My first job was working in my uncle’s small grocery store in 1976.
I would arrive on foot in the
afternoon, having walked the
quarter mile from the elementary school to the small store situated on the main drag of Cohutta, Ga., which meant I was right smack in the middle of “not a whole lot going on.”
Cohutta, a town of about 500, sits on the north end of Whitfield County, just about two miles from the Tennessee line. As you might imagine, it wasn’t exactly a hub of economic activity.
Jobs were scarce, especially if you were a 13-year-old boy whose main mode of transportation relied heavily on shoe leather, or rather Converse All-Stars.
On Saturday mornings, my uncle would pick me up early and we would drive to Chattanooga to stock up for the week. I ran the register, bagged groceries and stocked shelves while my uncle tended the meat counter in the back. I also helped myself to my fair share of candy, Cokes and “true crime” magazines when things got slow. It was wonderful.
I don’t remember what I was paid, although I’m sure it wasn’t much, but the benefits of being employed went far beyond my meager hourly wage.
I quickly learned how to make change and the particular buying habits of my uncle’s regular customers, especially when it came to tobacco products.
Before long I knew exactly who preferred Tops snuff over Bruton, and who would ask for a plug of Cannonball chewing tobacco or who would expect King B twist and nothing else. Most of all, I learned what it meant to have a job and the great freedom and responsibility that comes with working.
My uncle didn’t stay in the grocery business very long and I moved on to other employment. Over the years, I’ve cleaned countless bathrooms, swept miles of floor and loaded tons of freight. I’ve worked in carpet warehouses, on movie sets and at golf courses. I’ve pumped gas, tended bar and bussed tables.
My’s life’s work so far has been a lot of work.
I’ve been a witness to the kind of toil people in this country do every day. I’ve shed a lot of sweat and a fair amount of blood on the job. I know what it means to be a laborer.
I might be sitting behind a desk today, but I know there is no job that is beneath me. All work is honorable. I’ve been working all my life, and I have no plan to ever stop.
But I will take a day off every now and then. I hope you will, too. Enjoy your Labor Day.