Wednesday, September 21, 2016

An updated work history

I wrote what follows about three and half months before I was due to retire on March 1, 2015, three weeks after my sixty-fourth birthday. I am re-posting it for the benefit of some who may have missed it the first time and want to know a little of my personal history. If you know enough already, please pass, and do something else more worthwhile—like reading your Bible.

My working career spans, let me see, over fifty years out of my (now) sixty-five.

This ain’t me, but it could’ve been!
At the age of thirteen, I launched a paper route in a new subdivision where I lived. Walking door to door to collect subscriptions to the Joliet Herald News, a dozen or so subscribers grew to over sixty in a short time. Delivering the papers I usually rode a bicycle, but I didn’t just toss the rubber-banded newspapers in the direction of my customers’ front doors. I made sure the paper was close to their reach and out of the weather. This made for big tips when I went my rounds to collect the six bits (seventy-five cents) weekly price, sometimes a whole silver walker (fifty cent piece), especially in wintertime, when I either rode my bike on slippery streets or, if the snow was too deep, trudged through the drifts to get people their daily news. I usually made about twelve or thirteen dollars a month, as I recall, in the mid-nineteen sixties.

A ‘silver walker’ fifty cent piece.
I was a coin collector even then, and I bought my first two gold coins with money from that paper route: a gold sovereign of King George V from the Melbourne mint in Australia for twelve dollars fifty cents; and a gold five rouble piece of Czar Nicholas II of Russia for the same amount. Gold was thirty-five dollars an ounce in those days.

To pay my college tuition, during the summers I worked and saved all my pay, still living at home with my parents. Dad’s policy was not to expect me to contribute to the household finances as long as I was saving for school.

Wheaton, Illinois, post office, where I worked.
The first summer before starting college I worked at the Post Office. That was the year I wrecked my Dad’s new car, which he let me drive to work on the late shift (he worked the day shift at the same Post Office, being the superintendent). After the accident, I had to work ‘days’ with him, so we could ride to work together in his old jalopy. My job was in the dead letter department. How fitting!

Clegg Chapel and Hudson Hall, at Blackburn College.
College tuition cost a thousand dollars my first year, and it rose two hundred dollars per year over the course of my studies, but I always worked summers and made enough to pay it. Room and board was paid for by my working thirteen hours a week for the college during the school year. The first year, I worked in the dining hall and kitchen as a cleanup boy. The next two years, I was the music librarian in the college library, a much easier job.

I left college a year before I would have finished and earned my bachelor of arts in History. That was a silly mistake, but my parents were going through troubled times and were not in a position to rein me in and make me do the right thing. I quit school so I could immigrate to Canada and join a New Age commune. Instead of doing my fourth year of college, I lived with my now-divorced Mom, and worked swing shift as a line operator in a container company, managing two or three lines of blow-molding equipment and the people working on the lines. That was a very hard job.

Canada and USA flags at the border.
After about a year, when I would have graduated, I waved goodbye to my Mom and drove my little Pinto loaded with all my possessions down the highway to Canada. Twenty hours of non-stop driving later, I arrived late at night on the fourth of May, 1972 on the frontier. I parked at a rest stop and took a short nap. At nine o’clock the next morning after about six hours of uncomfortable sleeping in my car, I drove up to the border crossing with thirty-five hundred dollars (an incredible sum of money at that time) and a hopeful smile.

The road north from Portal, Saskatchewan.
North Portal, Saskatchewan, possibly the flattest real estate on the planet, lonely, sunny, and wind-swept, was the name of the border crossing. With no one else in sight, I drove up to the cubicle and let the official know my intention was to immigrate to Canada. I was instructed to park my car and come inside the station, where I was asked a few questions, given a multiple choice test, and then sent on my way with a pass signed by Oscar Meier, who told me to go to Canada Manpower when I got to my destination, and to see a doctor for my immigration physical.

My wife, in London around 1971.
Finding work wasn’t that easy, but at last I found an entry level position. Superior Steel Desk, my first job, two dollars an hour to assemble steel office chairs, was where I made my first Canadian friends, and through one of them, met my eventual wife. ‘My girlfriend has this crazy friend of hers living with us, and I’d like her to move out. Do you wanna meet her and take her off our hands?’ Larry asked me. Oh my gosh! How fate arranges things, but at least I got to experience an ‘arranged marriage,’ possibly one of the last of the century, and in North America to boot. A shy guy like me wasn’t likely to find a gal on my own.

