My dad was a workhorse.
He plowed with mules in the 1930s
in our field in Bainbridge
Later I stood beside him on a mechanical “beast”
here in the same field
cultivating the soil with a Massey-Harris tractor
soon to plant tomatoes.
Poet Marge Piercy expresses the physicality of manual labor in these two stanzes from To Be of Use
Memoir Moment: My Dad after Work in Grandma Longenecker’s Kitchen
In my early teenage years, I sensed that my dad had a fair amount of stress at the shop, where he was sole proprietor with one other mechanic hired to fix equipment. “They hornswaggled me,” he said when a company didn’t follow through on promises or when farmers shirked paying their bills. Once in a while I heard the epithet “Shitmolink,” a word I think he made up to pronounce contempt for anyone who “hornswaggled” him. Then I saw a blue vein throb on the side of his forehead, probably evidence of the high blood pressure his doctor later diagnosed. He never used other four-letter curse words.
I noticed he let loose with men at the shop though or with friends or relatives during social occasions. Sometimes he attempted humor with lame expressions, remarkable only because I seldom heard him say anything funny or witty at home:
“If you don’t watch out I’ll put your head between your ears!”
“Are you glad you’re happy?” a bland question I didn’t hear often but when I did, I knew Daddy was expressing his own contentment, however fleeting.
End of an Era: My father died in 1986 and his business was sold in August 1987.
Did you live on a farm? Have a garden?
Could you or any of your relatives be classified as workhorses?
What kind of physical work do you remember doing as a child?