It seems someone hacked into my blog – posting something in French about X Boxes. A very rude and strange intrusion. However, I hope deleting them as spam will be rid of the parasites, and I can continue with my maudlin meanderings.
I’m writing about work, how our work ethic influences our lives and our perceptions, and I’ll start from the beginning-my first paying job.
How Does it Feel to be Useless
Ouch. When my husband of less than five years said that to me, it felt like a slap in the face. What the hell? I kept a clean house, ironed those uniforms the regulation way, cooked great meals, took care of my kids and did yard work. I had never felt useless in my entire life, and didn’t at that time. But I was a stay at home mom with two toddlers, not contributing anything financially, and money was in short supply. It’s not that I hadn’t worked outside the home before. I had labored at an amalgamation of minimum wage jobs, but the lack of a college degree and frequent moves, plus child-care expenses made my contribution minimal to say the least
I grew up with a strong work ethic. My mother drummed it into all five of us kids, not so much through nagging, but through example and expectations. My parents never took a vacation, never had a day off. When their five day week job ended they threw themselves into a two day non-stop workathon around the house. We were expected to help, especially me, being the oldest and a girl. And I didn’t argue, didn’t really mind washing windows with vinegar and newspaper, waxing floors, ironing, doing dishes, and whatever else was required. I received some privileges and respect for my labors. If I needed a ride to town, I usually got it. If I wanted to invite a friend to spend the night, that was fine. But that was not enough for my husband. I felt hurt, shocked, mortified. I should have said so, but I didn’t. Hating contentiousness and disharmony, I sulked, then looked for a job.
My introduction into the work force began at the ripe age of fourteen when I signed on to pick peaches with my cousin and a group of Mexican farm laborers at an orchard not far from the house on Murphy Road. We were assigned to pick a section of the orchard, provided with buckets, ladders, and lugs to fill. Lugs for the uninformed are flat wooden boxes that hold a lot of peaches. A swamper, usually some young high school kid, drove a tractor around and loaded the filled lugs onto a flat-bed trailer. We were paid by the lug. Something like seventy-five cents.
The day began at six in the morning, and my mother packed us a lunch and a jug of grape Kool-Aid. So young, so inexperienced, I started out full of enthusiasm, convinced I could easily out pick those braceros. (Another note here. Braceros were laborers from Mexico working with a temporary green card.) An average day went like this: climb up the ladder, fill your bucket with peaches, climb down the ladder, empty bucket into lug, then back up ladder and repeat. The morning seemed bearable, though my skinny limbs ached, and I immediately recognized that my lugs did not even come close to the stack the Mexican workers had. I tried to work faster. By noon the late August heat began to take its toll. Temperatures climbed into the low 100’s. After lunch I felt nauseous, dizzy, cramps. I climbed down my ladder to lie down in the shade. My cousin did the same. The Mexicans laughed at us. We were wimps. Overcome by heat exhaustion, I vomited and curled into a ball. There had to be an easier way to make money.
I returned to the orchard for two more days before admitting failure and found a new calling at the D’Antonio’s packing shed, standing over a conveyer belt for eight hours a day as pears rolled by on a conveyor belt. My job was to cull the small, green, imperfect fruit
It wasn’t so bad, actually fun because many of my friends from school worked there as well.