I met Rob in the hotel lobby. He is a stick-welder. He is tall, lean, pale-skinned, from Virginia.
He is proud of his work.
“Been welding half my life,” said Virginia Slim. “Been fifteen stories up, upside-down, hanging by a cable, spinning in circles, earning overtime. And I’m damn proud of it.”
Stick-welders are a proud lot.
Welding is an art. If Michelangelo had lived long enough to see a TIG machine, he would’ve been a union man.
Every day of my father’s adult life, he towed a welder behind his truck. His trade took him wherever the money was. He built skyscrapers. Churches. Auto plants. He watched friends die while creating skylines.
If that’s not art, I don’t know what is.
Then there’s Danny. He cleans toilets at the airport. He is short, with tattoos everywhere.
Danny is studying to be an accountant. He is forty-one. He and his girlfriend just had a baby.
He shows me pictures of Danny Jr. on his cellphone.
I ask if Danny likes his job.
“You kiddin’?” says Danny. “Pays for my college, helps me raise my son. Man, I’m blessed.”
Chuck—a heavy-equipment operator. He travels with labor crews all over. I met Chuck at Hartsfield-Jackson airport. He was flying to New Hampshire for a big job.
As a boy, Chuck’s father ran hydraulic cranes. His father would take him to the jobsite and place him in his lap while hoisting seven hundred tons through the air.
“Sat in the cockpit watching my dad build stadiums and buildings. All I ever wanted was to be like Dad.”
And who can forget Patty. She is a fast-food employee. She runs the drive-thru window. She has rough skin. When she laughs, it sounds like unfiltered Camels.
“Been working the window for a year,” she says. “You meet all sorta people here. Some’re nice, some are total you-know-what holes.”
Patty had breast cancer a few years ago. Before this job, she worked on a commercial painting crew. She retired when she got her diagnosis.
Then: a double mastectomy, chemo, and radiation.
“My sister quit her job just to nurse me,” says Patty. “We thought I was gonna die. My mom pretty much planned my funeral.”
Patty has been cancer free for four years.
So if you’ve read this far, you’ve figured out that I, too, came from rough stock.
My father was a laborer until he died. My mother worked hospitals, wore a Chick-Fil-A uniform, cleaned condos, scrubbed toilets, served hot food, and threw newspapers.
She bought my clothes at thrift stores, yard sales. And for Easter Sunday finery, we visited K-Mart. We never missed a breakfast. We never wanted.
As for me: I’ve followed in the family business. I’ve laid tile, hung drywall, thrown sod, planted shrubs, crawled on roofs, painted houses, installed heart-pine floors, pulled Romex, cooked on a kitchen line, washed dishes, and played a guitar for peanuts.
And for a big part of my life, this lowly work embarrassed me.
I’m sorry I ever felt that way. For I am kin to a proud lot of fine Americans. I am blue collar. Always will be.
I am the son of a stick-welder.
And I’m damn proud of it.
janiesjottings - November 14, 2017 8:28 am
Blue collar worker’s are the backbone of this great nation. They have made fortunes for the wealthy. My grand daddy was a sharecropper, he worked hard to provide for his family. Thank you for inspiring me every day. Your writing makes me proud to be from the south and to be a working person. God bless you!
Annie from Elloree - November 14, 2017 10:54 am
Like my mama told me, right after she snatched a knot in me and called me by my full given name, “Don’t you EVER make fun of honest work. Honest work is something to be proud of.”
Joyce Anne Bacon - November 14, 2017 12:20 pm
And I’m proud to be a coal miner’s daughter who did odd carpentry jobs to supplement his paycheck. This country was built by men like your father and mine and I’ll never be ashamed of them.
Dianne DeVore - November 14, 2017 12:57 pm
Blue collar workers should never be ashamed of what they do. They are the very backbone of our country, and without them, one can only imagine the shape our country would be in. We need more blue collar workers today than ever before. It is a noble profession.
