Ever since Eli Whitney stunned the world with his cotton gin, the American worker has been threatened by what others regard as progress — industrialization, modernization, computerization — despite the insidious message that people don’t matter quite as much anymore.
But people do matter, so this morning we recall some unforgettable workers who’ve been featured here over the years, such as Sarah Crooker, an independent trucker spotted as she was backing her 18-wheel Mack construction trailer into a tight South End work site.
“Oh, I get lots of second looks,” she said.
“I’ll see people watching, waiting for me to mess us up, and I’ll think, ‘OK, you want to watch? Watch this!’ I love to whip in, whip out, then smile at them as I leave.”
That’s how Richie Shufelt, an independent backhoe operator, said he felt at the controls of his John Deere 410G, a 16,000-pound rig capable of reaching 19 feet and lifting 6,000 pounds.
“I could butter toast with this thing,” he said. “It’s just a feel I have for my machine, like running it at the exact rpm needed for smoothness in the hydraulics. I can spot a space between two trees where there’s only an eighth of an inch to spare beside the tires and slip right through. But I’m not putting on a show; it’s just the joy of feeling everything’s going right.”
Longfellow wrote admiringly of that village smithy whose “brow was wet with honest sweat.” Remember?
Well, look around; you’ll see smithys all over town.
You might see a gifted auto mechanic named Gerard Armstrong.
“There’s a lot of satisfaction in this job, like seeing a family guy walk in, knowing he can’t afford to go out and replace his car. Getting it to run right without hitting him hard in the wallet makes you feel pretty good about what you do.”
If you look heavenward you might even see Mike Jerome, a skilled arborist, swinging from limb to limb.
“When I’m in a tree,” he said, “it’s the one part of my life where I can honestly say I’ve always known the right thing to do. There’s a real sense of accomplishment when you’re shaping and pruning an 80-by-40 copper beech and folks are watching you swing in your saddle, wondering, ‘How does he do that?’ ”
If you hang around workers like Mike long enough you’ll learn the darndest things: “Trees don’t die of old age; they die of mechanical disadvantage.” Did you know that?
So this one’s for Sarah, Richie, Gerard and Mike.
It’s for you secretaries, waitresses, teachers and clerks.
And it’s for those of you who till soil, wash dishes, solder joints, run cable, lay bricks, haul garbage, swing hammers or walk high beams.
You’re not told this often enough: You matter greatly and we salute you!
Happy Labor Day.
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