An Ode to Hard Workers
It took me a second to know that it was him, but once I steadied my gaze after the second take, I recognized it was him. We are not the closest of friends, more acquaintances, but I was not expecting Matt* to be corralling carts at my neighborhood grocery store. It's not the store I usually got to, but I have to go to places that I often wouldn't go to stock my fridge with regular items. Matt and I only know each other superficially. Still, I know him well enough to know that this was not his daily work, but I also know that he has an infant and wife at home.
The paper read a long list of celebrities who had filed for chapter eleven bankruptcy as if to reassure my parents that their newfound status put them among the elite. That the list was somehow supposed to soften the reality that my parents, who were now in their early 50s, were starting from scratch again; that we were losing the house that they had raised their four children in; the only house that I knew since I was 6 months old when my family moved from Nogales, Arizona.
My dad had a difficult time holding a job since I was five, and now at 14, the only home I knew was being foreclosed on. Once we moved into our temporary duplex, the line of work was just as unsteady for my dad. But instead of him getting jobs for his engineer expertise, he was working low-wage, no-degree-needed jobs.
After we got home from school, my brother and I treaded lightly since my dad was a light sleeper, and he needed to readjust his clock to his new graveyard hours. My dad's graveyard shift didn't last long, but it was the most memorable of his low-wage jobs because it affected my movements the most through the house. Interesting how memory is selective to our personal discomforts. My mom was at her new job herself, so the duplex was quieter indoors than the lively world that stood beyond the threshold of our duplex.
I knew that my small sacrifice of comfortably moving through the house was minute compared to my dad's sacrifice. I know now that my father taking those jobs was difficult for him. He has always been a prideful man, and getting his degree in engineering was, I am sure, how he thought he was going to avoid these types of jobs for the rest of his life; most of us do. That’s why so many of us are a part of the trillion-dollar debt that is student loans.
Before we got married, I asked my then-boyfriend to take the five languages test. I had read about the concept and taken a shortened quiz myself. After my boyfriend took the test, we got into a conversation about the people in our lives. We began identifying the love languages of other people. I realized that my dad's love language was gift-giving. I remembered all of the Christmas and birthday gifts he proudly gave us, but also the times that he tried to give us things when he necessarily didn’t have to. The time he cracked firewood by jumping on it when he didn’t have an ax; the times he let me pick out a candy bar from the checkout line at the grocery store; the Sunday evenings in the summer when we all went to Baskin Robbins for our favorite scoop.
My dad could have satiated his pride and not even have applied for jobs like that, but I think he knew that those times would end. That perhaps being away from his industry for a bit would give some new perspective, if not give time for a new opportunity to come his way. And it did. It may have taken longer than he would have liked, and it was a new career path, but it ended up being much more suited for him than engineering.
Now in his 70s, he and my mom are still not in financial comfort that their daughters may necessarily feel comfortable with. Other factors outside of my dad's control may force him to continue working into his 70s, but I think he knows that in certain times you have to face the situation and do what's best for your family—do what is right for others.
Watching Matt push those grocery carts up the slope to the store, I wanted to protect him. Those years of living in the duplex are still carried on my shoulders, even 20 years later, from reading that letter of celebrities. All of the grocery store workers, delivery drivers, healthcare professionals, and all of the other essential personnel during this time are at risk. For those of us who can work from home, the world has somewhat stopped in the significant ways of life, but in the grand scheme, it is going on as usual. Products still need to be made, ordered, and delivered. Groceries still need to be grown, picked, delivered. People still need to work because they have to make money, pay the bills, and take care of those who they love.
*Matt's real name was changed for privacy.