Monday, June 6, 2022



from Children of Vallejo

It is amazing what you remember from your childhood, the scenes you can never erase from your memory. Nick could close his eyes and see his mother kneeling on the dining room floor, lacing up his father’s work boots and tying them in neat double knots. His father’s back hurt so badly he couldn’t bend down to tie them himself. Take a day off? Call in sick? That was out of the question.

            “I’m a working man,” his father would say.

That’s all the explanation that was needed. He would drag himself off to catch the bus, that old, beat-up lunch pail in hand. He was a boilermaker, a trade he learned in the Navy, and he was proud of the fact that he could work any two men into the ground. Nick would see him come home at night with his overalls covered in brick mud, and he knew he'd been crawling in and out of those tiny openings all day, replacing the fire brick in a boiler. He'd take off his dirty overalls out in the garage and make his way to the dining room table, and Nick's mom would help him take off his boots. Nick wanted to tell him to stop, that it was a young man's job and he should let a young man do it, but he knew what the answer would be.

            "I'm a working man."

Nick could still hear his father’s voice saying, “The only things a working man has going for him are his union and the Democratic Party.” Cross a union picket line? Never! Vote for a Republican? You’ve got to be kidding!

Once the bakery workers went on strike for two weeks and Nick’s mom baked bread at home until the strike was over rather than buy non-union bread at the market. He could still remember the smell of fresh baked bread and how it tasted warm from the oven with real butter.

Nick voted for Ronald Reagan once, but his hand shook as he punched the hole in the ballot with the little metal stylus. He’d take a sick day every now and then, but always with a sense of guilt, as though he’d let his father down in some fundamental way. More often than not, he’d shower and shave and go to work, no matter how rotten he felt.

Once he was faced with crossing a picket line. He stood on the corner in front of the office building for a long time and watched the pickets parading with their signs. Finally, he hurried past them and into the building, his eyes fixed on the pavement. Then he rushed to the first men’s room he could find and threw up in the sink.

Funny, the things you carry with you from your childhood.






  1. Shades of "Grapes of Wrath" here!
    My parents were always able to see the effects of the Union my dad belonged to at Kearney and Trecker in Milwaukee. Later, it was obvious what the teachers union I belonged to did for us in terms of retirement, and I watched as interpreters for the deaf in Minneapolis worked to get consistent salaries and certification standards for educational interpreters through the only union under which we fit, AFSME! Our salary was then raised to the level of the maintenance workers, a huge jump, and we were allowed a few sick days. It breaks my heart a bit to see that people became so disappointed with unions in recent years. Talk about freedom and rights! They come with a cost and commitment.

  2. Billie, I think when unions get into public policy, as opposed to workplace issues, their troubles begin and they lose public support. I've seen the good and the not-so-good of the union movement. But I'm still my father's son.

  3. Chuck: Our fathers leave a strong impression on us, one that's hard to live up to often (partly because we've idealized them). My father was a business owner, his company built highways. He was a Republican, until Nixon came along, then he switched to vote for Kennedy and stayed a Democrat. I had to belong to a union (Operating Engineers) to work for him. My sister became a union organizer and a flaming radical. Everyone changes. But when I was young, as in grade school, because my parents were Republicans, I couldn't understand how my otherwise nice friends with parents I respected could be evil Democrats (how could they vote for Truman?). But I felt the same way about my friends who inexplicably were Yankee fans instead of Dodger. Kids idolize their parents and think in black and white. So do some adults, but most of us change and, like your character, just feel uncomfortable qualms when we violate those absolutes we attributed to our parents when we were young.

  4. Funny you should mention Truman. Harry Truman was my dad's hero, worthy of Mr. Rushmore, until he fired Douglas MacArthur. My parents bought a copy of the recording of MacArthur's speech to congress. On the flip side was a male chorus singing, "Old Soldiers Never Die." My dad eventually recovered and Give 'em Hell Harry went back to the top of his list of great presidents. He voted for Stevenson (twice) over Eisenhower. My character in "Legacy" voted for Ronal Reagan. My first vote for president was in 1964 -- for Barry Goldwater. (Don't tell my dad!)