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Thankful for learning how to work

This first Saturday between the all too short Thanksgiving holiday and the too long commercialization of the Christmas season has me thinking of what I should be thankful for and the gifts I've been given.

And among the most meaningful of those are perfectly symbolized in my Dad's lunchbox.

I started thinking about this after seeing a disturbing statistic for West Virginia children. According to the Kids Count Data Book, 35 percent of kids live in a household where no parent has a full-time, year-round job.

I don't know how to fix that, but that statistic concerns me. Growing up in a house where one or both parents routinely leave for work and return after a full day is a great way to teach a work ethic to the children in the house.

I know because I lived it. I watched my Dad head off to work at about 7:30 a.m. every Monday through Friday, then saw him return about 5:30 p.m.

Dad was a Carbider — a loyal, dedicated and full-time employee of Union Carbide Corp. He started not long after earning a business degree from the University of Texas.

Back in those days, Union Carbide was an innovative, chemical manufacturing giant that moved its employees around to plants along the Texas Gulf Coast and here in the Kanawha Valley.

Dad worked at the Victoria, Seadrift and Brownsville, Texas, plants as he and Mom were doing some manufacturing of their own, producing five children.

I became aware of Dad's working life during his 10 years at Carbide's newest Gulf Coast plant in Taft, La.

Mom packed Dad's gray, plastic lunchbox every morning with a sandwich, fresh fruit and vegetables, a Thermos, and two Oreo cookies.

She'd hand Dad the lunchbox and give him a kiss as he headed out the door to catch the carpool of four or five other Carbide dads in the neighborhood.

He'd return about nine hours later, walk directly to Mom and plant a loving kiss on her lips, then lay the empty lunchbox on the kitchen counter.

After 38 years, Dad retired and he and Mom found a nice place to live in the Texas Hill Country, where he could enjoy retired life while she could continue her new career as an attorney, having obtained her law degree at age 55, just a few years before Dad retired.

Having a busy full-time job and raising a family of my own here in West Virginia, I would visit as often as I could. Fortunately, they never threw out that old lunchbox. Each visit I'd see it stored on an upper shelf in the utility room, unused and collecting dust, but reminding me of that work ethic I learned through two devoted parents.

We lost Dad about a year and a half ago — some 20 years after he had retired and about five years after Alzheimer's disease gradually began to rob him of himself.

Mom and I went through his items and she gave me some keepsakes. One thing that wasn't on her mind — but was important to me — was that lunchbox. I cleaned it off and brought it home, placing it on the mantle as part of a small shrine to Dad, letting it serve as a reminder of God's gift to me and my siblings, a charmed life and a wonderful childhood thanks to two loving and hard-working parents.

Then I learned that statistic about kids growing up with no working adults at home. I'm concerned about the future of a place where so many kids don't learn a work ethic from their mom or dad or another caring adult.

I don't know what I can do about it, but it did cause me to make a change.

After noticing some of the 20-somethings here at the Daily Mail carry their lunch every day in a modern lunchbox — still the same basic shape but not that old hard gray plastic type — I decided that, better than it sitting on the mantle, I can use that lunchbox for its intended purpose.

So now, most every Monday through Friday, I pack a lunch (minus the Oreos) and bring a part of Mom and Dad with me to work in Dad's old lunch box.

It's a nice reminder of the tremendous gift for which I am so thankful.

Merritt is Daily Mail editorial page editor. He may be reached at 304 348-4802 or by email at kelly.merritt@dailymail.com. Follow him on Twitter @ekmerritt.


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