My grandfather, the man I am named after, had a work ethic typical of his generation.
He rolled out of bed before the rooster every morning. When the sun went down, he was still toiling by the light of his lantern.
He worked almost his entire life. His motor never stopped running. He quit school before the fourth grade to help on the farm. After he married, he borrowed money from a bank to buy a farm. But the crops failed, the floods came, and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s sent him into foreclosure.
He packed his wife, children and worldly possessions into an old green Nash, and headed for the Promised Land of California, like something right out of the pages of “The Grapes of Wrath.’’
When life knocked him down, he scrambled to his feet. He found a job packing oranges at a plant in Redlands. He later was hired on the assembly line for Lockheed, making B-29 bombers in Wichita, Kansas. My grandmother and uncle worked there, too, saving their paychecks to help buy the farm near Galt, Missouri, that remains in the Grisamore family today.
America is still made up of folks like my grandpa. There just aren’t as many of them. Sweat, blood and blisters were included in his daily wages. He once broke his arm cranking a tractor. He went to the doctor for a cast, then hopped back on the saddle the next day. No insurance. No Medicare. No sick leave. No worker’s comp.
He worked right up until the summer he died in 1976, at the age of 81. He vowed to wear out before he rusted out, and he made good on his pledge.
Although I consider myself fortunate to have come from good timber, work ethic can never be traced to DNA. My father was a hard worker because he watched his father. I like to believe I developed a passion for work because I looked up to my dad.
Labor Day, the annual celebration of the American worker, is a time of personal reflection. I think back on every job that got me to where I am. All were a means to an end. I have been employed since I was 15, when I had an afternoon newspaper route in my neighborhood. Along the way, I have cooked chicken, scooped ice cream, stocked shelves and mixed cans of Sherwin-Williams paint – my very first bucket list.
I have lived two professional lives – one in the newspaper business and now as an educator. Both are demanding, with long hours and mediocre pay.
But the rewards are many. You can make a difference. And I believe I can handle any workload that comes my way. On deadline, too. At The Telegraph, I once worked 12-hour days for an entire month without a day off or a nickel of overtime.
I try to instill the value of hard work in my students. Another teacher told me we are preparing the majority of these young people for jobs yet to be created. Driven by technology, that’s how rapidly the world is changing. While exciting, it’s more than a little scary.
Last week, CNN interviewed a computer scientist about robots in the work force. He predicted jobs will disappear and fewer people will be in the labor pool because their skills no longer will be needed.
I realize robots won’t have to be on the payroll. They won’t demand a benefits package. They won’t call in sick with the sniffles or complain about working overtime.
But if it comes to this – machines replacing the men who made them – what is everyone going to do? Draw a government paycheck? Sit around, eat potato chips and play video games?
When robots start multitasking, and Easy Street merges into Lazy Street, it won’t do much for our muscles, not to mention our capacity for critical thinking.
America will lose its soul when people lose their desire to do what my grandpa did – roll up his sleeves and go to work.
Ed Grisamore teaches journalism at Stratford Academy in Macon. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.