Work: Why Bother?

Constructed by Work Projects Administration c. 1939

This is a post from a previous blog of mine. It’s seems appropriate as I go through the job hunt once again.

I live in a neighborhood of very old houses. Granted, my European friends think of “old” on an entirely different level. They think in terms of millennia; in America, we think in terms of centuries.

Let’s just say that there are no Roman aqueducts gracing our town square. But we have a lot of buildings and homes nearly as old as our country.

That said, the houses in my neighborhood were built during the 17th century and many of them have plaques from the historical society. My house was built in 1869 for a “laborer” while, around the corner, the much larger shingled Victorian home with the wrap-around porch was built for a “druggist.” (Form your own conclusions.)

While I certainly enjoy living here, it wasn’t until I got my new puppy that I felt I could walk around the neighborhood without arousing suspicion.

With a dog, you are free to go down this street or that without someone staring at you from behind their curtains, worried that you are looking for a house to burgle. I can wander along streets I would otherwise have no reason to visit and, as long as I clean up after the dog (which I do), I’m just that nice woman with the cute puppy. Without a dog, I might be considered that unstable woman who tends to wander about.

See the difference?

Yesterday, I was working at home and took a break to take the puppy for a walk. There are many old, large trees along the street. As they grow, their roots destroy the asphalt sidewalks that the city usually installs.

Asphalt sidewalks are (1) inexpensive, (2) easy to install, (3) ugly, and (4) guaranteed to fail in a few years as they sink and crack to follow the contours of the tree roots growing beneath them. Of course, this means that walking can be treacherous, especially if you like to look at the homes, which I do.

Eventually, we came to a section of concrete sidewalk that is smooth, and straight, and level. It is a fine sidewalk upon which to walk alone or with one’s dog. When I was much younger, this would be the sidewalk I sought out whenever I put on my roller skates.

We’d just started walking across it when I spotted a small bronze plaque set into the concrete. It says: “Constructed by Work Projects Administration.”

The WPA was created during the Great Depression to deal with the massive numbers of unemployed Americans. From its creation in 1935 until 1943 when it was disbanded, the program employed  over 8,500,000 Americans in over 1,400,000 projects as wide-ranging as construction, writing, and art.

According to the University of Indiana’s Lilly Library Website: “During its 8-year history, the WPA built 651,087 miles of highways, roads, and streets; and constructed, repaired, or improved 124,031 bridges, 125,110 public buildings, 8,192 parks, and 853 airport landing fields.”

My mother often talked about the Depression and how the WPA came and built a little park with a stage in her town. The community would gather there for picnics or band concerts. It provided a respite from the worry of unemployment and poverty. That park still stands as a testament to their work.

As does a sidewalk in New England.

The work that was done almost 75 years ago is still with us. It was done with pride by individuals grateful for the meaningful work that gave them back their dignity.

That sidewalk has made me think about my own life and the work I’ve done. I wonder if anything I’ve done will last for 75 years. I was a bank teller during college; no lasting impact there. I was a graphic artist and worked on sales catalogs, now long gone. I worked for a photographer and suspect his wedding photos outlasted most of those marriages.

The artwork I’ve framed seems to be holding up, but is that enough? Should I be doing more meaningful work? Something that might just last a century or more?

Food for thought as I head off to work this morning.


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