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By Staff | Oct 31, 2018

Several decades ago my great-grandfather put me to work in the hayfield on a hot 90 degree summer day. He told me from the beginning not to expect much relief for the first four hours. Grandma had packed us a snack, and we each had a canteen full of well water.

The sun was beaming bright, and by 11 a.m. I was ready to give up. I was 11-years-old and used to working around the farm, but this was ridiculous! From one bale of hay to another, grandpa drove the hay wagon, and I threw the bales up to him. At this time, he must have been in his 60s, yet as I tossed one bale after another, he would stack them three high and move the wagon forward for the next ones, never slowing down to rest.

That old man never seemed to wear out, and I think back… he may have been testing me. However, nothing ever tasted better to me than that peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the sweet apple, and ice cold well water.

At the end of the day he asked me how much I thought I deserved for the work. Not one to be shy, I quickly responded with “Two dollars.”

“Really?” he questioned. “Do you realize there are three more days of work left, and some is on the hillside?”

I had heard my elders say it many times, “Hard work never hurt anyone.” I also heard them say, “At least you have a job, food to eat, and a roof over your head.” I now had a better understanding of what they meant.

We managed to finish the week in the hay field, and I came away a better man. I say that because my grandfather used to tell me, “You’re quite the young man.”

Never once as a youngster did I take into consideration the hard work and long hours the men in our local plants and mines put in to make a living for their families.

With all the glass factories, coal mines and chemical plants in the valley, it was not hard to find employment. Seldom did you hear complaints from the men, yet hardly a day went by that there wasn’t an industrial accident or a coal mine disaster.

Life was not easy! But it was full of family pride and community spirit. The competition between local high schools was growing with each year.

I decided farm life was not for me, so from Paden City to Proctor Creek (Palestine area), and back to Paden City I went. I found life much easier with more things to do – fun things – and less work.

I also found out, however, that living in town, you had to have spending money. With three brothers and a sister it was hard to get.

That’s where my first real job came in. Yep! I started a paper route, actually two. One was a morning route in which I delivered to 60 homes, starting at 6 a.m. I finished around 7:15, depending on how fast I went and whether I wanted breakfast or not.

The other was a weekend route, which I quickly grabbed up. I don’t know what happened or how it changed, but it seemed to be a good system. Everyone received a paper, and as kids, we learned the value of work, and the importance of doing a good job.

Someone was always ready to take your place if you messed up!

If you know me I am always scheming. I wanted that Sunday route. How else could I get out of Sunday School? It turned out I was wrong again. Now I had to go to church on Sunday evening to adult class and then start the route all over the next morning.

The best part came every two week… payday! Oh how great it felt to have some change in your pocket! I had a keen interest in the newspaper business; it’s what I wanted to do, write for the newspaper. My Aunt Mary Buzzard wrote the Cameron news for the Wheeling paper for many years, and I was always fascinated with her stories.

I thought she was a big shot, a news reporter. However, one day she told me she didn’t know why she spent so much time for so little money. I thought she was kidding, but she was always at that typewriter, just pecking away.

Yet, it’s not always how much you make that matters, but how much you enjoy what you’re doing. Do I feel overworked and underpaid? Sometimes, but don’t we all? I just keep pecking away. Heading down the stretch and getting nearer to the big 70, I still have no thoughts of quitting. Actually, they might have to one day force me into it.

My days of physical work are almost over, but mentally (and I know many will disagree), I’m sharp as a tact.

What upsets me the most is when people won’t work. Try finding someone to even mow your yard or wash your car!

I find it disturbing when people use the money factor as a reason not to work. There is no excuse, period. Get a job! When I was working as a coal miner in 1978, the mine workers went on a 110-day strike. I needed a job, badly. It didn’t matter where, or for how much, I needed to work. I ended up at Harvey Headley’s Gulf Station, pumping gas and washing cars. I didn’t make a lot of money, but it paid the $6.70 city bill and the electric bill. I never complained; the pay was $3.75 an hour, unless you were washing cars. Then you made a commission.

When the time came to go back to my mining job I thanked Harvey and returned to the pits. Overworked and underpaid! I always felt that way, even when I made the big bucks. Following the 1978 coal strike we were making $9 per hour, or around $72 per day.

Forty years later, I get a paycheck where there’s no strike fund to pay, no union deductions, no shift work (not much), and no hoot owl shifts.

One major difference does exist. In 1978, the maximum wages paid before Social Security quit coming out of your check was $17,700. Today that has increased to $128,400. Not complaining, just stating a fact.

The main thing is I still have a job, and I’m proud of it. eparsons@tylerstarnews.com