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A blue collar tale (part one)

Discussion in 'Testimonial Forum' started by Hope in God, Jun 23, 2019.

  1. Hope in God

    Hope in God Active Member

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    When I was a young boy, my father hung a black iron sign with white letters that read, “I used to cry when I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.” Those words were meant to keep us thankful for less while living in an underground, windowless block basement.

    My father’s initial intent was to complete the top portion, but his lack of funds and motivation kept us dwelling in a cellar, minus bathroom facilities, for seven years. Daily, Dad carried a five gallon bucket to the back yard where he dumped it into a deep pit. A piece of plywood covered the opening. He was then in his twenties and strongly disliked the demands of lower middle class living.

    Without knowledge of its importance to my mind, as I was only in grade school, the completion of our house was put on hold. What did I care? It was all I knew. And so, for seven years we lived without, among other things, walls to separate rooms. Years later, while reading books on the psychological impact of childhood settings, I realized those absent walls denied us the ability to understand and implement boundaries. Without boundaries, dysfunction sets in, for each person needs his/her own separate space and identity. Consequently, even in later years, no matter what was said or done by a family member, the actions were open for analysis and condemnation by the others. It was a hard lesson to learn, to allow for individuality.

    Despite our lack, in many ways, we appeared to live like the neighbors surrounding us in their fully built and furnished homes All of the fathers worked in one of a number of factories that coated the hills in that Pennsylvania county. They made pipes, glass, steel, and mixed chemicals for various sized companies. Their labors provided this nation’s building materials for a hundred years before such industrial tasks were sent overseas.

    Remember the beer garden in the movie “The Deer Hunter”? The entire county where we lived was much like Clairton, the location of that film. Dad was an ironworker/welder, and a stop at the club after work to sign the book and drink a few beers was a deeply held habit.

    A large portion of the fathers in our neighborhood helped to kick the butts of the Germans and Japanese during the Second World War. In the days I write about, over a decade had passed since the end of US involvement in Korea. Determined to keep that tradition alive, this country was gearing up to enter another entirely new conflict, Vietnam. Eventually, the sense of forever remaining Number One and unbeatable became a dubious notion. Still, these men knew they had once stood in harm’s way for their country and in honor of that they formed various fraternal organizations where they gathered daily to drink. At the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, AmVets, Sons of Italy, Polish Falcon Club, Moose and Elks they talked about the news of the day and occasionally reminded one another of the battlefields left behind.

    Fathers earned good union generated wages, bought homes – one near town and another in the mountains -- and viewed life through a kind of sarcastic ethnicity. Slavs, Poles, Italians, Germans, Hungarians, English, Irish, and other European descendents combined to make ninety-five percent of the county. Less than one percent of the population was black and towns were very segregated. Most of the blacks lived at the forward section of Freedom, where we passed through, always on alert and with suspicion. Conversations among the white men were like attending an Archie Bunker convention turned up a few notches. It was normal to not view all men alike, except for those occasional moments when war stories assured everyone that black men fought and bled the same as whites.

    Most of the men smoked, so bars in those days were often filled with the unmistakable smell of cigarettes. Wall colors turned a yellowish shade that no one seemed to notice. Still, all of us breathed it in, even young kids, whether at the club or at home. Dad smoked two packs of Pall Malls daily, while Mom, prior to her passing, smoked four packs of menthols every day. Their cost wasn’t a deterrent, as smokes cost a mere thirty-five cents a pack in the 60s. Emphysema took Dad’s life at 77. The same was true for many families. Oxygen tanks were a common sight for men in their 60s and 70s. Men like my Dad went quickest because they welded for a living. Smoke and fumes were a way of life for them.

    The fathers were a tough bunch, which they meant to show. The ones I knew were not able to express affection in words. I suppose it was to be taken for granted by kids that their fathers loved them. One day in my thirties, I finally pleaded for a reason why I never heard the words “I love you”. I knew I wasn’t alone on that account, but that wasn’t excuse enough. A quiet father who will not permit himself to look deeply inside, to express what he feels, still puzzles me today. For such men, to withhold affection is a sign of strength. How backward is that thinking?

    Dad’s reply was that he wanted me to grow up well able to hold my own against other men, to fight well and never lose. If my opponent was a bigger man than me, I was to take along a brick or a pipe. “Threaten their families if you have to,” he used to tell me. Keeping affection from me was his way of toughening me.
     
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  2. "ByGrace"

    "ByGrace" Well-Known Member

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    ...wow, interesting upbringing...colourful!! :)
     
  3. Hope in God

    Hope in God Active Member

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    _______
    Actually, there was little thought of ever gaining anything more life's least. I am grateful for the Lord's intervention.
     
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