Connie - November 14, 2017 1:24 pm
One of my husbands was a welder. The last one builds bridges. All my brothers and several nephews travel with construction. They build everything. I am a bookkeeper in a metal fab shop. If it can be done with metal, they can do it. I’ve never seen people work so hard. But it raises families, buys homes, sends kids to college. The biggest thing though? They build things. Things that last. Things people need but take for granted. Bridges. Imagine not having them! These are all things to be proud of. I don’t think a single one of them are ashamed of what they do. They may fuss and complain when it’s hot or cold or raining, or the hours get long and their bodies are tired, but they get up the next day and do it again. My granddaughter is studying to be a nurse. My son is a teacher. Both professions with long hours and little appreciation, but necessary. Me-I’m a bookkeeper 5 days a week, but on the weekends I clean offices. Mop and dust and clean bathrooms. But my bills are paid, mostly on time, and we don’t starve. I count all these things as “success”. Sorry, I got a little long winded this morning. Have a great day!
susanstewartdesigns - November 14, 2017 1:36 pm
I am the daughter of a farmer. And I’m damn proud of it.
Melodie - November 14, 2017 2:31 pm
LOVE my daily Sean of the South! That sounds like me growing up, yet I’m much older than you. My mama never complained. She was a widow. My dad died when I was 2, and Mama never remarried. She was too busy working and raising us 3 young’uns. We, too, never missed a breakfast or wanted. I was very loved and lucky. I had 3 dresses in the 7th grade, and once a year, we got to go to the ‘big’ town, to Montgomery Ward, and got to eat at McDonald’s, too! That was our big yearly outing. Oh, what I’d do to go back to the simpler times. If it weren’t for the blue collar workers……. ♥
Jan - November 14, 2017 3:09 pm
Amen! Hard work is a badge of honor where I come from!
Pat - November 14, 2017 3:29 pm
I respect anybody’s job as long as it is an honest days work.
Mack Story - November 14, 2017 3:52 pm
Good stuff! I’m blue-collar to bone with 24+ years in manufacturing where I spent my first 10 years in entry-level positions operating various machines and proud of it too. If you see me in a suit today, it’s a sacrifice to get the white-collar leaders to let me help grow and develop those I’m speaking too. I’m on a mission to help those in the blue-collar workforce unleash their potential…whatever that means for each of them. I want to help them increase their influence, so they can increase their options. We have been overworked, overlooked, and underdeveloped for far too long. It’s time to put a stop to it from the bottom up.
Marjorie - November 14, 2017 4:07 pm
I have worked in my fathers grocery store. I have been a baby sister. Worked in McDonalds. Cleaned motel rooms. Drove imported vehicles for a living. Was a tack welder. Worked as a Material Supply clerk for the past 39 years. I have paid my own way through life. I have a home money saved and a retirement to look forward too. God Bless us for working hard.
LARRY WALL - November 14, 2017 4:41 pm
I have had jobs that others didn’t want or wouldn’t take and did them proudly to my best ability. And on the other hand I had jobs that most people can only wish to have had. Both types left some incredible memories of good times and great friends along the way. But the ones that I have the most loving memories of are the ones that were long days, with trying circumstances that I didn’t exactly love at the time. But I respect them the most today as I enjoy the fruits of all those labors. Hail, hail to those who labor. Definitely the spine of this nation and all nations.
Diane - November 14, 2017 5:20 pm
My dad came back from WWII to be a carpenter and built every home I lived in until I went to college. My parents never had a mortgage. When he was in his 50s he attended night classes at the local junior college to get his journeyman’s certificate. He was a union man and shop steward for his local. My mom never finished high school but was a school secretary for 20 years, sending both my sister and me through college. My parents were careful with money and ended their lives without financial worries. We lived on the coast in Delaware and Florida and Dad supplemented our diets with fresh-caught fish and ducks. World-class eating on a blue collar budget. How blessed we were!
unkle kenny - November 14, 2017 6:32 pm
Welding is a super power. A person takes a machine and uses their hands, eyes and skills to bond pieces of metal. The bond is stronger than the metal itself. That skyscraper. Those Churchs.Those auto plants,and you Sean are a testament to his good work. I never met him that I know of but I have met you. Through you we have all met him. Great story. uk
Laura - November 14, 2017 7:43 pm
Salt of the earth is right! My Daddy worked for the railroad for well over 30 years and, when he retired, he went to work installing hot tubs and laying Seamco rock around the tubs and pools. But you will never find a better man anywhere (yes, I am a bit prejudiced about that). We never went hungry and, though Mother made almost every stitch I wore and my 3 brothers had hand me downs passed on, we always had clothing. We rarely got to go out to eat, even for a burger, but it didn’t matter. We learned the importance of working hard to support family, of learning how to fix things yourself (even if you are a girl), of recognizing what was most important in life (and it ain’t money), of standing by family in tough times (which is why, when Daddy was almost 60, they took in a newborn cousin of mine and raised him). Blue Collar is not appreciated nearly as much as they should be!!
