It Never Was A Living Wage, It Was Opportunity

ct grownIt was years ago, some would say long enough to be a lifetime.  It was a time when a young student looking for work learned the value of what today we call, networking.  Most of my friends were looking for work and jobs were hard to find.  Then suddenly, right there in gym class, opportunity knocked hard at my door, “If you want to work, I think you can work with me”.   A friend told me about an opportunity to work.

I went that day to talk with owner, nervous yet confident; I had a real chance to actually find work.  As it turned out the interview really wasn’t much more than an introduction, I was hired on the spot.  It wasn’t for big money, about a half dollar an hour and the boss said, “Call me Doug”.

Six days a week, sixteen hours every weekend and three or four hours four days a week, there was only one day off.  I learned commitment to a job and a work ethic, I never considered skipping work.  The company was small; it was run by three generations of the same family, Grandpa Fred, Doug and his son Charlie.

Three men that gave me an opportunity and each offered guidance and life lessons that became a part of who I am.  Fred may have been “over the hill” but the man was there every morning at 5:00am to open up.  Doug had long hours but took the time to go home for lunch every day and take his wife to dinner every Thursday.  Charlie, well he wasn’t that much older than the rest of us but he had experience and kept us busy.

Charlie taught me there were two meanings to the word, “project”.  If you were taking too long to complete a task, you were “making a project out of it”.  On the other hand if there was a task that needed to be done in detail and would take some extra time then Charlie had “a project” for you.

When I got a nickel or dime raise, it wasn’t enough to provide a “living wage” but it sure made me appreciate the value of work and compensation.  I learned a lot on that first job, it turned out to be more of an opportunity for me than I realized at the time.  I was blessed to work with those three men, each with his own distinctive personality, and each as a teacher and all with ethical business standards.

As I reflect back today it was never as much “a job” as it was an opportunity, a classroom to learn about life, work and people skills.  Every day you interacted with customers, you did manual labor and you developed a work ethic that would become part of your being.

Today when I hear politicians talk about a “living wage” I think back to my half dollar of opportunity.  I think about three generations of honest men working together not becoming wealthy on the backs of cheap labor but working side by side with students giving them an opportunity while they too struggled to “make a living”.

The value of that first job was not in compensation but in the life lessons and doors of opportunity the experience opened up.  We all knew then it was not about a “living wage” it was more about a few bucks in our pockets.  For us, it was more about money for lunch, gas, and maybe a date to go to the movies.

We never gave much thought to the life lessons, we were young and malleable.  We were also lucky, lucky to work for Fred, Doug and Charlie.  It was another time and another place, it was Pero’s Fruit Stand on Oakland Street in Manchester and it was the way a first job should be, about life not about a “living wage”.

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