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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Tish Gregory: Honoring Ana Vetter and all hard hats

Tish Gregory

By Tish Gregory

Whether we get paid to do a job, volunteer to help others, take care of our families or help a neighbor, it is labor – in its many forms – that gives dignity and purpose to our lives.

There are no “menial” tasks, for all work is important and necessary if we are to maintain and advance our quality of life. Not to slight anyone, I would like to single out and thank a particular group of workers who sometimes irritate us.

You can’t miss them by their attire – boots, jeans and bright fluorescent yellow and orange vests. Their crown is a hard hat. Often they are the ones who slow down our steady progress on the roadways with construction. Frustrated, we try to find detours and shortcuts only to encounter them once again. We can’t help but think, “Give me a break!”, only to realize we just repeated their slogan.

Making it possible for people to move from place to place, however, is only one of their many specialties. Constructing bridges, buildings, airplanes, cars, ships, utilities and infrastructure are some of their other tasks. They provide us with a place to work, be entertained, worship, learn, heal, shop or stay when traveling. Most importantly, they provide us with the crown jewel of them all – a home.

Working in the harshest conditions, the weather is rarely their friend. Winter snows crown their hard hats, torrential rains soak their clothes and the hot sun beats down on their aching, muscled bodies. They sink in slime and muck. They lift, pull, hammer, weld and drill beyond their strength. They move their heavy machinery with all the skill of a tank commander. They work at heights reserved for birds and at depths where worms, insects and rocks call home. Sometimes they must first break apart before they can build up.

More importantly, when Mother Nature strikes us a blow, they endure the elements and maintain and restore our utilities and infrastructures, returning us to our previous comfort levels, with little fanfare.

Days are long, from dawn to dusk, and once at the job site they are on their feet for most of the day. There’s no leaving for lunch or a coffee break. Rather their “lunch bunch” is a group of other hard hats eating out of coolers, lunch boxes and drinking coffee from a thermos. Sani-cans provide “mother nature” facilities.

And sadly, rather than going home at the end of the day – without warning – many give the ultimate sacrifice and go down in battle at the worksite.

So we wonder, other than a paycheck, what possible reward is there in enduring such conditions?

I believe it is in leaving something behind – something of themselves – that lasts for generations and they can point to with pride as they drive over or drive by and see their tangible accomplishments.

Most of us work our entire lives but rarely can point to anything and say “I did that, I made it and it will outlive me.” That’s not to minimize the impact our work, our ideas, our words, our help, our service, our talent and our visions will have on others – but visually our accomplishments are more elusive than concrete.

To all the hard hats, we may not always “show the love” as we pass by, but we recognize without your toil and sacrifices it would be impossible for us to fulfill our dreams and live our lives.

It’s sad that it takes a deadly workplace incident to remind us of the dangerous and meaningful work of “hard hats” and that our appreciation is long overdue.

This commentary is dedicated to the memory of Ana Vetter and all hard hats. We take off our soft ones and salute you.

Tish Gregory lives in Airway Heights.

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