My father used to say that it was a good thing I went to college, because I never would have made it if I had to work for a living.
He wasn’t kidding, either. By working for a living, he meant physical labor, the kind that he did all of his work life until he retired at age 65. His work life was a very different – and harder – life than mine.
He quit school in eighth grade to help his father on a dirt farm in northern Missouri. Even after marrying Mom and having two kids, he was still doing that, toiling long hours as a farmer, with crops to grow, cows to milk, pigs to tend and chickens to feed. We lived in a three-room house without running water and with a pot-belly stove as the source of heat.
His heart nearly gave out and my mother finally convinced him to leave the farm for Kansas City, 70 miles away, where they both got factory assembly jobs. For a while, he worked in a factory that made metal buildings, but then moved on to the assembly line at Vendo, for many years the maker of the machines that dispensed bottles of Coca-Cola when you inserted your coins.
He finished up as the shipping and receiving clerk at the Kansas City office of Burroughs, which made adding machines and computers. Much of his day was spent packing and unpacking machines.
He was proud when I finished high school and even prouder when I became the only family member ever to graduate from college. But he never considered my job of interviewing people or writing stories on a typewriter to be “real work.”
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my father’s saying about working for a living. That’s because a combination of a job vacancy and illness has left us short-handed in the manufacturing part (the “real work” part) of the Gazette.
The printing press, the stapling and trimming machine, and the machine that inserts advertising flyers into the paper all require a certain number of people to operate them. Several times recently, I’ve tried to help out so we would have the minimum number to run the inserting machine.
I say “tried” because I’ve been given the easiest job, the one that doesn’t require any combination of mental and manual dexterity to adjust the machine “just so” for each insert to feed into the paper without jamming. That’s left to Mike Foster and Chris Knox, with help from Paula McCullough, Tabatha Barry and Andrea Griffin. They know what they’re doing.
My job is to pick up stacks of papers off a cart, jog them into alignment and feed them into the machine. It’s just physical, repetitive work, what my father would have called “real work.” By the time I’m done, my feet hurt from standing, my legs and back ache, and my arms are tired. I’ve come home dragging and complaining so much about aches and pains that my wife insisted I go to the doctor for a physical.
Nothing wrong with me, the doctor says.
My father would have added, “Except that you’ve never had to work for a living.”
T. Wayne Mitchell, Gazette publisher, can be reached at 662-534-6321.