Perspective on Blue Collar

We’ve lived in our new house about a year, and it was time for the builder to send someone to fix the things on our 11-month list. That included a fairly wide and long crack in our garage. I was just about to drive away to go to Planet Fitness for a workout when I saw an older man coming up my driveway. I rolled down my window and said hello.

It turns out he was there to fix the garage crack. No worries. I could work out later. I told him to give me a minute to shuffle some stuff around in the garage to give him room, which he did. I moved the tools, recycle bin, ladder, boots, boxes, and a few other small items. He helped with the last bit, then got right to work.

Now I didn’t hang out in the garage with him to guard my property, as some might think. No, not at all. In fact, I just adore talking with people, and this fella was so interesting. He had the longest, deepest southern drawl, ya’ know, where the word nice is said like it has six of the letter “i” in the middle – niiiiiice. And he had that wonderful Tennessee mountain colloquial speech that sounds so melodic to me. “Oh son,” he told me in the midst of a childhood story, “oh son, ifin I didn’t do my homework, let me teeeellll you, son.” Or, “Ifin I didn’t work in the garden, no supper for me.”

He spoke with love about his dogs, told me about huntin’ for ginseng in the mountains (but now ye need one of them permits). Most interestingly, he said that he always wanted to be a scientist. He just didn’t know what it was about him, but he just loved science, he said. However he never finished high school because he quit to work. “Been workin’ since I was 12. And ’em kids today, oh son, let me teeeellll you son. They don’t know nothin’ ’bout workin.”

Even though his dream to become a scientist never saw fruition, he said he loves his job working with stones and bricks. “It’s like doin’ art. Ain’t nothin’ make me more happy.”

Certainly this kind fellow’s trade doesn’t exactly count as a STEM career–at least I don’t think it does. Nevertheless, I loved this man’s attention to detail as he worked on the crack in the garage, and I appreciated his stories, his attitude, and his seemingly gentle nature. Well schooled by the mountains and his mama and papa and hard work his whole life, he has carved out a niche for himself that clearly brings him satisfaction.

I could go on an on about the pleasantries we exchanged while he repaired the garage floor, but I won’t because I have a single point I wish to make–starting with some questions. I understand that many families in our country over the years have expected children to work the farm, resulting in many youngsters who never finished school, but why did this man pull back from school when he had a love of science? I wish there had been a way for him to balance home life and school. And if we brought someone like him to share in a classroom, wouldn’t he be full of scientific knowledge he could share, such as how to find ginseng in the woods and what it is used for? Couldn’t he share how to grow a garden? Couldn’t he talk about the properties of cement and bricks and the engineering required to build a fireplace correctly?

I just feel like there is so much overlooked talent in our world. I feel, from what I have witnessed in the world, that workers such as this kindly man are often dismissed by the educated. I wonder what it would take to convince teachers to look in unexpected places for classroom experts? Sure, the big chemical company down the road is full of scientists and engineers. But the fella who spent his whole life messing with the art of bricklaying and the science of pouring concrete (which gets mixed according to the air temperature) should be on a teacher’s call list, don’t you think?

As we parted, he extended a hand, which I took right away to shake hard–even as he was saying “my hands are dirty.” I replied that dirty hands are a sign of creativity, and told him that I love hobbies that get my hands messy, like gardening. In fact, I told him I wanted to start learning how to carve bowls out of logs with old-fashioned tools. On that remark, he opened up more. He said, “I draw. Yes m’am, I draw horses and dawgs and mountains so perty. My boss man, you know Mike? He says he wants to buy some of my pictures. Noooo. I couldn’t do that.”

What holds him back? He has so much to share.