Let It Grow Organic Gardens

And I resumed the struggle. -Vladimir

Monday, October 10, 2005

We Found It, We Named It, We Built It

A million times I don't know what I do myself. Some of the people say what was he doing. Some of the people think I was crazy. I wanted to do something in the United States because I was raised here, you understand? I wanted to do something for the United States because there are nice people in this country.
Simon Rodia
on building the Watts Tower

You have seen them sitting there
waiting for the bocci ball to stop rolling
waiting for the bell
to stop tolling & tolling
for the slow bell
to be finished tolling
telling the unfinished Paradiso story
as seen in an unfinished phrase
on the face of a church
as seen in a fisherman's face
in a black boat without sails
making his final haul

This was a day of parades before everyone started whining about dead Indians. Time was when people would get together 'cause the mills and the shipyards were closed for a day. They'd get together and stuff their faces and drink too much and argue about the Yankees. Then they'd stuff their faces some more and then they'd argue about something else. The old people would talk about who they knew who had just died and then someone would invariably ask me what grade I was in. Then everyone would argue some more. They were all thick, cholesterol-laden dagos stepping out of block-long sedans and tucking their shirt fronts down into their pants and screaming into the nearest house. They were happy to have a holiday, because they had made it, made it into their own version of success, which included their own house with a back yard and a block-long sedan. So they'd sit down on the sofa and stuff their faces and argue.
Ernesto was the first one over. I never knew him; he died when my Mom was in high school. He jumped ship in Pascagoula and went to work loading and unloading brick trucks. That's the story as it was always told to me, anyway. The Gulf Coast - New Orleans, Pascagoula, Mobile, - was full of Mediteranean types - they'd all signed on as crew in the old country and then jumped ship and stayed here. Ernesto - Mom referred to him as Poppo - loaded his brick truck for a while, then became a brick-layer's apprentice. He did that until he became a brick layer. He learned his trade from the blacks, the story goes, and somewhere along the way married my grandmother. He was a brick-layer until he became a general contractor. Most of the houses he built are still there, including the big one on DeMuey Street that my Mom and my aunts grew up in. He died in 1957 with not much left of his lungs or his liver, but each of his daughters was in college and his widow was set for the next forty years.
That's why everyone wanted a holiday. Because they'd gone from unloading brick trucks to having block-long sedans in a generation or two, and they felt like they deserved a day off and a parade. That's how I remember it, anyway. Nobody much cared about how many Indians died of smallpox or how rich the King of Spain was. They gathered together with their families and their communities and reflected on what they'd made for themselves and what they had provided for their children. That's a pretty good idea for a holiday. A holiday to remember the first guy who got off the boat here, and everyone descended down from him. A holiday to reflect on all the work they've done and a holiday to remember how good we've got it. We don't live in a place where the King sends horsemen in to chop people's heads off because the village didn't pay the wheat tax, or, whatever, and no one I know is about to sign on as crew on a freighter just to get away.
I say we give Labor Day to the Native Americans. We don't need it anymore. The trade unions are about as extinct as the Pawnee, anyway, and more people can indentify Chief Seattle than can identify Eugene Debs. Labor Day can be renamed and used to celebrate the Great Spirit and the sky and the buffalo. We'll have to rename Columbus Day, too, I suppose, but we still get a parade. It'll be a parade for labor, but without any capital letters. Take any political suggestions away from the holiday set aside for our ancestors who worked hard, and return the focus to family and community.


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