My ‘official’ photo in 1972
for Canada Immigration.
My Canadian years were devoted to just trying to survive, working at any job I could get. I was turned out by the steel desk company as a troublemaker, but I think it was because I was just too spunky for them. Canadians back then (and maybe now) were far more reserved than us ‘Yankees.’ My next job was in making ‘real’ furniture, wooden, traditional, and cheap. Two dollars an hour again was my pay. I forgot to mention I was living in the ‘commune’ at first, where my paycheck was pooled.

I went straight from my Mom’s house to the commune, and then to my wife, without the slightest chance to misbehave. It was only years later that I noticed and mused, ‘I forgot to have fun!’ Actually, I was and still am very happy that I was led along my life path by an ‘invisible Power,’ and very pleased, indeed, when I found out who That was. Meanwhile, ‘back to work.’

Our homestead outside Edmonton.
I can’t believe some of the work I did in those young years. One of the jobs I had was working in a warehouse tearing off the front covers of new soft-bound books that had not sold, so those covers could be sent back to the supplier for a refund. I did that job while trying to go it alone (with my pregnant wife) in a rural homestead just outside of town. My dreams of commune life on the land faded when I was kicked out of the commune for opposing ‘group marriage.’

Here I am milking a cow into a wine bottle!
Those were the days. My most interesting job when I lived in Canada was that of a dairy farmer’s hired man. Yes, I was the only one. I did that job in the autumn and winter, and I found that though I liked the idea, the doing was much harder than I had imagined. Still, I got to milk cows, rescue stranded newborn calves, clean the barn and, you guessed it, get used to ‘farm smells.’ At least it wasn’t pigs!

Unusually for me, I can’t quite remember what my last job was in Canada before I moved back to the States with my wife and infant son Jacob. But I do remember my first job here in Oregon. How could I forget? It was both the worst and, in another sense, the best place I have ever worked. The worst of it was, it was a small town furniture factory, and nearly everyone I worked with was ‘low life.’ Dirty talk, cheating on wives and girlfriends, drug addiction, all around nasty behavior. I was ostracized and made fun of, and I wasn’t even a Christian yet. But I didn’t stay that way for long!

I was the lead man at Sterling Furniture. Here I am band-sawing a panel.
I began to notice that I was well-suited to woodworking. Maybe it was because both of my grandfathers were woodworking artisans, and I think it ran in the family. When I left that small town and that job, I found another woodworking job in ‘the big city,’ Portland, where I’ve lived ever since. Wages were still low. The most I ever made at Sterling Furniture was three dollars sixty-four an hour, and that was even Union wages. Though I was sad to leave when the company owners decided to close the shop and auction it off piece by piece, my next job, in cabinetry if not actual woodworking, started me off with an hourly wage of seven dollars, more than I’d ever made in my life.

Starting off in the shop, first as a sawyer and lead man in charge of an assembly crew of youngsters about ten years my junior, after less than four years my education and skill set were discovered by the owner of this company, and I was yanked upstairs to work in various management positions. I had gotten use to factory work. I was able to move about freely, dress casually, and sing and whistle while I worked. By then I was also a Christian, and I was always on the lookout for those God might send me. I resisted the boss’s offer. ‘Your position in the shop has been eliminated,’ he said. ‘If you want to keep working here, you had better take the office job that I’m offering you.’

After about ten years, the owner of the cabinet company sold it, and I was left again to find another job. By then, I had been doing design work in cabinet style and interiors, and one of my customers, a designer at a remodeling company, drafted me to work for them. That job lasted about a year, and I was glad of it, because I was drawn there by the promise of being able to ‘straighten out’ their product line (they also made their own cabinets), but they wouldn’t let me do a thing to help. ‘We’ve always done it this way!’ Well, needless to say, I didn’t stay there very long.

Where you could find me the last five years on the job,
loading and unloading aluminum into this Haas VF2 mill. Fun!
Finally I come to the work I was doing until my retirement, which I cannot really call a job. I worked there almost nineteen years, and for the same boss who owned the cabinet company. Between his two companies I worked for him almost thirty-five years. This second company is a machinery manufacturer, and I held almost every job there and started several departments. My final legacy was to start a machining department, milling aluminum machinery components. So, I started my working life a machinist, and ended it the same way, having migrated from wood to metal.

‘And the sky is still wide and high before my path…’
And the sky is still wide and high before my path, and I still have all my fingers and toes, but best of all my mind, which I have tried to keep safe inside my heart. And I thank the Lord who opened my eyes and smoothed the way before me. What people think of as the end and sometimes fear is ironically the real beginning of what they always wanted but had forgotten. And if we make it there, in old age we will have very good reason to be reckoned as children again.

Wisdom is wisdom and inhabits and fills the birth and the death of all beings and all things, awaiting us beyond age and time. And ‘there are no losses except those that free.’

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