Appreciating the worker

Labor Day reminds me of the year I turned 15. My job in a drug store in our neighborhood required me to work on Sundays, a major deal in our church-going Methodist family. Everyone else in our house was dressing in their best clothes to attend Sunday School and worship, I was reporting for duty at the drug store and a busy Sunday. When morning masses ended at the Catholic church a block away, crowds streamed down the street, heading for our soda fountain.

Through the years since, my employment responsibilities, ranging from funeral home to newspapers, required me to work on days when most others had the day off  — Saturdays and Sundays, certainly, and Thanksgiving, even Christmas, both Day and Eve. It always felt strange to be working on days that others were celebrating as holidays.

Certain services can’t pause to celebrate a holiday. We depend on them — police, firefighters, medical personnel, those who provide us with electricity and water, and yes, those who work in funeral homes and those who report the news. They report for work today so we don’t have to.

Responding to pressure from a growing labor movement, President Grover Cleveland signed the bill creating Labor Day as a national holiday in 1894. The day honors the achievements and contributions of workers at all levels in America.

We tend to think of the holiday as the unofficial end of summer, one last weekend of summerlike play. These activities invariably take place somewhere other than at home, thus our highways turn into dangerous parking lots and airports become crammed with cranky travelers.

Today’s holiday reminds me of my friend Darrell, who worked with me in The Miami Herald’s Broward County bureau. Darrell, a rumpled veteran reporter and photographer with the messiest desk in the newsroom, was a superb journalist who could dig out the truth of any story. He wrote gorgeously, like a poet.

I was running the assigning desk on a particular Labor Day and handed Darrell a feature photo from a wire service depicting a muscular, bare-chested laborer swinging a heavy sledgehammer. I asked him to write a cutline for this picture as an illustration for Labor Day. A few minutes later, he handed me a beautifully written feature article instead.

Today I celebrate Darrell and everyone who must labor when the rest of us have the day off. Appreciate them. They make our lives better and our holiday beautiful.

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