During the year, the hard work of all the laborers around our family dinner table was lost on me. Except for Labor Day weekend when we celebrated the working life.
My grandfathers, father, mother, aunts and uncles were all union laborers. To me, Labor Day is for the people that keep this country and its economy running – like my Aunt Ruth.
She worked hard, but wasn’t accepted everywhere.
Born Eulalia, but called by her middle name, Ruth was the first woman to work in the General Motors plant in Tilton, Illinois. Mabel, her “beauty operator,” looked the other way when Aunt Ruth showed up in her salon straight from GM wearing her men’s work clothes, Million Dollar Red Revlon lipstick and a filmy grime she picked up in the plant that day.
None of this mattered to Mabel, who also let her clientele (like Aunt Ruth) smoke in her shop that really was her living room with a sink and a few mirrors.
When Mabel closed her shop one week to attend to an ailing relative, Aunt Ruth had no choice but to look for another beauty operator.
Following her routine of going straight to the beauty shop after working in the plant, Aunt Ruth walked into a real salon on Main Street.
Although her hair turned out okay, the result wasn’t pretty.
For years we had to hear about how those ladies treated her. They couldn’t believe a woman came into their salon wearing dirty men’s work clothes.
She didn’t get kicked out, but she was asked not to come back. And, Mabel never closed her shop to Aunt Ruth again. Aunt Ruth retired and became our family’s second driver and second mother. Today, I appreciate all she went through as a laborer and a woman pioneer.
Last year, we took a nostalgic trip back down Route One. Read about our adventures with beauty queens, tractors, Elvin and a hot air balloon.