Monday, September 05, 2011

A Labor Day Remembrance…

Some of my fondest memories are of Saturdays spent with my father…rest his soul.

I’ve always been a morning person and my father was too. On Saturdays we’d be up before everyone else in the house…and I’d watch him make a list of the things he needed to do or purchase that day. Then we’d be off…just the two of us, going through our Saturday father/daughter routine.

My father was a marketing director for a major soda pop company. He traveled a lot…worked long hours…and it often felt like he wasn’t present during the week.  He made sure my sister and I understood why…that he had to work to be able to provide for our family and that we should not take our home or three meals a day for granted. My father often shared stories from his childhood…he grew up in poverty and his childhood was one filled with hunger and want.

I have a vivid memory of one Saturday in particular. It had been a tough week for our family…my older brother had experienced some real challenges with his behavior therapy at school and my mother had put in 16 hour days trying to help him get himself back on track. Dad had put in the same kind of hours at his job, so by the time Saturday rolled in neither one of them had been able to get to the market.

The fridge was empty save for a container of hot sauce and some pickles.

I was around 7 or 8 years old and I remember walking into the kitchen to wish my father a good morning…and seeing him standing in front of that empty fridge with a look on his face.

A look on his face and shoulders slumped as if the weight of the world rested on them.

He looked stricken…

Desperate?

Haunted and…

Was that fear?

He turned to me and smiled a lost little smile.

Yes, haunted…stricken…with a touch of desperate fear.

And my father said…softly, so softly I would have missed it if the house weren’t hushed in sleep.

“I guess we need to go to the grocery store, huh?”

I remember nodding but wanted more than anything to give him a hug and tell him that it would be okay because we would fill that fridge to bursting.

But I knew with a certainty that is rare in life that hunger was still my father’s demon even though his belly was no longer empty…that he wouldn’t shake that haunted feeling until he packed up that fridge.

For him, providing through his labor wasn’t defined by flashy new cars or trendy clothes – providing was as basic as food and shelter and the absence of that triggered something deep within his soul.

We got dressed and hit the grocery store with a vengeance…he insisted that we go through every aisle and I remember giggling in embarrassment as he ate a bunch of grapes he’d snagged early on.

Our groceries were bagged…we returned to our house and unloaded them…and I watched as the tension left my father degree by degree as each shelf in the fridge filled with food.

When we finished he returned to his pose in front of the open fridge door, a satisfied smile on his face.

Twas so basic and raw and human…it took my breath away.

Sigh.

I remember the lesson learned that Saturday morning of why we labor…

…and that far too many labor for a wage that will never truly provide.

Happy Labor Day.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I like your Dad, and I never even got to meet the gentleman. I'm betting he's proud of you, you're an awesome lady!

konagod said...

That brought back a memory of my grandfather who also was raised in extreme poverty. Late in life I guess he had saved up enough to be comfortable although he never showed it.

What he did do was hoard 5 pound bags of sugar because he was convinced prices would eventually skyrocket or there would be a sugar shortage. He kept a pantry stacked to the ceiling with bags of sugar, and later added another cheap metal cabinet in the kitchen with two long doors that would open out to reveal bags of sugar from top to bottom.

Hattie said...

Happy Labor Day!

Mark said...

Knowing that you're hungry and have nothing to satisfy the hunger is one of the worst feelings in the world, if not THE worst. Even now, when I fast for other reasons, as an aspiring monk, I still have to eat once a day... that hungry feeling is too terrible.

God Bless your dad. And God bless you, Pam. Your unrelenting activism inspires me every day. I mean that.

Mark in Madison

Wafi said...

Your activism is inpsiring.

There are entirely too many people out there working so hard, only to get a meager of what they deserve.

Colonel de Guerlass said...

Well, if you speak about extreme poverty:
last year, i a little province French town, beggars were deported toward thir native Eastern Europe country, and I was very surprised to see other beggars, one of them tought me a little gipsy. I thougt she was 15, and we were/may be will keep on being / on friendly terms. This year, she was arrested, complained of being hand cuffed, and decided to go back last week end for a while to her native country (the police did not deport her,has she had 15 years bones) with all the clothes (ca 3m3) she had gathered because people pitied her.
As it was an huge volume of clouthes, and the Orient Express was not accostumed to such an amount, I had the occasion to discuss with the man who leads the Orient Express (a pickup in a shaky state): the girl could not read, nor write, except for a simplified version of her name; she coyuld not coutn, either, which made thinks very complicated. He explained me that she was likely to be 18 years old, but, as she had been underfood when she was a child, the police radio made her 15 yrs old(and she therefore was not deported).