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2012-01-04 / Columns

Writer’s Roost

Menial labor jobs said to be ‘beneath’ some
Willis Webb

Boy, don’t ever let me catch you backing up to get a paycheck.” — spoken by L. Ray Webb to his son, Willis, circa 1947.

Most Texans — certainly those who grew up in small towns or rural areas — will have a full understanding of that statement: “You had better have worked hard enough to honorably face your employer and to accept a paycheck you’d earned.”

My parents were like just about every other set of parents of my age group. They expected us to prepare for a life of work. What kind depended entirely on us youngsters and our choices. We were encouraged to pursue education so that we hopefully wouldn’t have to go through life doing manual labor or any kind of menial job, but it was instilled in us that there was no dishonor in hard, physical work.

That philosophy comes to mind these days when one reads about people who are out of work, turning down jobs that are menial and/or involve manual labor. There probably are several reasons offered for the refusal to do menial jobs but only one comes to mind that seems acceptable: the labor would threaten one’s health or perhaps their life.

My upbringing encouraged me to attend college, something neither of my parents were able to do. They were teenagers during the Great Depression of the 1930s and each grew up as part of farmranch families where hard work was an everyday fact of life. Regularly, my folks would say, “Study and get a good education so you won’t have to work as hard we have had to do.”

However, when you’re a kid, you don’t always find jobs that aren’t “physical.”

My three brothers and I almost always had a paper route and jobs in addition to that. When you deliver newspapers on a bicycle, in all kinds of weather, the job can be physically taxing. So, can stocking, sacking and carrying out groceries in a grocery store.

One year, a variety store job provided an adventure of a different kind. O.H. Forke’s store carried fireworks for July 4th, Labor Day, Christmas and New Year. However, a city ordinance banning fireworks forced him to set up a stand just outside the city limits and guess who got to man it? I spent most of what I made on fireworks for me and my brothers.



One of the hardest and most dangerous jobs, as a teen, was driving a small gasoline tanker truck that delivered gas and oil products to “filling stations” in Teague and surrounding towns.

On one occasion, I crossed the truck’s delivery hoses to underground tanks for regular and premium gases. The larger amount of regular gas went into the premium storage tank and the lesser premium delivery went into the big regular storage. In a short while, Teague’s Main Street was awash with gasoline. But, somehow, I kept the job for a year.

There was one other truck driving job. It lasted one day. I delivered a load of bricks from our town’s brick manufacturing plant to a town about 60 miles away. It was “Norman” brick, which are solid, about two inches wide, four inches deep and close to a foot long. Heavy.

It took several hours to unload those bricks...by hand. I had a set of tongs that clamped onto about nine bricks at a time and I had to stand beside the truck bed, reach onto the bed, lift with arm strength/ leverage only. It took about six hours to unload that truck. I drove back home and left the truck at the owner’s home late that night. I spent a couple of days in bed and after several years of frequent pain, had back surgery, which I attributed to my one day as a brick truck driver.

I became even more convinced that Mom and Dad were right. I needed to get an education so I didn’t have to “work so hard.”

WILLIS WEBB is a retired community news­paper editor­publisher. He can be reached by email at <wwebb@wildblue.net>

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