From days gone by to today

Having just celebrated Labor Day, I thought of a moment I had while working recently.

Following the morning portion of my assigned work I do for Mid-American Cleaning Contractors, I was in Springfield at a Wendy’s digging into an apple-pecan-chicken salad when I saw something I found both amusing and quite telling about someone in the labor force who isn’t expecting the government to pick up the tab for his existence.

Sitting nearby was a young man who wore a work shirt stenciled with the company logo “Matco Tool.” While I’m perhaps the single least handy guy ever to write for my hometown paper, I do know that Matco manufactures the tools that are so very foreign to me. As he turned in my direction, I saw a tattoo on his left forearm. It was the bluish outline of a wrench. I had to laugh as I thought to myself, “Now there’s a man who REALLY loves his job!”

Truth be told, I guess this business about having something identifying a job surely isn’t all that unusual nor is it a recent trend that’s just beginning to manifest itself. For many years now, some workers have worn their work clothes long after their time clocks were punched at the end of a day, be they the blue collars of those with soiled hands or the white collars who wear cleaner shirts with company logos on them.

In my bedroom I keep a box that contains several keepsakes of my father, who died at just 58 while driving his work roads. Inside that box are tie clasps with the simple insignia of US Steel, one football fans have long associated with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Although it was initially designed as a logo for one company, over time it has become the universal symbol of the steel industry. As a steel salesman traveling all over Ohio and Indiana representing Central Steel and Wire Corporation, my dad left the house each work day a well-dressed man, often with his tie affixed to his dress shirt with one of those clasps.

As a lot of men of his World War II generation, my father didn’t attend college. The fact that he was able to parlay his service time as a United States Marine and a whole bucket full of personal magnetism into securing a well-paying white-collar job gave him a source of tremendous pride. And, while he wasn’t a devotee of tattoos, he surely loved wearing those tie clasps.

Of course, another place where people’s pride in their jobs can be seen is on license plates. I’ve seen plates that identify the car’s owner as a doctor or nurse, a lawyer, an accountant, a teacher among many other occupations. I’ve seen a plate for, I’m assuming, a pharmacist or pharmaceutical rep, that read “Medman,” for an accountant, “CPA1040,” and others that read “BARTNDR” and “FARMER.”

If you’re a Seinfeld fan, you’ll recall a certain episode where Kramer is mistakenly given another’s personalized plates, a proctologist. The plate, in reality, I’m pretty certain, would be denied by government officials who arbitrate on matters relating to what proposed plates are acceptable and which ones are in poor taste. If you’re a fan of the show, you certainly remember the word on the plate.

And, if you’re not and are the curious type, if you tap in the name of the series and “Season 6, Episode 21,” you’ll be in the know.

There are also those who are equally proud of their profession, but don’t want to shell out the extra 50 bucks for a personalized license plate, that proudly display bumper stickers such as “Bus drivers make better lovers” and “Accountants like to get fiscal.”

Sometimes the pride one has for his or her profession even extends into retirement years. Lady Jane and I, on one of our walking routes, always chuckle when we see the house with a white wooden sign that says, “Beware, retired grumpy old teacher lives here.” Once you leave that profession behind, as both of us did in May of 2005, it’s a bit mystifying why one would feel compelled to announce to the world a former job.

And, so it goes for many people and their jobs. I suppose it’s not too much of a leap from a license plate or bumper sticker or sign in a yard to a tattoo of a wrench on a forearm. Many feel that our jobs define us as much as those who refuse to work define them. So for those who have worked throughout your life, be proud of your toil. You have indeed made a difference… Happy belated Labor Day.

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a division of AIM Media Midwest. He is a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at

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