When I was a young ‘un, my family was kind of poor. Hell! We were poor. We had a roof over our heads, and food on the table. My mother sewed all my clothes and a lot of my father’s. She was very talented. But, the luxuries weren’t there and we lived a pretty spare life. ANYWAY… My dad was a steelworker. He worked in the open hearth, shoveled slag for a living. His face was always dark brown, burned that color by the mill’s heat. His hands were extremely calloused–he couldn’t make a tight fist because of the callouses. He worked a lot of overtime for us and we all suffered through a lot of strikes when the big piggy bosses decided they wanted the working slobs to work for nearly nothing.
Want a snack during strike times when there’s no money coming in? Saltine crackers and milk—not white, creamy milk from the carton–pale, watery powdered milk from a plastic pitcher. If there was some money left in Mother’s black beaded bag up in the closet, maybe some margarine on the crackers; the kind of margarine that came in a plastic bag with a little yellow food color capsule inside to make the pasty stuff look like butter. Please don’t misunderstand, I was happy to have it and I knew enough not to make my folks feel bad by complaining.
At some point in my childhood, the United Steel Workers Union joined up with the Teamsters Union and the strike time I remember best changed my life. With the Teamsters came a new kind of striking. NOW the union had food to pass out to the steelworkers and their families. We went to the union hall–all three of us–with smiles and flushed faces. There, some guys in nice clothes stood behind long tables—each table with a sign that said “Single Men,” or “Single Women”, or “Married, one child,” “Married, two children,” “Married, three children,” “Married, four or more children,.” On and around those tables were boxes with stacked bags of potatoes, onions, pinto beans, white beans, boxes of crackers, packages of spaghetti, blocks of butter, cans of pork and beans, cans of peas, cans of corn, cans of tomatoes, cans of carrots, jars of honey, bags of sugar and flour. There was oatmeal, bread, canned meat (Spam), canned tuna, peanut butter, grape jelly. But, miracle of miracles, there were long boxes of cheese. I know it was just plain ol’ American cheese, but it was CHEESE, a thing I loved and a thing that was not generally around during strike times. We took a few grocery boxes of food home. My mother cried happily while she put away the food. My dad smiled proudly. His union dues helped him take care of his family. We were ok.
Why am I remembering this? Tonight, I sit quietly inf front of my computer. My Brian is not hungry so no big dinner tonight. From a kitchen cupboard, I reach high and take down a box of saltine crackers. I open a package of inexpensive cheese. But, instead of milk from a plastic pitcher, a blessing waits to be opened. There, in my refrigerator is a bottle of champagne—a gift from someone who wanted to gift my Brian for a job well done. It’s wonderful–icy cold, stinging bubbles. Delicious! My sweet husband smiles proudly. He did good work. He was paid for it and given something extra in appreciation. His work has given us more than a meal. It’s given us a luxury.
Funny how all things come around, come together somehow, meet and dance together in memory…funny and magical.
God bless the working man/woman and those who know how to say “Thank you” to him/her.