I was on the phone with my BFF, from Alliance, Nebraska, talking about conversations with aging parents. She said she loved the stories her mom told her about her father. Lorie’s mom is 97, and her father would be 120 if he were he alive today.
“Tell me one,” I said.
“My mom told me that her dad, who had come over from Lebanon to Nebraska, was a laborer and so proud to have found his way to America. Every Labor Day, he bought a new pair of overalls and proudly marched in the parade down Main Street. He was proud to have found gainful employment in this opportunity-filled country.”
I was silent. The mental image brought me to my knees.
There was a time in America when being a laborer was a proud profession, when it wasn’t about the compensation package as much as the pride in ownership of doing your job well. And compensation for a laborer meant opportunity for your children, weekends with your family, and enough money to live a decent life and enjoy a lovely retirement. You could go to the doctor; you had insurance that would cover it. You could have the local paper delivered, participate in community activities, and put something in the collection box at church.
Where did we go wrong? Was it when Reagan all but removed the restrictions on corporations so they could send the middle class packing and hire people to whom they had no real commitment? Was it when many people became so rich that they could buy the politicians and ensure the votes in Congress had nothing to do with growing a country of fabulous Americans, and everything to do with donor enrichment?
I’m going to think about my BFF’s grandfather marching down Alliance’s Main Street often, and recognize that the damage done in the last years can … and must … be reversed. I love my country and the bones from which it was made.