If you see me sitting outside in my socks on Labor Day, wave

September 1, 2013 

What do you want to be when you grow up?

It's a good thing life doesn't always turn out like little kids say when they are asked that loaded question by some well-meaning adult. Otherwise, we'd have an overabundance of cowboys, ballet dancers, baseball players, movie stars, firemen, dog doctors and presidents of the United States.

Those were the big ambitions for first-graders in my generation.

I know because Sister Salvadore asked us and helped us write our answers on the blackboard. There were a few farmers, nurses, an Army man, a couple of mommies and even a space man. (There was no such thing as an astronaut yet, but I think Dave wanted to be more like Flash Gordon than a green alien with antennae.) One of my classmates wanted to be an Indian. Some of us laughed. Sister scolded us. It's not nice to laugh at somebody's wishes, she said.

Me?

I wanted to be just like may Dad -- a pole climber.

A few kids laughed at me, too, so I had some explaining to do.

My dad was a lineman for the city of Highland.

He and another pole climber got to drive a red truck filled with big spools of wire and all kinds of tools. They went around town, fixing people's problems with wires and electricity. More often than not, when Pop was on the job he had big spikes strapped onto his boots and a thick leather belt, more than twice as big around as he was, strapped around his waist.

I would bikes with my friends and see his truck. I'd look up and there would be Pop, at the top of a wooden telephone pole, spikes dug in and leaning back as far as his belt would let him.

"That's my dad," I'd say proudly, pointing skyward.

Pop would wave at us from on top of the world.

"Wow," my friends would say. "What a neat-o mosquito job."

Tomorrow -- Labor Day -- when I'm off work and barbecuing burgers on the patio, I'll take a minute between burger flips to think about how cool it was to have Pop home on Labor Day.

He always told me: "It's not work if you like what you are doing." I think it was a standard Dad line. He believed it. But he sure was happy to be off on Labor Day.

No doubt, he'd be barbecuing, too. Cut-up chickens on one of those round barbecues with the spinning grills.

Pop never allowed the grill to stop spinning. The chicken skin would burn if it did, he said. But we knew he just liked to stay busy even when he was taking it easy.

We might even crank up some homemade ice cream. That was another family project that turned into a lot of work. But it was worth it. Labor Day might be the last chance of summer to have homemade ice cream.

Between eating chicken and waiting for ice cream to set, any kids around got a game of kickball or clothesline volleyball going. Mom and Pop sat in lawn chairs in the shade along the side of the house and watched the action.

Pop was in his socks -- no knee-high leather boots on a day off from work.

"Dogs gotta breathe," he said. He liked to undo one of the straps of his bib overalls to be more comfortable.

He read the paper -- funnysides first -- and looked up and waved every time a car passed. He waved whether he knew the driver or not. He almost always new the driver.

It was great to see Pop -- and Mom -- take it easy on Labor Day. They hardly ever did.

On workdays, Pop came home for lunch at noon and got home for supper about 5:15. He taught us all that work is not just 8 to 5. He would get called out at all hours, especially during thunderstorms and fires to make sure people had power.

When he wasn't working for the city, he was fixing other people's televisions, doing projects around the house (installing a gas furnace, making kitchen cabinets from scratch, for example), hanging lights for the St. Paul church picnic, changing lightbulbs at the VFW baseball field or turning an old dryer motor into a heater for the basement.

A week of vacation meant putting a new roof on the house or catching up on painting. We might go fishing in Shoal Creek a time or two, but there was always work to be done.

Pop worked hard. But he liked it. I could tell. It's one of the reasons I wanted to be a pole climber, too.

Of course, I had more than a few changes of heart along the way. Third-basemen for the Cardinals, astronaut (Alan Shepard and Laika, the first dog in orbit, made a big impression on me), Fuller Brush salesman, priest, archeologist (until I found out you have to know how to spell your occupation before you can be it) and even math teacher were on my list.

After I finish barbecuing on Labor Day, I think I'll pull up a lawn chair and wave at cars going by my house. Socks, no shoes. I'll wonder what life would have been like if I had become a pole climber, too.

And if my classmate ever got to be an Indian.

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