My mother worked every day of her life, both as a mother and wife, inside the home, and later, as a fellow-wage-earner, outside it. This was before automation, and often before electrification. She instilled in me early, a strong work-ethic. Between ages eight and twelve, I had three paper-routes for two different newspapers.
The first job I remember her having was as a waitress at the lunch bar/dining room of a local hotel. Since she worked from 11 till 3, my brother and I ate our lunch where she worked. I remember a lot of hamburgers and fries, or hotdogs and fries, and the reduced cost of our meals came out of her earnings.
She eventually developed a circle of people she cleaned homes for, both year-round residents and summer visitors. She was requested to do more than just clean. She cooked food for soirees, and served as waitress. A tiny woman, there were often things she wasn’t strong enough to do. From 12 to 16, I occasionally worked with her, taking down shutters or storm windows, putting up screens, cleaning out garages or storage sheds, mowing lawns, trimming trees, and sweeping or shovelling sand off sidewalks and driveways.
One customer my mother had, was a grumpy old fart who owned a convenience-store and eight cabins near the beach. He made most of his money during the summer months. Since my birthday was in September, and I had to be 16 to get a summer job in a factory, she arranged for me to work for him in the summer of 1960, for the lordly sum of 50 cents/hour. Nothing difficult or complex, a retail clerk. I took money, made change, directed customers to product, kept an eye out for shoplifters, stocked shelves, swept up and hand-dipped ice-cream cones.
One slow, hot afternoon, I made myself a cone. The old man came in the back door just as I was putting money in the till to pay for it, and asked me what I was doing. When I explained, he told me of the girl he’d had the summer before. She just about ate him out of house and store. Pop, chips, candy bars, ice-cream cones, and never thought to pay for any of it. He was impressed with my honesty.
The next year, my father arranged a summer job at the R.C.A. Victor plant where he worked. For the first week, I moved raw material, sanded some edges, and wiped dust off cabinets about to be packed. For this, I was paid $1.27/hr. After last summer’s 50 cents, I was rich.
They moved me to the spray-finishing department. TV and stereo cabinets came in on rollers from a half a dozen assemblers. I was to take them off the rollers, and place them on large trays which would carry them by chain-drive through the spray booths. One of the sprayers came over to tell me that, I could probably move the individual TV cabinets by myself, but the five and six-foot long stereo cabinets needed two people to move safely. While they liked a mix of big and small on their line, he told me to accumulate several big ones at the end of the rollers, and call him or one of the other guys, who would help me load up a batch at a time.
While I got an hourly wage, these guys were paid piece-work. They lost money every time I called them. About the third day, a little light went on. I walked up the line, and gave the next empty tray a pull. Sure enough, the drive pin to the chain wasn’t attached, it was merely pushed. I could pull a tray forward till it touched the end of the previous one, and it would just sit there till the drive caught up to it. This gave me lots of time to swivel one end of a big cabinet out, and place it at one end, then move to the other end and safely repeat the process.
About the end of the next week, my spray booth guy suddenly commented that the cabinets were randomly mixed and I hadn’t requested any assistance. When I explained my process, he was thrilled. They could do it that way when they didn’t have an assistant, and could teach next year’s intern.
Next year I worked there again, just not in that department. The wage scale had increased to $1.34/hr. I was rich as Croesus. Good thing too, I had a car to support. The plant shipped most of its output in train cars. I and another young lad were given the job of loading the boxed cabinets into the cars. The work was sporadic. A batch would be inspected and packed and sent down a delivery belt, to a set of rollers. It was our job to roll them out and stack them in the car.
Often we would finish one lot before another came down. Since the shipping department was right outside the office, it would not do to have us standing around. The shipping foreman told us that, if we weren’t loading, we were to be in one of the cars. He said that we could eat, read, play cards, go across the street to the store, even sleep, but when he stuck his head in to say there was another shipment, we’d better be there, and ready.
My assistant got a case of the runs one day, and was gone for a lonngg time. Another batch started and was piling up on the delivery belt. I used the same system I had the year before, only vertically. I pushed a row against the wall, then another row in front, then lifted the next one up by one end and pushed it back. Put another row in front and pushed some more up, then repeat, using layer two to lift layer three. By the time he got back, I had packed the entire lot myself, and the foreman never even knew he was missing.
I was just too damned dedicated. If there was a job to be done, I was the fool who done it, but I think it made me a better me, and helped me get jobs later in life when I badly needed one. I feel my work ethic shone through.