Saturday, September 4, 2010

Children's story for Labor Day

If you happen to read this and happen to be with kids on Labor Day, you might want to use this little composition to help explain what it's all about.

I'm going to tell you the stories of three children who lived in different parts of the United States during the last century – in the 1900s.

Hazel lived in Massachusetts (in the northeastern part of this country). When she was seven years old, she had to go to work in a big, crowded factory where they made all kinds of cloth. This factory was several stories high and on each floor there were hundreds of machines, clanging and banging and weaving threads together. It was a scary place to work but Lizzie’s family needed more money for food and clothes so Lizzie went there every morning at 7 a.m. She would put new spools of thread on machines so there was always thread to make into cloth. She had to do it fast or the machines would stop running. She would work until 9 o’clock at night. Even though she was very, very tired she was proud to give her mother the 75 cents her supervisor had paid her. What was really hard was getting up the next day to do it all over again. The only day she could rest was Sunday when the owners closed the factory.

A little boy named Joe lived in Colorado, in one of the coal mining towns along the Front Range. He was only five so he didn’t work in the mines. His older brother did. Every day, his older brother would go with their father, deep into the tunnels in the hillside. His father would chop the coal out of the mine walls and Joe’s brother would shovel it into a big cart then, when it was full, help his dad push it back up into the sunshine. While this was going on, Joe would sometimes go with his mom to the company store. They didn’t have real money. They had what was called scrip that the owners gave to the miners instead of money. It could only be used in the company store where everything cost much more than it would at a real store, in a real town. Lots of times Joe and his family were hungry. When there was no more food in their kitchen, his mom would send Joe to the soup kitchen. Any family who had a spare vegetable or piece of meat would give it to the soup kitchen to go into a big pot of soup for the hungry miners’ children.

In another part of the country, somewhere in a vast valley in central California, Maria and her little brother Jose would get up before dawn and go with their parents into the fields to pick cabbages. Jose was only four so he didn’t really pick any cabbages. He’d just sit on the ground while his mom and dad and big sister spent hours and hours bending over cabbage plants and throwing heads of cabbage into sacks. At the end of the day, Maria’s family would turn in their sacks and some big boss man would write down how much they had picked and give her father a few dollars. It was always dark by the time the family walked back to the rows of flimsy houses to find the one where they slept, and eat a little dinner before falling asleep, exhausted. The place where they slept wasn’t their home. It was just a place to stay when it was time to pick cabbages then when the cabbages were gone, they’d walk to another field or orchard to pick something else.

None of these kids – Hazel or Joe or Maria -- had vacations or weekends or even decent schools. And none of them had much time for fun. And there were kids like these everywhere in this country.

[Not every kid in America had such hard lives but lots and lots of them did.]

A lot of people thought this wasn’t a good way to grow up and a lot of people worked very hard to change things. And, finally, about 50 years ago, things did change. So now none of you has to work in a factory, or mine, or field. You have good schools and you get summer vacations and weekends and, in September, you never have to go to school on Labor Day – that’s tomorrow.

So tomorrow, whatever else you may do – hike or barbeque or picnic or just play Frisbee with your family – if you happen to remember, think for a minute of Hazel and Joe and Maria. And maybe just smile a little smile to thank all those people who changed things for the better.

That would be a great way to celebrate Labor Day.

1 comment:

  1. Hello! may i use your story at my church this Sunday?