Hines Sight / A proud heritage of hard workers
With 9.2 percent of the American workforce without jobs, there isn't much for those people to celebrate on Monday, Labor Day.
The economy continues to drag itself back into recovery while unemployment compensation has ended for millions of people who were laid off when the economy tanked in 2008. There are, indeed, plenty of jobs for the asking out there, but for every one person who applies, his or her application is thrown into the mix with thousands of others.
Despite some belief by some -- including a few members of our Congress -- that unemployment compensation makes people lazy, I am of the mind that people prefer to work. They want to contribute. Of course, there are also those pesky matters like putting food on the table, paying bills and holding onto houses.
When I think about the state of employment today, I am reminded of my grandparents -- particularly now as research my ancestry.
None of them sat back and let others take care of them.
They worked. They worked hard. They worked at any job they could find.
My maternal grandmother -- Grandma Rose -- was The Vegetable Lady of Southport. In addition to caring for my grandfather and her nine children, Grandma Rose left her house on the Old Post Road in Southport early every day in the 1930s and 1940s and drove in an old truck -- she had taught herself to drive -- to Bridgeport, where she stocked it with produce. When she returned home, she picked up one of her children and traveled throughout Southport, Fairfield and Westport hawking her wares. My grandmother arrived from Italy in 1896 at the age of 7. She had no formal schooling but had an instinctual ability for math, which she did in her head.
At the same time, she also operated Rose's Grocery Store, which was attached to the family's home. She was an accomplished butcher (also self-taught), using a wood-handled, long-bladed knife, which I now own. She started the grocery store, according to my mother (who is now 85 years old), so the family also could have better meals.
After my grandfather died in 1947 at age 69, Grandma Rose permanently parked the truck and gave up the store, which she then rented out to numerous businesses over the years.
I remember a bakery and a hair salon. Many years later, she started a laundry business from her home.
She washed, starched and ironed thousands of belongings for Fairfielders and Southporters, many of whom had much more money than she ever would.
Lines were strung throughout her house and were filled with her customers' clothes.
My grandfather, who I never knew, came to this country at the age of 23 and married my grandmother two years later; she was only 15.
He worked at various jobs, including for the Works Progress Administration instituted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and then at Handy & Harman, the site of which is now Whole Foods market on Kings Highway.
On the other side of the family, not much was ever said about what Grandma Hines did for a living, if anything at all. I guess it was enough to take care of the house, four children and my grandfather, who we called Poppy. My grandfather was what used to be called "a self-made man." With only an eighth-grade education (he used to say that he "never went in for all that book learnin"), he worked primarily in factories, of which there was an abundance at the time they all raised their families.
Later on, Poppy, with a few investors from New York City, founded a lock manufacturing company, which made Segal locks and developed a key system. In fact, my grandfather held a patent for the Hines Key System and loved to tinker with inventions.
He worked every day running the company until he suffered a heart attack and died at age 82. My father took over the business, but sold it when he retired.
I am proud of my grandparents' work ethic and thank them for instilling that in me and others in the family. As we take the day on Monday to rest and relax and spend the time with family and friends, let's all hope that the economy soon will turn around and those 9.2 percent will get back to work.