Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Theme Week 5 Narrative

I never realized how hard they worked for our family, or said thank you to them for all they gave us, even though I probably never thought what they gave us was enough. My parents always worked while we were growing up. I know it was from them that I got my good work habits.

“Any job worth doing is a job worth doing right. Do it right the first time and you won’t have to do it again,” my dad would say. That’s why, when I got laid off from the local shoe factory, and I had a chance to go to college, I knew it was time to make a change with my life, a change that would be best for my family.

It was June 15, 2000 when the last employees of the shoe shop, including me, were given their walking papers. Ha, ha, walking papers from the shoe shop! That’s funny!

“This isn’t easy for me,” said my boss, the boss I used to make cookies for, the boss who still asks me for cookies occasionally. “If it was up to me, we wouldn’t be closing.” It wasn’t up to him. He just worked there, too.

We had been warned that this was going to happen, but it made it no easier. I had worked there for twelve years. For twelve years I sat at a sewing machine, pushing the leather through, knowing that the faster I worked, the better my paycheck would be. Twelve years of punching a time clock, taking vacation when they told me to, smelling like leather when I left at the end of the day.

So with pink slip in hand, I had choices to make.

“Stay home. Collect unemployment for awhile,” my husband said. “It’s fine with me.”

Those were options I considered, or I could search for a new factory to employ me. But a flashback of my parents again turned me against the factory route. I remember the shift work my father worked at the paper mill. He would be getting home in the morning, after my mother left for her day job at the shirt factory and before we kids got ready for school.

“Morning. Want something to eat?” I’d ask him. “No, just going to bed. I’m tired.”

Mum would be home late afternoon, tired, but made a meal for us, attended our school activities. Hours later, she’d pack a meal for my father, so he could start his drive up through the woods to go to work.

“Hope the moose aren’t out tonight,” he would say. “Saw a big one last night. Just missed me.”

Thanks to companies sending their work over seas to be produced at a cheaper wage, the reason the factory closed, I was eligible to participate in a government-retraining program, no charge to me.

“This is my way to get a better job. I can go to college on someone else’s money,” I told myself.

“I don’t know why you wouldn’t.” my husband said.

“I’m too old,” I said.

“No you’re not. Do it.”

“Not sure if I can do it.” Any excuse. Most people go to college right out of high school, not after working piecework for more than twenty years.

“Go to college,” I remember the guidance counselor saying to our junior class. “There’ll be more available to you if you do.” Good advice, but I never considered it because I had a child to support. (That’s another story.) Out of six children, only one of us had gone to college, and now I could be number two.

So, I have no job and I have free government money. What do I do? I started by listening to people tell me how to write a resume, “Always list your most recent job first, then the others with the first one being listed last” - they told me how to interview for a job with a new employer, “Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” - and I inquired at local job fairs to see what was out there. “What do you want to do?” the lady asked. I was really interested in nursing, but decided against it after interviewing a nursing supervisor. “Most new nurses end up working weekends and holidays. Maybe nights,” she said. Not for me. So my attention turned to EMTC – that’s what it was back then – not EMCC.

Scared shitless. That’s what I was as I chose a field, signed up for classes, and went the first day. “Don’t worry. You’ll be fine,” my husband and girls told me. “You can do better than those young kids.” They were proud of me…happy for me. They even got together and bought me my own L.L. Bean book bag. Ha ha. A forty-plus lady with a new book bag. And, an L.L.Bean book bag!!! “We never got L.L.Bean book bags!” the girls whined.

I often thought to myself, “What’re you thinking, going to college fulltime, instead of working?” It was different, but I adjusted. I did the work I was assigned, got used to campus, and met new people. By now I had buddied up with a girl who had also been laid off from the shoe shop. “Hey, Teena, we’re in the same classes. We can help each other out.” We often went to the library to work. That’s where I was warned about English teacher John Goldfine. “Who do you have for English?” the young kid asked me as we worked beside each other at the computers. “John Goldfine.” “Oooh. If I were you, I’d get another class and teacher. He’s hard!” (True story.) But I wouldn’t think of doing that. I was tough. I knew how to get work done. I stuck you out, and I’m glad to say all went well.

When I think back now, the two years of college flew by. I prioritized my workload at school, and kept the house together at home. When I wasn’t doing laundry at home, I was working on a science project, an I-Search paper, or writing a speech, one of I many had to read in front of the class. Standing in front of a class and speaking was the worst. The teacher would say, “Everyone’s here for the same reason. We’re all friends. Take a deep breath and speak loudly.” I still remember being so nervous my voice would be shaky. There were a lot of eyes looking at me. I think I started one speech three times. What can I say.

May 2002. My graduation from college! Never thought it possible. My father didn’t attend “Too far for me to ride,” but mum did, along with my family and siblings. Pictures, hugs, “We’re proud of you!’s.” “Now go get a job!” At the house afterwards, my dad gave me a hug–just a hug. He didn’t have to say anything. I knew he was proud of me, happy for me.

College was hard, it was a challenge, but now I know I made the right choice. I never believed I was too good for hard factory work like my parents had done their entire lives. I made many friends and had a good work record at the factories.

Today, I always give my all at my job. Just like my parents had. A person isn’t born with good work habits. They’re taught to you, and my parents were great teachers.

“Any job worth doing is worth doing right. Do it right the first time.” Thanks, dad.

1 comment:

  1. Whew, what a piece, what a story--well, actually, it's the same story a million people have!-- but it's what you do with it that makes me hold my breath and then go whoosh.

    God is in the details, and here you start to ascend to heaven with your detailing. It's the conversations remembered and reconstituted, the crystal clarity of the vision, the grace notes (cookies, smell of leather, etc.) It's the complete confidence you have that you know exactly what you are doing here. It's the sense we get of someone taking a hard look at her life and seeing in all her maturity where and who she is.

    I'm sending a link to this to the college PR office because I think they might like to use it in their 'Stories' section of the EMCC home page. They wouldn't use it without your permission.