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My only regret in this historic week has been that Mom and Dad, and my other relatives of their generation aren't around to experience it. Lou Berlien and Roberta Conkell were both adults during the Depression, and I was raised with stories of their heroes, Abe Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

They had no truck with totalitarianism, Fascists or Commies. During WWII they both worked in defense plants. Mom wasn't Rosie the Riveter -- she was Bert the Welder, and it convinced her that she was as good as any man. Dad's brother Bob took a bullet in the shoulder at Anzio, and years later went to his grave with the German slug in his arm, because doctors scared him worse than Nazis.

Mom and Dad were both union stewards, and when I was a baby they took turns carrying me on the picket line when their local went on strike. The blood of Organized Labor runs in my veins -- around the turn of the (twentieth) century, my Grandpa Berlien organized with his fellow coal miners in southern Indiana to strike for an eight-hour, six-day work week. They got shot at by the goons the mine owners hired for their efforts (and won the better working conditions). Grandpa Conkell? A life-long railroad man, and yup, a Union Man too. He worked on the Grand Trunk/Canadian National line through Michigan to Toronto. Mom was born in Canada, and became a U.S. citizen as a child, when Grandpa moved the family to Battle Creek, Michigan.

Dad was a coal miner as a young man, too, until he scraped up some dough, went to college to get his teacher's certificate, and taught in a one-room school. Hard times hit, so he moved to Battle Creek, where there was work in the factories. He saved enough money to bring his father, mother, and kid brother out of the poverty of the failing coal mines.

Neither he nor Mom could stand or understand bigotry of any kind. He told me that we're all the same kind of critter, and that every coal miner was black when he walked out of the shaft at the end of his shift. Mom believed that God had built a big, beautiful garden, and that if all the flowers were the same color He'd be bored. When we lived for a year in a very segregated Florida in 1959, she made a point of entering stores through the "coloreds'" door. She had to explain to me that the drinking fountains that stood only about three feet from the floor weren't put there out of kindness to kids, but that they were there because the "coloreds" couldn't drink from the adult-height, refrigerated, "whites only" fountains. She was so ashamed at this that, from then on, we both drank from the same fountain, and she had to get on her knees to do it. It would have been one of the highest points of my parents' lives if they could have seen a black person living in the White House.

And their son Bob? He grew up to marry a Canadian Union Maid (who's getting her American citizenship), be a Union Organizer, and vote for the first President who wasn't a white guy. And it's all their fault. Y'see, Bob wanted to follow in the footsteps of his heroes.

Comments

( 10 comments — Rap On, Sibling, Rap On )
minnehaha
Nov. 8th, 2008 06:45 am (UTC)
What wonderful people you have.

K.
lsanderson
Nov. 8th, 2008 07:24 am (UTC)
Wot...
She said.
mmbutler
Nov. 8th, 2008 10:04 am (UTC)
So how's the "no secret ballots in union organizing" trajectory hitting you and the Union Maid? No snark, serious question.
barondave
Nov. 8th, 2008 01:10 pm (UTC)
Lovely bit of history. Thanks.
beamjockey
Nov. 8th, 2008 04:51 pm (UTC)
d their son Bob? He grew up to marry a Canadian Union Maid (who's getting her American citizenship)

Really?
mizzlaurajean
Nov. 8th, 2008 05:58 pm (UTC)
I also come from a long line of union workers. Mostly railroad men.

I'd like to see more unions and give company's who keep jobs here and who will support having union workers incentives.
Those who chose to ship jobs overseas should be accountable to the same basic worker safety/rights laws we have here and should have to pay them whatever the living wage is in their own country.

I really like discouraging moral corruption and greed and pushing people over profits.
mjlayman
Nov. 9th, 2008 12:49 am (UTC)
Wonderful story!
kitkat_137
May. 20th, 2010 06:50 pm (UTC)
I think that we might be related! My grandmother (Bonnie Alexander) was the daughter of Alfred Leo & Mary (Jackson) Conkell. My grandma used to always say that All people are Bread, God just left some in the oven a little longer so they are a little darker; but, we are all the same.
dr_whuh
May. 21st, 2010 12:26 am (UTC)
Hey, Cuz (first, once removed)!

Yup, your Great-Aunt 'Berta, Great-Uncle Lou and I used to spend a lot of time over at Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Jerry's. Five kids, including twins I don't think anyone could tell apart! What a wonderful madhouse! Your Grandma must have had ninety-five percent of the world's patience; she was one of the kindest, calmest people I've ever known, and my favorite of Mom's sibs.

I see that motherhood is treating you well. Cherish every minute, even the really shitty ones. My son Andrew (an entire three years younger than you, and worth Googling to see what he looks like and has been up to) just got home from work, bitching about his day. I cherish that, too, in a kind of "Ah, payback!" fashion. ;)

Whose are you, anyway? I fear that time and distance has caused me to forget the batting order. In any case, give the family my love, and keep some for yourself.

Bob
kitkat_137
May. 21st, 2010 01:03 am (UTC)
My mother is Karen (Alexander) Odette (the younger of the twins). My mother actually now lives in the house on 14 1/2 Mile Road that her parents used to live in (the one my grandpa built). Not much has changed about the house, except paint colors and furniture. Every time I visit it's like going back in time.
( 10 comments — Rap On, Sibling, Rap On )