My grandparents were two of the hardest working people I have ever known.
In 1945, when my father was 11 years old, my grandparents built their own business. Literally – they built Brown’s Service Station from the ground up, cinderblock by cinderblock, with their own hands. My father helped, lugging bricks, wielding a hammer, digging foundations.
They built the gas station, the service bays where my grandfather spent decades repairing other people’s cars, the tiny convenience store that was the precursor to the 7-Elevens that dot our roadways today and where I learned, at a very young age, how to make change for customers. They built the small, flat-roofed home attached to the back of the store where they raised four children, and a couple of years later, when they decided they wanted a pool, they dug it by hand, poured the concrete, and had their very own “cement pond.”
They were up before the sun, pumping gas in the bitter cold, the rain, the heat; if there was an accident in the middle of the night, my grandfather was out with the tow truck pulling cars out of the ditch, and still he was opening the station by 6 a.m. My grandmother worked the store, and when my father wasn’t in school he was pumping gas. It was a family business, built by, run by and made successful entirely by the efforts of my grandparents.
On Friday, the President declared that no American could claim credit for their own success, mocking the efforts of those who have worked hard to advance themselves and reach for the American dream. Our success, says the President, should be credited to DPW employees and teachers and other public service sector, taxpayer-paid workers. Essentially, according to this President, success is made at the hands of the government. After all, if we had no roads, you would have no business. If we had no government, in the President’s mind, you would have no success.
The men who built Route 9 in Saratoga County should be proud of their work, but they do not get credit for Brown’s Service Station. The teachers in elementary schools of the early 1900s can take pride in their students' accomplishments, but they do not get to claim the success of my grandparents' business. Only Al and Pauline Brown, born in the first decade of the 20th century, survivors of the Great Depression, dedicated parents and salt-of-the-earth American dreamers, get to claim the 35-year success of Brown’s Service Station in Halfmoon, N.Y.
As Washington debates whether or not to allow taxes to rise yet again, as health insurance premiums continue to rise (on average by $2,400 since Obamacare passed) and as job growth, at best, stagnates, we need leadership that understands what my grandparents understood: that hard work and individual sacrifice leads to success, that risk-takers earn the rewards of their risks, that jobs grow and economies flourish when earned income is left in the pockets of those who have earned it, to be spent at their discretion, not the government’s, to be invested, and used to grow businesses and create jobs.
Unfortunately, my grandparents are long gone and unable to share the wisdom of their experience with this President. My grandfather had a sixth-grade education, but by the labor of his own hands, he sent four children to college. They never bought anything they could not pay for with cash. When my grandfather passed away, my grandmother continued to open the store at sunrise and pump gas for years. When she became ill and finally needed the care of a nursing facility, she was admitted as a self-pay patient.
My grandparents never asked for a dime from anyone, they never relied on the government for anything, and they were among the most loving and generous people I know. They were not successful because of the government, they were successful because, in fact, they did work harder than everyone else … and they earned it.