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Archive for September, 2013

A Tale of Two Women…Reviews in Honor of Labor Day

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

By MIRAH W. (mwelday)



In today’s culture in America the Labor Day holiday has become synonymous with barbecues and enjoying the last of the summer weather before fall sets in.  I decided to delve into two books related to Labor Day for this holiday post and I ended up reading about two very different women.

First, the nonfiction.  ‘I Am a Teamster’ by Terry Spencer Hesser covers the life story of Regina V. Polk, an activist in the labor movement and champion of employee rights.  She died tragically at the age of 33 in a plane crash on her way to a labor meeting but in her short life she accomplished much.  Regina Polk entered the man’s domain of unions during a time when it was rare, and not always welcome, for a woman to possess a strong voice and confidence when dealing with labor issues.  Born in 1950 to poor farmers, Regina learned the value of hard work and the difficulty of living with little means.  She attended Mills College in California and became determined to make a difference.  She quickly became a fierce advocate for the union movement and everyone in the effort knew her name.  She gave a speech at the Local 743 Stewards’ Conference in 1981 and there was talk afterwards of the certainty that she would become one of the movement’s leaders; she was only 31 years old at the time.  Just two years later she would be gone.  With her larger than life persona, Regina was engaging, confident, and strong; she was a force to be reckoned with.

Now I turn to the fiction.  ‘Labor Day’ by Joyce Maynard takes place over the Labor Day holiday weekend and focuses on a very different woman.  In a small town in New Hampshire, Henry is preparing for another less-than-stellar holiday weekend.  Henry’s parents are divorced and all he really has to look forward to over Labor Day is the uncomfortable ritual dinner at Friendly’s with his dad and his dad’s new family.  While at the store with his mom at the start of the weekend, a stranger walks up to Henry and asks for help.  The man is bleeding and Henry is trusting.  Henry and his mother Adele take the stranger home with them only to discover he is Frank, a convict who has recently escaped prison.  What develops next is an odd story.  Henry and Adele become, in essence, willing victims and allow Frank to hold them ‘hostage’.  Adele and Frank develop a relationship that is romantic, dependent, and (honestly) strange.  At first Henry welcomes the distraction Frank brings and is glad to see his mother happy but then he starts to have doubts.

Adele is as different a creature as possible from Regina Polk.  Adele hides away from the public eye. She hardly ever leaves her house and she and Henry primarily eat frozen dinners because that allows for rare trips to the store.  She has only one not-very-close friend, no desire to be noticed, and doesn’t hold a steady job.  When she does need to make extra money she sells vitamins over the phone, a job she is not passionate about.  She is in such contrast to Regina it is as if they are two different species.  I wonder how the character of Adele would have reacted if she met the real-life Regina?

I really wasn’t sure where I would take this post for Labor Day so I went with two very different books that actually ended up creating an interesting dichotomy for comparison.  Then I started thinking about how different we all are as people and how we all have different expectations for our lives.  And even if we don’t agree with one another, our choices, the way we live, or the movements we support, we are all still people and deserve respect. Not really what I thought I would get out of this exercise but, no doubt, a valuable lesson to revisit.


Happy Labor Day!