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Long ago labors left lasting impressions

Moseyin’ Along

May 16, 2012
By Joyce Schenk - COLUMNIST ( , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

These days, when we speak of the work we do, we often refer to the activities involved with our daily jobs. Or, if we are home-based, we think of such chores as washing with an automatic washer, cooking with a microwave or sitting at a desk and tapping away at a computer.

But years ago, the old-fashioned word "labor" involved actions requiring much more effort. According to the dictionary, labor actually means "physical exertion, difficult or exhausting work."

For many, such labor was part of our early years, simply because things in those days were much harder to accomplish than they are today.

The other evening, hubby George and I wandered into a discussion of some personally exhausting projects that easily fit the description of "hard manual labor."

George recalled his most difficult job was the one he got right after high school graduation. Being a young, strong guy, he was hired to help deliver coal, a necessity for folks living in the Erie area as fall approached.

The project required him to shovel the heavy black stuff into the delivery truck, then shovel it back out of the truck and into the customer's coal cellar. Although this took place more than 60 years ago, it's still hard to believe the pay for such labor was only fifty cents per ton. Small reward for maximum effort.

My own hardest work wasn't actually a job and was certainly no match for George's early efforts. Still it left a lasting impression on me.

When I was about 15, I spent one summer visiting my aunt and uncle in Pontiac, Mich. During the period, we went to their log cabin on the state's upper peninsula for two weeks. Little did I know this would be no vacation.

My aunt and uncle were in the midst of adding a room to their rustic get-away and had to prepare logs for the walls. That's where I came in.

Shortly after we arrived at the cabin, Uncle Maurie introduced me to a draw knife, a two-handed blade used to debark logs. After brief instructions in using the wicked tool, he turned me lose on my first log. His plan was for the three of us - himself, my Aunt Virginia and me - to clean up the stack of logs he had laid in for the wall construction.

Each morning after breakfast, I'd straddle log after log and repeatedly pull the draw knife toward me, thus stripping the bark from the wood.

By the time we headed back to Pontiac, I had a great set of biceps. But unfortunately, I walked like a long-time cowgirl, with my legs curved into parentheses.

Looking back on those early labors made me smile. Both George and I realized the bodies that were involved in those demanding activities so long ago have softened up considerably. Still, the exhausting efforts helped us to understand first-hand the meaning of the word "labor."

I'm very grateful my life today is far less physically stressful than in those early years. And I readily admit I'm totally devoted to such labor-saving devices as my automatic washer and dryer, my dependable microwave and my trusty computer, always ready to help me as I Mosey Along each week.



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