Shelly - November 14, 2017 11:55 pm
I am proud to be a daughter of a Teamster!
Jack Darnell - November 15, 2017 12:01 am
I STUCK a lot of rods. used a grinder to make it look like I knew what I was doing. Still have a welder I play with some time. I even know where it is. LOL I read life 101 by Rick Watson from Sloss Hollar, AL.He is a good writer also, Funny that his dad was a welder. Those dads musta shocked you guys write’n brain..
Enjoyed the visit, thanks.’
LORI - November 15, 2017 1:18 am
Thank you for making me smile,cry,and remember. My husband worked construction jobs from the time he was 16 until he was no longer able to because of injuries when he was forty.We raised four kids on blue collar wages and our kids never went without. Again, thank you for reminding us that those who build the offices are every bit as important as those who work in them
Marty from Alabama - November 15, 2017 2:52 am
No need to ever be ashamed of your job or the job of your parents as long as it is honest. Nothing says that you have to stay in that same job, especially is you have the chance to do better. The shame is just plain not trying and not caring one way or another. I grew up on the slim side of life, but no one noticed, because they did too. Guess what we made it, and I am proud of my upbringing. Oh those sweet memories!
Steve Scott - November 15, 2017 1:35 pm
I love your blog and look forward to it every day. I write and have a little blog too but I want to write more about the kind of folks you write about. I am an old guy from Fairhope and your stories resonate with me. Would love to meet you someday or have a short phone conversation. Got some questions for you. Please.
Bruce Crittenden - November 15, 2017 7:27 pm
Green side up. Love you Brother
hammerdownblog - November 15, 2017 10:01 pm
I’m a trucker’s daughter and a trucker’s wife. Well, I take that back, my dad did everything from Nam, roofing, electrical, farmer, auto mechanic and driving trucks. Whatever it took at the time to put a meal on the table. He was a hard man. He didn’t have a high school diploma, wasn’t really into books but he was smart. You know, the kind of smart that get’s things done. At 45 my dad lost his life to chemicals that were exposed to him in Nam. His name will never be on that roving wall and there are many more like him.
Now my husband is working on his second million safe mile diploma dodging 4 wheeled vehicles that pull in front of him like bullets on a battle field. He gets stuff on time to everyone who will never know him or the tedious hours he has spent behind the wheel hauling everything from hazardous chemicals to your breakfast sausages. He can back up an 18 wheeler on a dime with an 80, 000 pound load. 70 hours he works a week and rests in a bunk of his truck. He makes a meager living for what he does but he makes time for the things that count like going home to be Santa for little children. He grows a beard from April to December to do this. I suppose people wonder why he doesn’t mow that mess off his face. It’s what he does and what he lives for and we can all be proud of that.
Blue collar folks are the cream of the crop.
Jo Brooks - November 15, 2017 11:55 pm
I am glad you are now proud of your blue collar background. As a retired HS teacher with a masters in mathematics, I nevertheless always supported shop, home ec, welding, automotive shop and every other trade course ever offered. Those folks have a gift that I do not have, and I appreciate them and what they do. We need to bring these programs back to schools.
Jack Quanstrum - November 16, 2017 12:21 am
Amen to that!
Pat Byers - November 16, 2017 9:40 pm
blue collars are the bones of this country. we would be nothing without them. thank you for writing it.
William L Hataway - November 16, 2017 10:10 pm
I am are was a stick welder on heavy equipment. I still wear my welder’s crown are cap with pride.
Patsy Clairmont - November 17, 2017 5:55 pm
I’m the daughter of a milkman…in a time when home deliveries were as common as the Good Humor truck. Customers left him a key so he could leave their milk in the fridge while they were at work.