I'm Grateful for Their Labor

Photo: An old found photo of my maternal grandmother has found a place of my desk along with my other talismans of inspiration. At first, I didn’t like having her stare at me as I looked at twitter instead of writing. Now I can’t imagine a better place for her (and, yeah, when I’m not working, I know she’s judging me.) I’m very privileged in that I was able to have my great-grandmother until I was in college. She watched me grow up. I got to hear her stories. I can still hear her voice, feel her wet kiss on my cheek, taste the apple sauce she made every year. Hers is a love that will always stay with me and mine is a gratitude that will live eternal.


My paternal grandparents were teachers in Washington D.C., raising four kids in Anacostia on two paychecks that were just enough to make it all work. They were both college educated, both passionate about their work, and I don’t actually know if they were part of the teacher’s union during that time, but I know that their labors of love not only made life possible for my aunts, uncle and father, but also elevated the many students they happened to teach.

My maternal grandmother worked as an aid in segregated elementary school classrooms, and I know she wasn’t union. My maternal grandfather worked in kitchens, in the community, at a federal science lab in Maryland… he wasn’t union either. There were many reasons why.

I’ve written before about my great-grandmother, who rose every morning to walk to the White side of my hometown to clean a white family’s house, cook their meals, and watch their children. My great-grandfather cooked in the School for the Blind kitchens and, when school was out for the summer, would get up before dawn to go build Fort Detrick when it was under construction.

These are my people. They worked hard because they had to but, along the way, there was passion and purpose and pride in what they did. My great-grandmother, to this day, is famous for the pies she baked, the rabbit she used to roast… my grandmothers, both, still receive letters and visits from their former students. My paternal grandfather has his name on a pew at Hampton University. There are plaques and pictures of my maternal grandfather in the Black Elks in Maryland, not to mention all sorts of memories and stories along the way. And when I drive past Fort Detrick when I go home, or hear someone tell some tall tale about the place, I think about the great-grandfather I never met and wonder what his hands built beyond the tall fences.

My great-grandmother was known to say, “I work with my back so that my grandchildren will get to work with their brains.” Her dream came true for her grandchildren and her great-granddaughters also. I’m so grateful.

We are a family because of their labor. Their communities are strong because of their and the collective labors of so many others. We are a nation because of the backs, hands, legs, arms, pride, passion and purpose of so many people, young and old, past and present, who labor.

I honor and celebrate all who give their bodies as well as their hearts to their work. If you, Dear Reader, are a person who labors for a living, you have my thanks and I honor you today. Thank you.

Enjoy your last day of summer, Dear Reader, but I hope you do so with a thought for all of those folk who you see throughout your day: from the construction workers you pass on the road to the person at the check-out register, even the person who pours your daily coffee in the shop. I hope you say thank you more often than not. If you don’t, I hope you start.

See you Wednesday.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. zeudytigre says:

    My people worked in the shipyard and factories of Belfast. They left school the day they could to get a job because the family needed their income. Of my mother’s eight siblings, her son was the first child to go up to a university. Several of us followed but he made it seem possible. I too am proud of my hard working forbears.

    1. K.C. Wise says:

      You know, I really hope that one of us crosses the pond some day so that we have a chance to meet. I would really love to sit at a table with your and share stories.

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