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Read Your Way into Labor Day

Snapshots of the jobs we do
     Nothing ever gets done without work. The older I get, the more — though grudgingly — I acknowledge the accuracy of the sentence to toil imposed on us in Genesis. God the Father gave his laboring creations the Sabbath off.
      America was not so generous. Even one day off was hard won.
     Back in the 1880s, 12-hour working days were common for laborers of all ages, even children, and wages were tiny. Working people risked their lives and livelihoods for better conditions. In 1882, New York workers took a day off to parade their demands through the city and celebrate with a picnic. That’s how Labor Day began. (The weekend came later.)
     Our jobs are different nowadays, but Labor Day remains a national holiday long after we’ve forgotten why we celebrate it. 
     “Cigarmakers, dressmakers, printers, shoemakers, bricklayers and other tradespeople” marched in that first Labor Day parade. According to the New York Times, workers in other countries do most of those jobs nowadays. Bricklayers still have a place in a booming construction economy, as do all sorts of laborers and mechanics (marine trades as well in Chesapeake Country). But today’s rank and file numbers more fast-food cooks and servers, service workers, landscapers and ride-share drivers.
     Amid each era’s shuffling of jobs, a few remain constant. America has had mail service since we were a colony and mail carriers since the Civil War — a few years earlier if Pony Express riders are counted. Somewhat amazingly, mail carriers are still around.
    The story of the long, happy career of one of those carriers, Julian Ralph Easterday III, is the anchor of this year’s Labor Day issue. Riva, his route for most of his 42-year service, adopted him as its own, though he hailed from Eastport and lives in Tracys Landing (no ’s per U.S. Board on Geographic Names apostrophe policy).
      Celebrating his retirement August 1, contributor Janice Lynch Schuster tells about his working life and ambitious retirement plan: visiting every National Park in America.
      Retirement led to a new job for Patricia Terrant, as contributor Allen Delaney relates in The Least of Creatures. She found an abandoned baby bird, volunteered at a rescue center, then trained as a wildlife rehabilitator. Terrant made a career (but no income) of responding to an unmet need.
      Caring for helpless creatures and animals generally is work distinctive to an economy of plenty. Your own needs have to be met before you can afford the luxury of pure compassion. Retirement was part of that package for Terrant, giving her free hours as well as a residual income from her years of work.
      Our third story in this week’s Labor Day issue sheds new light on an ageless job category, picker. Gathering and reusing anything left behind used to be a labor of necessity. Gleaners like the Bible’s Ruth survived on grain left behind in harvested fields of wealth. Rag-pickers eked out a living from discarded textiles.
       Nowadays, in our economy of plenty, picking is a luxury trade, with pickers gleaning our leavings for unrecognized treasures. Or, in the case of imaginative repurposers like Barby Harms of The Mermaid’s Cottage at the Shops at Ogden’s Commons in Port Republic, create hybrid treasures in which the casual eye would never see a future.
      Harms’ is one of those self-created jobs that are the refuge of so many working people in the 21st century American economy, staff writer Krista Pfunder tells us. Putting together all the pieces yourself, as Harms does in all aspects of her working life, enables the unique satisfaction — and challenge — of being your own boss and your own labor.
      To add more labor to your life, Gardening for Health columnist Maria Price suggests you plant a fall lettuce garden.
      And in this week’s Creature Feature, nature photographer (and doctor in his working hours) Wayne Bierbaum introduces our hard-working native bumblebees. 
     Lest all these stories of work tire you out on your Labor Day holiday weekend, we asked Moviegoer Diana Beechener to pick three classics on the job, which you’ll have fun reading about and even more fun watching. 
     Take a break from your labors. Read Bay ­Weekly for fun.