Tag Archive | workers

A “Holiday” Weekend

Labor Day. A day when those who labor take the day off. A celebration of the American worker. Interesting concept, huh?

The first Labor Day was held on Tuesday, September 5, 1882 in New York City. Its origin stems from the desire of the Central Labor Union to create a holiday for workers. It became a federal holiday in 1894.

So that’s the story of how Labor Day came to be. I couldn’t resist digging up the historical aspect of this holiday, but I think most of us see this three-day weekend as something else. Some people believe Labor Day is the last hurrah of the summer. A time for a final picnic and day at the beach. Some recognize it as the signal autumn has begun. Kids go back to school. Women don’t wear white clothing any more — unless,  of course, they decide to get married after Labor Day. Leaves start turning colors and we start thinking about comfort food. You get the drift.

I don’t think most people even think about the holiday as it originated. We no longer have parades to celebrate the day. People love the three-day weekend, even though they know when they return to work on Tuesday, they’ll need to stay late for the next four days to meet their deadlines.

So Happy Labor Day everyone. Have some fun!



Chapter 20

Lacrosse, Wisconsin-October—The girls at the Autolite plant received orders to go to the cafeteria after their shift to attend a special presentation. Everyone was tired and hot after working their ten-hour shift. The last thing they wanted to do was sit at a meeting. But management made attendance mandatory, so if they wanted to be paid, they needed to attend.

Donna Jean and her co-workers sat in the front row, as the president of the company stood at the microphone. He tapped the device three times and said, “Testing, testing.” His voice reverberated through the cafeteria. “Ladies, please take a seat.” At the far end of the room women dashed to find an unoccupied folding chair. When their whispering ceased, the president cleared his throat. “Ladies, today we are lucky to listen to Mrs. Alleta Sullivan from Waterloo, Iowa. Won’t you please give her a warm welcome?”

A stout middle-age woman with a broad face and deep crow’s feet around her eyes stood up and walked to the microphone. She stood about five foot two and wore a conservative navy blue suit with white piping around the collar. A dark blue pill-box hat rested on her forehead. She wore no stockings and sensible flat black shoes. A white carnation corsage was pinned on her lapel.

The dowdy looking woman held the microphone stand for moral support as she spoke in a meek voice.  “Ladies, I’m here today to tell you about my sons. Perhaps you read about them in the newspapers.” She cleared her throat. “All five of my sons enlisted together at the naval office on Jan 3, 1942 after their childhood friend died on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. My youngest son, Albert, was a father already, and he didn’t need to enlist, but he believed he should accompany his four brothers into war.  His pregnant wife begged Albert not to go off to war with his brothers. But he went anyway.”

Donna leaned over to her workmate and whispered. “My friend Rosie is going through the same thing.”

Mrs. Sullivan continued with her story. “But when Katherine Mary studied Albert’s face, she couldn’t say “no” to him. She and her little boy Jimmy moved in with my husband and me after all five boys enlisted. They insisted they be allowed to serve on the same ship and fortunately or unfortunately, the U. S. Navy honored their request.”

As her voice grew stronger, the audience leaned in.

“One night, I went to bed as usual. I found it hard to sleep even though I couldn’t keep my eyes opened when I sat on my chair in our living room. When I did fall asleep, a nightmare scared me half to death. I saw my sons reaching out for me.  Like any mother, I yearned to help them. Their voices called to me, “Mother, help me!” I woke soaked in sweat because the dream disturbed me so much. I jumped out of bed and got down on my knees. I prayed for all of my boys and asked to never experience such a nightmare again.

Mrs. Sullivan drew in a deep breath. “A week after my bad night while we ate breakfast, someone knocked on our door.   My husband, Katherine Mary, Jimmy, and I gathered in the living room in our bathrobes and slippers to listen to a Navy commander say: “The Navy Department deeply regrets to inform you that your sons, Albert, Francis, George, Joseph and Madison Sullivan are missing in action in the South Pacific.”

My sons served on the USS Juneau. The Japanese bombed the ship, while it sailed to bring badly needed supplies to the Marines on Guadalcanal. The ship sank the same night of my dream.”

Donna gasped. The rest of the audience sat in dead silence.

Mrs. Sullivan continued. “I hope none of you ever experience officers coming to your door. I hope you never hear those awful words of your son or husband being killed. I hope you never feel the overwhelming sadness which makes your knees buckle as you feel the life drain out of you. My grief paralyzed me. My world changed with the words spoken by those navy men that morning. My sons died. Everything I ever lived for vanished with an enemy bomb. I wanted to die to tend to my sons.”

“My sorrow paralyzed me. I couldn’t do anything for weeks. I didn’t get out of bed a lot of days. I didn’t eat. I didn’t even care if I combed my hair. My grief blinded me. I should have been a source of my daughter-in-law Katherine who suffered as much as I did. But I wallowed in my own self pity and didn’t reach out to anyone.  My husband Thomas took care of both of us. Finally, one day he held my hand and said, ‘Alleta, the boys wouldn’t want you to go on like this any longer.’ He spoke the truth.  My boys filled my life with love – and, of course, they also got into plenty of mischief–I guess that goes with being boys.” Mrs. Sullivan chuckled at her joke and then she turned serious. “I’m proud to say they never forgot a Mother’s Day or my birthday, and I realize all of them loved me. Now, when I look at my grandson Jimmy, I recognize his father Albert’s eyes. Jimmy needs me more than ever since he will grow up without a father.”

