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A Letter of Apology to Labourers

18 September, anno domini 2010

Dear Sir or Madam,

Two weeks ago today I made a promise to you that I could not, as it turned out, keep. In an effort to remove from my back the burden of shame I have borne these many years for failing to live up to my family’s duel legacy of hard work and criminal activity, I intended to write a week-long tribute to outstanding men and women labourers. I could not live up to that promise. The only explanation I can offer you for my actions is that I was engaged in what I hope you will accept as a more fitting tribute to your labours: I was working.  I would like to extend a special apology to the intended subjects of my tribute, Messrs Henry and Heracles and Mmes Riveter and Virgin.

Were it not for you and your hammer, John Henry, the world may not have become aware of the intrinsic evil of machines. We would have been doomed to an apocalypse at the hands of our own creations. Because of you we — and by ‘we’ I mean ‘Hollywood movies’ — are ever vigilant against the machinations of technology, and the world is safe. For now.

Heracles, of your many labours, the cleaning of the Augean Stables stands out as particularly verendic. There are heroes enough in this world to face lions, boars and hydras; but rare is the man who would clean up a 30-year-old pile of whatsit. You stepped in a pile that even Mike Rowe would fear to tread in, and you came out victorious. Stinky, but victorious.

Rosie the Riveter. In Europe’s darkest hour, with the last of the free countries on the brink of collapse, you roused America to action. “We can do it!” you told us, and you were right. Japan may have awakened a sleeping giant when they bombed Pearl Harbor, but it was you who filled him with terrible resolve. The free people of the world owe you a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.

Mary, the only labour for which you will ever be famous might have been over in a matter of hours, but from it you brought forth the Saviour of the human race. The ramifications of this act are so mind-blowing, the whole world is still trying to figure out what to do with it. On behalf of the faithful, I thank you for agreeing to an insane job offer from an angel you’d only just met. We will be marveling in the mystery of the Son you bore  — yet who created you — for eternity to come.

You are all worthy of  recognition for your awesome labours. If the opportunity presents itself, I plan to follow through on my promise and dedicate posts to you in the future. I sincerely hope I have not offended any of you.

Tenderly I remain your verendicompendist,

S. Hamley Bildebrandt



Filed under History, Lore and Legend, Technology, The Future, Unsung Heroes


Monday is Labour Day. Here in America it’s spelt Labor Day because of the the Great Depression and the War. In order to create jobs and to stem the tide of global fascism, most of America’s U’s were melted down between 1937 and 1945 to increase the output of pro-war propaganda[i] and German ethnic slurs[ii] for the war effort. Roosevelt’s U Drive helped the Allies win the war, but it’s been causing us to lose Scrabble games to our friends across the pond ever since.

A vat of molten U's destined for the the Western Front.

In honour of the men and women who have spent their lives toiling long hours under impossible conditions just to earn an honest living, each post this week will be dedicated to an awesome labourer.

Like many payers of homage, there is an element of guilt inspiring my tribute. I don’t work, or at least I don’t do the kind of back-breaking, self-sacrificing manual labour I am here paying tribute to. And I feel guilty about it.

The sad truth is, I’m a disgrace to my family name. I come from a long line of manly labourers. Going back to my Scottish roots, my ancestors were cattle thieves. When they immigrated to the United States, some of them became train robbers. It may not have been honest work, but it was manly. And tough. On my father’s side I’m of lumberjack stock. Our ancestral town, which still bears our name, is an entire city of lumberjacks to this very day. My grandfather was a lumberjack too. And a coal miner. And a carpenter. Both of my grandfathers lived through the Great Depression and World War II.

A memorial to grandpa. He used to shave with that axe.

I, on the other hand, am a high school teacher and an artist who cries a lot.

Perhaps in writing this I hope to honour the ancestors who would shun me at family reunions were they still living. Perhaps I have it in me to be a great labourer as well, but I haven’t had the opportunity to test my mettle. Perhaps I just wanted to use the expression “test my mettle” without actually having to, you know, test it.

What is certain is that the labourers of this world are awesome and deserve our recognition and gratitude. Labourers, this week is for you.

[i] “Uncle Sam wants you!” read “Ncle Sam wants yo!” until April, 1937.

[ii] Krat didn’t make quite as much sense as kraut.

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Filed under History, Unsung Heroes