Celebrate Labor Day But Don’t Work Too Hard


Back when Timberley and I worked together in the newspaper business, one of our all-time favorite bosses was an affable man who still managed to get under our skins now and then.
In paying us every two weeks, our boss also printed memos on our paystubs, whether it was to wish an employee happy birthday, to encourage us to have fun at some local event that weekend, or, my favorite, to remind us, “The eagle flies today!”

That phrase has stuck with me for a quarter century even though I’m now receiving pension checks at the end of each month.  The eagle still flies, just not quite as high or as far.

But even our old boss would have to admit that some of his tongue-in-cheek paycheck notations could be just a bit irksome to hard-working employees, especially after a long week.  The best one in that category always showed up on the payday before Labor Day, a holiday that our newspaper did not observe, at least as far as we laborers were concerned.

“Celebrate Labor Day!” the memo exclaimed, before ending with the zinger, “Work hard.”

Yeah, we chuckled about it—the first year that our payday fell on the Friday before Labor Day.  It wasn’t quite so amusing the second and third years.

Still, the fact of the matter was that our boss—who was owner, editor and publisher of that award-winning weekly newspaper in what is still one of the state’s fastest-growing counties—worked as hard as or harder than any of us on his staff.  And he was right there working with us on Labor Day and on every other holiday that state and federal employees got off but we didn’t.

“Work hard” was right.  But as an imperative sentence, as a good-natured command, it was fair and honest.  And we were paid well for our hard work.  You can’t ask for more than that from your employer.

We both learned much from that boss during our several years working for him.  And we carried that hard-earned knowledge, as well as the leadership skills that he had instilled in us by example, into our next careers as public school teachers.

Until this summer when we both retired, I was an English teacher, computer support specialist, tennis coach, basketball coach and substitute teacher during my 24 years in public education.  Timberley was a marketing and business technology teacher, yearbook advisor and tennis coach during her 20 years.

Why did we retire early?  Why did we quit?  The simple answer is that it was time for a change.  That was something else that we had learned from our old boss, who often talked about “the art of the possible” as it related to newspaper work.  In other words, do the best you can with the time you have, then move on.

That concept is what deadline work—like old-school journalism—is all about, but it’s also applicable to life, in general.  As we live every day, we should practice the art of the possible.

Before going any further, I should say that I’m not identifying our boss here, because he’s still alive and well, as far as I know, and he might not appreciate seeing his name splashed all over our little strand of the Web.

Also, I do have an ulterior motive for this tribute—to introduce what we hope will be a fundamental part of our next shared career in journalism:  this weekly blog and our revamped website, GaillardiaPress.com.

A few paragraphs back, I mentioned my leadership skills, something that my most recent bosses probably would question.  Me, a leader?  The guy who was always working at his computer or grading papers in his own classroom before school, after school, and during his planning period? The guy who ate lunch by himself every day so he could keep working?

The guy who seemed lost in thought as he trudged down the hall to the copier room and back several times per day, and didn’t smile or talk much but minded his own business, at least, while he did his job day-in and day-out?  The guy who expected his students to actually read assigned literary works and then be able to discuss something other than the SparkNotes basics?

Yeah, that guy.  Well, folks, I’m here to tell you that leading by example doesn’t count for much at school these days.  Or anywhere else, I’m afraid.  Just go on down to Raleigh and ask our governor and all the legislators who would seem to be experts on education and everything else under the sun—but really aren’t.

As tennis star Andre Agassi famously stated, “Image is everything.”  In other words, it’s apparently more important to seem to be something than to be something—which is exactly opposite our state motto:  To be, rather than to seem.  [Note:  My new song “Mountains to the Sea” is based on that subject.]

Nowadays, our lives and, yes, our jobs are all too often about shameless self-promotion and public recognition, however fleeting and shallow—garnering likes and shares on Facebook, likes and retweets on Twitter, and whatever the equivalents are on Instagram, Snapchat and whatever else the younger generations are using to avoid us old folks.

Shakespeare was right.  All the world is a stage—or a social media platform—and all of us are merely players.  Or users.  But who uses whom?  Who makes the rules?  And who enforces them?  Those are the questions.  And we shouldn’t have to kill ourselves answering them.

Our old boss definitely made and enforced the rules at our newspaper.  There were definite protocols for every task, and we ignored them at our peril.  As far as “likes” went, the boss didn’t hand out compliments like lemon drops.  He expected us to do our jobs on time and to the best of our abilities.  In return, we received a paycheck every other Friday.

In the nearly three years that I worked for him, the boss complimented my work once that I can remember, with a sticky note over my front-page story on a fresh copy of that week’s paper that he had dropped on my desk early that morning.  “Great headline!” the note said.  I can still smell the ink on that paper hot off the press.

The story dealt with a local property-owner group’s T-shirt sale to continue funding their legal efforts to keep a little old bridge to their island from being replaced by a great big new one.  The group called its effort “Save Our Bridge,” which was featured prominently in the T-shirt design.

My headline:  “Supporters Augment Briefs With T-Shirts.”  As I recall, I avoided using the obvious acronym to identify the protesting property owners.  Or did I?  It was a long time ago.

Still, years later, our old boss also purchased, read and commented favorably on our novel “Night Lights, or, Golf, the Blues and the Brown Mountain Light” that was published in 2004 by Parkway Publishers, Inc.  He even found several typos in the published text that we had missed in the galley proofs.

It didn’t matter that he had retired by then or that neither of us had worked at the newspaper in over 10 years.  Why didn’t that matter?  Because we were part of his newspaper’s family.

Family.  It’s a term that’s overused and sometimes abused, but in this case it accurately describes the relationship among a group of co-workers who labored hard to put out the best product, the best newspaper we possibly could by our weekly deadline.

And that’s what Timberley and I hope to do for as long as we can with this weekly blog and the new GaillardiaPress.com.

Yes, we’re going to promote ourselves, though hopefully not shamelessly, and we certainly hope to see many likes, shares and positive comments from you, since they will be ways for us to measure our success at what we’re setting out to do—and time will tell exactly what that is.

But we’ll always try to remember that we are all family in one way or another, whether we’ve ever worked together in person or not.

So on Monday, do celebrate Labor Day, and do work hard—at whatever you love the most.

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