of her job and didn't intend to give anyone an excuse to take it away from her.
When I was a child I often wondered why she seemed to put so much stock in her job. Quite frankly, it wasn't much of one, as far as I could tell. She had to be on her feet all day, stretching and reaching across the looms. She didn't even get to eat lunch and was lucky if she got a 10-minute break to go to the "dope house" and buy a Coca-Cola and pack of crackers. When she left the mill she often had cotton lint stuck in her hair and at least once a week was asked to "work a double," which was a 16-hour shift - and all of this for about $3 an hour - plus "production," which was a small bonus for keeping your looms running throughout the shift.
It took me a long time to learn that she treasured her job so much because it was a job. My mother was a child of the Great Depression, you see - a period when a job was really hard to come by. Having not lived through those times myself, I could never understand how much a job could mean to a person or a family. I just took it for granted, most of my life, that there would always be a job around for anybody who really wanted one, and I also assumed that anybody who didn't have a job was just lazy or sorry or didn't want one. That's not true, of course, but that's what I thought for a long, long time.
You know, John Wooden was right. Sometimes the most important lessons are the ones we learn after we already know it all.
Trust me on this one, y'all. I now understand the importance of having a job. I also understand the tragedy of not having one - and I really, really get that there are an awful lot of folks out there who want desperately to work, but can't.
My mother's job disappeared in the '70s. Cheap labor and favorable corporate tax rates abroad, compounded by the popularity of a confounded fabric called polyester, all but did in the American textile industry. Luckily she found work in long filament synthetics at a large new plant in Covington. (She helped them make Herculon, in other words) and was able to continue to work until it was time to draw her tiny pension and her Social Security.
Well, times have changed and there are precious few manufacturing jobs in our country today. In fact, I think a television studio should create a new reality show. They should make a family of four survive for a month while only buying items that are made in the USA. I don't know where they would get a camera to film the show or how the family would watch television themselves, but it's still an interesting concept.
With manufacturing jobs gone, for the most part, to other nations, and many technology jobs being outsourced to India and Pakistan and other places whose natives' English I cannot understand, the vast majority of jobs in this country are dependent on construction - be it infrastructure, commercial or residential - and providing services, and all of the above are being hard hit by the current economic downturn.
Some folks like to compare the current crisis to the Great Depression that my mother lived through - hard times she always called it. I have studied history and heard hundreds of my parents' generation talk about those days, and we aren't anywhere close yet. Unemployment hovered around 25 percent across most of the nation in the early '30s and reached 45 and 55 percent in some Northern cities. The current rate of 8 percent doesn't look quite so bad in contrast.
It doesn't look so bad unless you are one of the 8 percent.
It's not somebody else's recession anymore, is it? I am sure that even if we haven't lost our own jobs we know people who have; friends and friends of friends - or maybe even our own co-workers; people who are able, willing and eager to have a job. People who have worked for a living all their lives. People who are good at what they do. People who would take just about any job doing just about anything for just about any salary.
These are the times my mother understood, and these are the times she feared would return, and now I understand why she was so proud of that stand of looms she had the privilege of slaving over every day for so many years.
It may not be hard times, but it ain't soft times either, and whatever times we are in, I hope they are over soon.
Darrell Huckaby is a local author and educator. He can be reached at dHuck08@bellsouth.net.