Blue Collar

I miss chalkboards. After teaching a class, it was always rewarding to look down and see my pants covered in chalk. I could open up my hands and see the thick calloused hands of the men and women of my family. My hands are not thick. My hands are not calloused. However, when we had chalkboards, they could at least be dirty. And, at the end of the day, I could reassure myself that I did work today.  I had earned my keep. I had provided for my family. I was whole.

Those hands represent the hands of my mother cleaning the Burger King fryer at 3 am in morning. Those hands represent my Grandfather driving a rig for Roadway. The men and women of my family worked with their hands. They cleaned other people’s homes. They worked behind machines day in and day out.  We are a blue collar family.

Growing up, each time one of those hands gave me a hug, touched my cheek, or patted me on the head history was shared.  The ridges, contours, and strength of their hands told stories. Whenever my small hand was placed inside one of their larger hands, a work ethic – a set of expectations – was passed onto me.

You always show up. You are always on time. You put your head down and get to work. You always do more than what is expected.

That work ethic carried me through all of my jobs growing up: mopping floors and cleaning bathrooms at Kroger’s, changing oil and refilling fluids at Jiffy Lube, digging trenches and running cable, and taking care of the lawns of wealthy people in planned communities. If the blower failed to remove a single blade of grass off the sidewalk, I had to get back out of the truck to remove it by hand. I had no choice. Otherwise, my Grandfather would appear and just stare at me.

Chalkboards made me feel connected to my heritage. They anchored me in my community.

Today, I missed my first day of teaching ever. I have been teaching for ten years. The head cold was too much.  My head is pounding and all I can think about is my Grandfather, Ohio, and how much I miss chalk boards.

A few post scripts:

My Grandfather was also in the Navy. Indeed, almost all the men in my family were in the military. So, not only did I inherit their work ethic, I also inherited their “colorful” language.  And, just like I have no choice other than to pick up the one remaining blade of grass, I also have no choice other than to use “colorful” language.

This song was playing in my head as I wrote: Alabama’s 40 Hour Week (not sure if the dancing dudes fit but still a great song)

I wanted to say thanks to Laura Dick. Laura is one of my students who will be stepping in to teach Molinero’s “Origins of the State” in my Economic Development class today.


If you enjoyed this blog, you may enjoy my This is the Work newsletter.

Thanks. – shawn