28 April 2012

Hewers of Wood, Drawers of Water

No. 3 Equity Court is no longer quite so anonymous. We received large heavy plastic letters to attach to the side of the building for the firm name, as well as numerals for the address. Our good friend and brother Jamie got them up between cloudbursts today. 

And so, we are no longer just “the brown building between the funeral home and Jayenne Elementary School.”  Come to think of it, I will post a photo before long.

I examined the plastic letters before they went up and considered how we came to get them. In our modern lives, “stuff” just seems to show up. We call up the Internet, Google “plastic sign letters buildings” and up pops 10 vendors with 5 sizes, 15 colors and 20 fonts.

The dominance of the service sector of the economy is new. For the first several hundred centuries, the overwhelming majority of human/economic activity was in the production of goods.

We teach our children today that high-education, white/lace collar service jobs are the way to wealth.  And that seems to hold true - the most highly paid “workers” are the CEO’s, the entertainers, the corporate lawyers, the specialist physicians and the like. 

High income folks today seldom produce anything tangible.  And that’s OK.  Services have great value. 

But so many of us have come to look down upon the hewers of wood and drawers of water.

Those plastic letters – a lot of different people’s skills went into producing them. Chemists and materials engineers had to formulate the right plastic to meet the required rigidity and temperature range tolerance, and figure how to get a metallic coloring agent homogeneously throughout. Tool, die and mold makers produced the molds and tools to the drawings and specifications of industrial designers.  Factory workers worked the machinery and manufactured the end-products.

Only then were the products turned over to the marketeers for them to figure ways for the product to be featured in colorful websites, at trade shows and in catalogs.

This behind-the-scenes presence of the people who actually produce things is universal but largely unappreciated.

Most Americans own some sort of motor vehicle. Each and every one of the thousands of parts which make up that motor vehicle had to go through the design and fabrication process. Chemists, metallurgists, engineers, and craftsmen all had a part in producing every part. Some of them have degrees and professional licenses. The papers on the wall did not produce anything, only the people did. Lots and lots of the producers obtain their degree from the dear old CHK – the College of Hard Knocks.

I’ve even heard that old phrase, “hewers of wood, drawers of water” used in a pejorative sense, to refer to people who are just not on the same level as “People Like Us.”

What a mistake. We need wood. We need water.

A note on terms like “craftsmen”: The English language still lags behind reality and we have the choice of using terms previously understood to be gender-specific or spreading distracting disjunctives throughout writing.  I’ve done it both ways, and I’m not satisfied with either.  I’d love to see grammarians and linguists who are smarter than me give us either new pronouns, suffixes and possessives or new rules for using the old ones.

A bit of historical research:

I’ve started to look into the “Mundel affair” of the 1950's, a moderately notorious brouhaha which resulted in legal proceedings here in Marion County.  It involved an art professor fired from Fairmont State College.  Commonly, the whole affair is linked to McCarthyism, the Red scare, and so forth.

What started me down this road was the recent death of my friend, the most senior attorney in our bar, Roderick A. Devison.  Rod attended the public meeting at the American Legion Post which was the genesis of the affair, and was a young lawyer practicing in Fairmont as it wound through the Circuit Court.  Nearly 30 years ago, he and the late Dominick J. Romino, Esq., appeared in an ABC historical special on the affair.  

I’m reading This Nest of Vipers, a history of the affair by Prof. Charles McCormick, a professor emeritus of history at Fairmont State.  Prof. McCormick was one of my first teachers at FSC, although I confess I have very little memory of any distinct impressions.  His take on the Mundel affair is very sympathetic to Dr. Mundel.  I’m reserving some global judgment until I’m much farther along in the still-available resources.
My friend and brother Oce Smith worked for Sen. M. M. Neely at the time he represented Thelma Loudin, the State Board of Education member who was the defendant in the Court case.  He has some interesting recollections. Also, in 1983, I sat and talked for a while with my highly respected elder friend, Judge J. Harper Meredith, who presided in the case.

Well, I’m lacking things to do, so rejoice that I’m not simply sitting around watching game shows.


Jim N said...

Rejoice, indeed, that as sharp a mind as yours, is not being frittered away on the vast wasteland. BTW, as your wife would be more than willing to tell you, the sentence below contains a serious grammatical error:

"I’d love to see grammarians and linguists who are smarter than me..." tsk, tsk, tsk!

Your pesky fink of a friend!

Roger D. Curry said...

Well, you done learned me about that one.

Roger D. Curry said...

'sides, was there some part of "smarter than me" that you was confused about?

Jim N said...

Mea Culpa! I should have recalled Winston Churchill's dictum: "This is the kind of nonsense up with which I refuse to put." Then my majoring in English would not have been pricked into prideful presumptiousness. My bad!