Late in the afternoon on Election Day, a truck and trailer pulled up in front of the house. In the trailer was a ditch digging machine. I walked outside and greeted the man getting out of the pickup, “You look like a man looking for a cable to bury.” Our cable company was laying a new line from their box to our house.
“What’s your name,” I asked. “Jorge,” he responded. I stuck out my hand and said, “My name is Jim.” I’ll never forget the look on his face as he looked at my hand. Then his eyes met mine as he said, “My hands are dirty.” I laughed, “That’s okay. My hands have been dirty before.” He smiled and shook my hand.
Jorge was not alone. His coworker was a woman, who he introduced as his wife. I got out of their way as they got to work. Pretty soon I noticed a young girl joined them. She must have been about 9 or 10 years old. They worked fast and efficiently and after about an hour Jorge knocked on the door to let me know they had finished. I stepped outside and visited with his wife while Jorge loaded up their tools. She told me about their son who was in college and then explained their daughter was with them because someone at her school tested positive for COVID-19 that morning, so they turned the students loose. She said the daughter wanted to stay home but she wouldn’t let her. “I wanted her to see how hard we work.” With that she excused herself and told me they had to go vote before the polls closed.
Jorge made me think of Mike Rowe, whose television show, Dirty Jobs, celebrated the work of blue-collar occupations. I once was described as a blue-collar consultant by the CEO of a large commercial cattle feeding company. It wasn’t meant as a putdown. He appreciated the fact that I could relate to the cowboys, truck drivers, mill crew and rest of the employees that worked outside because I had worked at those jobs myself once upon a time.
I’ve worked on ranches, farms and feedlots and even built bridges. I’ve worked in blistering heat and in freezing rain and snow. And I thank God that I did. I always have a sense of gratitude when I see people getting their hands dirty engaged in physical labor. I have that same sense of gratitude for people who stock shelves, work the registers, wait tables or perform any job that involves long hours, sore feet and aching backs.
I believe a lot of our nation’s problems would be solved if youngsters today had their hands wrapped around the handle of a shovel instead of a phone texting and playing video games. You’ll get some blisters using a shovel, but those blisters will teach you more about what it takes to succeed in life than thumbing keys on a smartphone or working a joystick. Unfortunately, that’s all a lot of kids have had to do this year.
2020 has been a rough ride. A worldwide pandemic, a contentious election, protests, riots, looting and the deliberate dismantling of law and order in many of our nation’s cities. This year the Grinch is working on stealing Thanksgiving in addition to Christmas. Our holidays may not be all that jolly.
But on Thanksgiving Day I’ll think about Election Day. Not because of the election but because that’s when I met Jorge and his family. A husband and wife team who get their hands dirty digging ditches, teaching their daughter the value of hard work and proud of their son who’s in college. I’ll think about Jorge loading his tools in his truck and driving off to the polls at the end of a long day so that he and his wife can cast their votes. That’s the embodiment of the American Dream.
Just remembering that makes me smile. Thank God for dirty hands.
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