During this month as we celebrate father figures in our lives, I have been pulled to a story I learned about my Grandpa Kelson a number of years ago when I was enrolled in an “Introduction to International Business” course. As is often the case when I am in a class my own dad is teaching, I learned something new about my family in a delightful and unexpected way.
My Grandpa Kelson, Robert Oliver Kelson, was a person who embodied the phrase “gentle giant.” A born educator who found obtaining the education needed to become an educator out of reach, he spent his career working for a mining explosives company. This job allowed him to provide for his family as they moved around the continental United States, and to also spend a number of years living in Gagnon, Quebec, Canada.
Gagnon no longer exists; when the mine shut down so did the town. But it is in this small town that this story takes place.
There was a combination of Quebecois and American citizens who worked in the mine. During lunch time the Americans would take off toward the only restaurant in town and spend an hour eating in relative luxury and comfort. The Quebecois would stay on-site, take out their packed lunches and spend thirty minutes eating before getting back to work.
As you may well be able to imagine, this break time arrangement did not exactly foster good working relationships between the Americans and Quebecois. The Americans warned my grandpa that he would struggle to work with “those Canadians.” My grandpa, a simple and frugal man (at the time this took place he and my grandma were raising 5 children), would also pull out his packed lunch and eat with his Quebecois counterparts.
He subsequently enjoyed a rewarding comradery with them that the other Americans did not. Because my grandpa espoused a very different type of masculinity than the Americans who both preceded him and labored with him, he nurtured relationships in his workplace that were significantly different and significantly more rewarding than what we think of as traditional “manly” bonds.
During this month of June, I hope we can all think of men in our lives who are willing to break bread, so to speak, with those who are different from themselves.
We need people who have a willingness to be humble and recognize that, regardless of perceived status, we are all down in the trenches trying to make a positive difference for our families and communities. There is no man or woman amongst us who is above hard work and the sooner we can recognize that the sooner we can all enjoy the comradery that my Grandpa Kelson enjoyed with his colleagues in Gagnon, Quebec, Canada.
Photo Credit: Walker Evans, Akron Art Museum