Copyright ©2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Here's another audio portrait of American life from StoryCorps. This oral history project is traveling the country collecting stories of work, family and generations past and present.

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INSKEEP: John L. Black Sr. worked for nearly 30 years in the boiler rooms of Cincinnati's public schools. Recently his son, Samuel Black, went to a StoryCorps booth to remember his father. And here he tells his wife about his father's dedication to his job.

Mr. SAMUEL BLACK: He worked late hours, especially in the wintertime because you had to keep the pipes from freezing. And working in the boiler room, it's burning up hot and it's probably like over a hundred degrees down there.

Ms. EDDA FIELDS-BLACK: Did he ever talk about what it was like to do that kind of work?

Mr. BLACK: He didn't have to talk about it. Daddy would come home tired to the bone every night. He would just fall out on the bed, and I remember climbing on top of him and playing with his muscles. You know, there were times when he would ask us to rub his feet. And, you know, back then we hated it. I mean he'd been working 16 hours a day. He takes his socks off, you know, and ask you rub his feet. You know you hated to walk past his bedroom because he'd call you in there and ask you to do that.

But looking back on it, his body was probably killing him and he was being soothed by his little boys. You know, working all those hours, he didn't have time to discuss things. You have to get it right that time and that time only.

Mrs. FIELDS-BLACK: And so he was a stern disciplinarian?

Mr. BLACK: He was a very stern disciplinarian. Sometimes he didn't have to do anything but look at you. But you knew what that meant. For instance, I think I might have been 10 years old, me and a friend, our goal was to get a 16-ounce root beer and potato chips. So we went hunting for pop bottles. You know, the pop bottles had a deposit on them; you'd take them back to the store. And I didn't have enough to get my treats, so I decided to get some of the store's bottles, put them in my bag and then go up to counter and turn them in as my own.

So all of a sudden I get this feeling coming all over me, and I look up -standing in the window looking down at me was my father. And all he did was gave the finger motion to come here. So I just walked out of the store and he just said real quietly, get home.

And so I turn and start walking home and he was walking behind me. And it seemed like the long march, you know. So we got home and he asked me why did I do it. And I told him all I needed was a dime. The chips cost a dime. And so he said the next time you need some money, you ask your mother. And so I'm, okay, okay. And I'm wiping my tears and everything. So I walk over to mama: Mama, can I have a dime? And she said no.

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Mr. BLACK: And it wasn't until after he passed that I found out that we had credit at that store, and so my going in there stealing pop bottles could have like ruined that whole relationship.

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INSKEEP: That's Samuel Black remembering his father, John L. Black Sr. Samuel was interviewed in Pittsburgh by his wife, Edda Fields-Black. This StoryCorps conversation, along with all the others, will be archived at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. To learn how to record your story, visit npr.org.

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