“After my husband opened my heart, God touched me. He put the thought in my head that I needed to continue the fight my sons started. That’s why I’m here today – talking to all of you.”

“Besides encouraging you all to buy war bonds, I want you to thank you all  for coming to work everyday. As you run lathes and punch presses, you provide the equipment our boys need. On top of that you keep your babies safe and put up with all the rationing. You all are deeply appreciated even though most people don’t say so. The hard work that goes unnoticed, and the lonely nights you endure, is appreciated by mothers like me. All of you who volunteer for the Red Cross, you are deeply appreciated.”

“You’re all doing important work. You may not be sweating in the jungles of the South Pacific, but you sweat here in the factories. You work hard to do everything in our power to increase efficiency and productivity to keep our boys going. Their missions and sacrifices will save our way of life.” Mrs. Sullivan took a sip of water from the glass on the podium. “I want to personally thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for your service.”

“My son George wrote in one letter, ‘We brothers make a great team together. We can’t be beat.'” Mrs. Sullivan’s voice quavered. “My boys made a good team to the end, and you are a good team as well. When you think the world is ending, keep your chins up and support one another. We need to band together as our country and your men fight this terrible war. Your efforts are as important as every man in battle. You are our protecting the front lines at home.”

Mrs. Sullivan held the audience in her hand. She invaded the girls’ hearts as if she spoke personally to each one of them.  “God bless all of you for your fine work.” She stepped back from the microphone, and the entire cafeteria erupted in applause. One after another, the girls stood on their feet and cheered for Mrs. Sullivan. Tears rolled down cheeks as the little woman took her place under a banner with five gold stars – one for every son who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.

Chapter 21

Budapest, Hungary-November—A year had passed since Heidi and the children knocked on Rabbi Weissman’s door. Under his roof the children found happiness again and were free to get into mischief like children. Little Jacob learned to walk and chattered like a baby bird. David kept busy reading every book in the Rabbi’s library, and Ruthie practiced her ballet steps under Heidi’s instruction. Best of all, they played with Gavriella and the Rabbi’s five children.

Staying at with the Rabbi and Gavriella showed Heidi the fear and desperation of Jewish families. Families from every country in Europe drifted through the Rabbi’s home searching for a long-term answer to Hitler’s “final solution.” Many planned to seek asylum in Palestine, but such trips proved to be risky and expensive. Heidi wondered just how long she and the children would be safe with the Rabbi. If Hitler’s march through Europe was any indication of what was to come to Hungary, she would need an exit plan ready.

One day Heidi approached the Rabbi studying in his office. “Rabbi? I need to speak with you. Is now a good time?”

“He looked up from his text and smiled. “Heidi, please come in. Tell me what is troubling you.”

“I am concerned, Rabbi. What will we do if the Germans should overtake us?”

“Why do you trouble yourself with such things, Heidi? You are like a daughter and your children are like my own grandchildren. Do not worry. My people will take care of all of you.”

“But I think the children might be safer if I left with them? Let’s face the facts, Rabbi, everything is more restrictive and food rations are more stringent. We are a burden on you.”

“You are no such thing!” The Rabbi’s closed his book and stood up. “I promise you Heidi, you will not go hungry here. If danger rears its ugly head, I will take the necessary action. You are safe, child. I do have a plan for you.”

Heidi smiled, but she pursued her line of thought. “Wonder if all the Jewish people in Budapest are rounded up and sent to the camps like Poland and other places? The Nazis would take all of us and throw us onto the trains. I must keep my promise to Dora to protect the children.” Tears welled in her eyes. “The children will fare better if we leave.”

The Rabbi stood and gazed at the girl. “No. I do not want you to leave! A young girl like you traveling alone with three small children would be quite perilous.”

“But I am German, Rabbi. I speak with the right dialect. I can get them through to Switzerland where we will all be safe.”

“Heidi. Listen. A woman traveling without a man, especially in war is an easy target, my child.” The Rabbi spoke with concern in his voice. “You might be overpowered, beaten, raped or killed. I really wish you would not dwell on this subject.”

“How can I not?” Heidi paused. “What man who would go with me?”

The rabbi pulled at his long salt-and-pepper colored beard as he considered her question. “Right now, the Hungarian government will not deport any Jews from Budapest. Eichman made an agreement with my organization.”

“And you think the agreement will last?” Heidi thought the Rabbi deluded himself to think a Nazi like Eichman could be a man of his word.

“For right now? Yes. In the future, no one can predict.  So, I pray to God. He will keep me apprised of what I need to do and when I need to take action.”

“I pray, too, Rabbi-every night that God will protect the children. They deserve a chance to grow up.”

“Yes, Heidi.” The Rabbi smiled. “And so do you.”