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Published September 24, 2014

The Great Depression: A Lesson In Hard Work

I heard this story many times from my half-siblings as I grew up. You see, I’m the first-born of Dad’s second marriage. Thankfully, I was born in much better times, in 1954. My dad was born in 1908.

Dad went from riding horses, to riding in cars, to seeing flying machines, to seeing men walk on the moon. All in one lifetime. During the Depression years of the 1930’s, paying work was hard to come by, especially in a textile town like Gastonia. My dad was married and father to four kids during that time. It was truly a struggle to get by day to day.

Mostly he would take whatever day work was available, when he could find it. He once helped a neighbor put new shingles on his roof. This job took them two days. His pay was a couple of sacks of flour, some lard, eggs and bacon.

Every day but Sunday, he would get up before the sunrise, pack a simple lunch, and walk the mile and a tenth from the house on Elm Street to Firestone (Loray) Mill in Gastonia, NC. Mid-day meal usually consisted of maybe a piece of fruit,dark Kayro syrup whipped with some butter, and a few slices of bread.

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Firestone Mill was the biggest textile mill under one roof on the entire planet. It was six stories tall and filled an entire city block. Dad and other men would sit around the entrance at shift-change time. As the previous shift left and the next would come in, Dad and his co-workers would wait to see if they were short handed and needed someone to fill in the slot for the day. Usually by twenty past shift change, one or more of the mill bosses would come out and announce what help they needed. And they’d select the men they wanted to come in and work the shift.

Though the men knew it was dangerous and dirty work, the mill bosses knew the real reason these men were there. They were there to show the bosses that they were reliable and good workers who could and would do whatever job was available.

You see, in April of 1929, there was a violent, nasty union strike at the mill. The mill bosses won and the union was run out of town. In the following Depression years, the mills filled their needs with the most desperate of men. For the chance at a full time job, should one become available, these men were there every day to work in the mill – for no pay at all.

In time, Dad did get a full-time job there. I have no idea how many ‘free’ shifts he had to work to qualify for that job once it became available. But, obviously, he had impressed the bosses with his work ethic and got the paying job.

And oh the fights we had, When me and brother got him mad; He’d get all boiled up and he’d start to shout. We knew what was coming, so we tuned him out. And now the old man is gone, and I’d give all I own. To hear what he said when I wasn’t listening. To my old man’ Steve Goodman, ‘My Old Man’

Dad made it to age sixty-eight. In ways, I’ve almost elevated him to sainthood. Should I ever have to face times and pressures that he did, I do hope that my love and dedication for my family is as strong as his was in unbelievably desperate times.

And now, thirty-eight years after he left this earth, I still miss him.

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  • Earl Barber

    Earl

  • Earl Barber is a blue collar working stiff who prefers playing his 12-string acoustic guitar for free to most any other endeavor. An occasional essayist, Earl has been posting on random internet sites, most notably the old WRAL-TV GOLO pages, with his essays for over ten years. All my articles.

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