PlazaJen: Passion Knit

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Tale of a Scoop Shovel

Speaking of Spanish, and Mexican people, always makes me think of a story that happened to my father. He told me the story several times as I was growing up, to teach me a life lesson that many - too many - people never get: to remember that everybody is valuable & wants to be appreciated for what they do. Regardless of what that is.

My father was working at the Montfort cattle packing plant in Colorado. He was doing this for work while my mother was in graduate school in Denver. I was all of a year old at this time. Working at a cattle plant is not a very glamorous job, lest you think it might be. It smells like cow shit, it's labor, and "plant" is a nice word for slaughterhouse - it doesn't matter how humanely it's done, or how entrenched a part of our culture it is, or how far we come since the days of "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair - it's still death & blood and not really the environment a 22-year old college graduate with a degree in philosophy expected to find himself. My father had dreams of an Ivy League law degree, but if he couldn't get in to Harvard or Yale, then it wasn't worth pursuing. In any event. This was the job he had while my mother was in school. One of his main assignments was feeding. So, he was outside, shoveling corn to feed the cattle. Back-breaking work, and my father cursed and complained and bitched and moaned about it. He wasn't alone in his work - he often worked with an older Mexican man, who never complained or said anything about his job.

On one particularly hot day, my father started up with his griping. The Mexican THREW his shovel down on the pile of corn and got in my father's face. Pointed finger and all.

"You! You! You complain, all the time! You think you're too good for this? College Boy? You know what? Next year, at this time, you will be someplace else, doing something different! And you know where I'll be? I'll be RIGHT HERE, shoveling this CORN. Because I've got NOWHERE ELSE to go. So SHUT UP."

My father could do nothing but swallow his embarassment and work silently the rest of that day. And he didn't complain for the rest of the time he was there.

Every single time I think of his experience, I am stunned out of my selfish, petty world and back into the reality of how much bigger the universe is. And when my father would tell me this story, he always made the point that I shouldn't feel like I'm better than somebody else who works at a grocery store, or cleans up the trash, or waits tables, just because I got a college education & was born into more fortunate circumstances. Because I am fortunate, and I don't have to work three jobs to make ends meet. I have options. I have freedoms. People out there, even in this country, don't have that, and WhiteAmerica doesn't want you to believe we have those kinds of flaws but it's true. Their are Mexican illegals here in Kansas City who live in the hollow cavities of the beams in the BRIDGES so their stuff doesn't get stolen and because they are safer from authorities there. They work 100x harder than I do, but I drive my car home to my house & husband & dogs and I don't worry about whether or not I'll have heat tonight or if someone else learned to climb the beams and stole my only change of clothes.

When my dad did quit Montfort, he stole the scoop shovel he used for that corn. When I moved to Minnesota, he gave it to me, and it has dug my car out of many snowfalls, notably the Halloween Blizzard of '91 in Minneapolis (36"!) But beyond its usefulness, it's symbolic to me of so much, of all the things that are easy to forget, especially this time of year when it's all about consuming and measuring up and meeting other people's expectations. So when the woman at Hobby Lobby with her thinning mullet and sullen face took the time to wrap all of my ornaments, individually, so slowly, so excruciatingly slowly, I'm on my lunch break and I'm late and you are SO SLOW, all I said was, "Thank you so much for taking such care in wrapping those for me. They're so breakable and I really appreciate it. You did a really good job."

That shovel is one of my most prized possessions.
Sometimes I need to be hit over the head with it.

posted by PlazaJen, 2:15 PM