Monday, September 3, 2012

Working for a Living: A long tradition of labor

When I was a little girl and we would go to Memphis to see my grandparents, I couldn't help but notice a heavy, metal doorstop in my paternal grandmother's home.    It was shaped like a sailing ship, painted bright gold.  The story I was always told about it was that it was made by my grandfather because his occupation was iron molder.    

I never knew my paternal grandfather, William M. Treadway,  and just heard stories about "Pop" from my own father and Uncle Bill about their dad.   He was a hard drinking, hard working man from all the accounts I ever heard.    One of the more memorable stories my Grandmother told me was that when she was only 15 years old, Pop and one of his working buddies passed by her house, saw her sitting on the front porch  and declared then and there that he was going to marry her some day.    Never mind the fact that they had never even met formally.    And yes, they did marry---eloped a short time after that.   
Lura Grey Treadway, GrannyT.  2nd from Left, Top Row
Annie Gorley Treadway, Pop's Mother, 2nd from Right, Top Row
William Gorley Treadway "Pop"  Far Right, Bottom Row
Watermelon Time 1904

For a while Pop worked on the railroad out west and Granny worked as a cook for Pop and his fellow workers.     They tried to homestead in Colorado but eventually that was a dream they abandoned to return to Memphis.      Pop was employed as an iron molder and from all the stories I've been told about him he was a hard worker until his untimely death at age fifty-six  in 1941.  
Since I never knew him except in some really old, faded photographs and family legend and lore, I can only imagine what he was like and what his hard working hands must have looked like.   Given the nature of his work, I see large, calloused hands, dirt embedded in his fingers that no amount of scrubbing could ever completely remove.    He wore a working man's clothing, probably dungarees and a heavy shirt of some kind to help protect against the hot cinders that were probably part of his every day work place.    Heavy lines marked his face from constant exposure to heat and fumes from the work he did.    He worked long before there was such a thing as OSHA or EPA and workmen in those days were frequently exposed to hazards that would surely be outlawed today for their protection.   
And as I sat thinking about him on this Labor Day 2012, it made me think of all the other people in my family who worked hard, labored in difficult, sometimes dangerous jobs.    A few were able to benefit from higher education and went into fields like education and became teachers, nurses and worked in management, like my father did.   My maternal grandfather worked for the phone company stringing telephone line that came to a spectacular end when he was electrocuted, thrown from the pole and spent 180 days in a hospital recovering from injuries to nearly every bone in his body.    He later worked for the Memphis Police Department in dispatch.     My grandmother's brother,  C. W.  "Red" Gardner was in the military through several wars and eventually worked for the Memphis Fire Department.    My Uncle Charlie worked for the Illinois Central Rail Road, starting out at age 15 and eventually becoming an engineer on the IC line.  My mother fulfilled a life long dream of becoming a nurse by returning to school and was a Registered Nurse.   Her last position was with the Veteran's Adminstration caring for aged veterans who needed a caring heart and kind word in their final years.   They, too, provided a different kind of labor for our nation, but one that is much appreciated and lauded on other holidays throughout our year.    
Granny Treadway was widowed in 1941 and had to supplement her income, but with no education or training, she did the only thing she really knew how to do.  She went to work for a department store in Memphis doing alterations.   Her daughter, Blanche, worked for S.C. Toof and Company, commercial printers.   I can still remember her hands that were permanently stained with black printer's ink and the finger cot she wore on one finger to help when she thumbed through stacks of papers.     One brother worked for the newspaper, the Press-Scimitar in Memphis, as a proof reader and another worked in Washington DC for the Congressional Record in the printing division.    A younger brother went into Musical Ministry and served many churches through out his career.    

And so it is that I look back at a long line of hard working men and women who worked at a time when there were few laws protecting them from injury and getting a good wage was fraught with difficulties, too.     Some of these people were union members, others were not.    Without question, all were people who knew the meaning of work and didn't shy away from hard labor.    They helped build this country we live in today and I look with pride back on their contribution whether it was working in hot, dirty jobs , walking up and down the corridors of a hospital or crusading for higher wages and better benefits for the working people across the United States.   

Today is Labor Day.  It has become a day to drag out the bar-b-que grill and ice down some drinks, make potato salad and relax on the patio.   It is often a day off for those who are employed in all the various occupations that it takes to make our country function.  Let us not forget that it is our kinfolk that built the workforce of yesteryear and the workers of today who build the cars, deliver the mail, teach the young, care for the sick and pave our roads.  It will be the generation growing up now that will move this country on  through the 21st century and into the next.  

We owe our gratitude to those who came before us and made it possible for many of us to have a better standard of living and hope for a better life style.   While you're grilling those burgers and eating that potato salad, please take a few moments to remember your heritage and the people who brought us  this far and thank the ones who are going to take us forward for many more years. 

Happy Labor Day 2012!   (A proud American tradition since 1882)

Happy Trails,



  1. Marcia, another wonderful post! I learned quite a few tidbits about our family that I never heard before. Thanks so much for sharing!

  2. I gotta email david again...we had several emails going last night about the family...Marcia, this is great!!! that is so romantic about how they met...I LOVE IT!!! I love the whole story...Cindy


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