Monday, January 02, 2012

A Life of Work, Part 2

Linfield College, a small Baptist-supported liberal arts college in McMinnville, Oregon, was my home away from home for the four years after high school. Moving to McMinnville after many years in tiny Athena was a shock and an adventure for me. Living in a dorm with a roommate, experiencing campus life, meeting people from all over the U.S., learning things I'd never heard about in Sunday School----these were delicious and horizon-stretching years.

However, I had to come home in the summertime and that was a challenge. I needed a job during the summer and felt I'd outgrown pea and wheat truck driving. There weren't many job opportunities but I lucked out by being hired to be the timekeeper for the pea harvest outfit I'd driven truck for previously. This meant going from field to field, recording the name of every worker, the hours the crew had come on, when they left the job, and those sorts of details.

I also visited the quonset huts where the migrant workers lived, to verify addresses on occasion. It was my first real encounter with the poverty and grimy living conditions provided by the company. Other than the high school boys and girls who worked in the fields, the men who pitched peas into the viners were transients, Mexican day laborers, winos, and other wandering workers. My rudimentary Spanish was helpful, but I wasn't very fluent. Mostly the workers were adult men; few families followed the pea and wheat crops. The migrant workers were paid daily; we teenagers were paid weekly.

During my sophomore year, I was hired to be a clerk at the new Linfield bookstore, which had been renovated and needed extra staff. However, I was more interested in browsing the shelves than in helping customers and eventually was let go from this job. My first and only firing!

That summer, I went home to a new town. My family had moved from Athena to Goldendale, Washington, where my dad became the pastor of the Baptist church. Dad asked around town and found me a job as receptionist at the Goldendale Sentinel, the local weekly newspaper. I learned to use a cash register, to take special orders, and to wait on customers---more successfully than I did the job at the Linfield bookstore!

Junior year I didn't have a job until summer time, when I drove a bus full of screaming kids out to the strawberry and bean fields of the Yamhill valley near McMinnville and spent the day as a row boss, checking to make sure the kids had picked their rows clean, weren't filling their hallecks or bags with dirt and rocks to make them weigh more, and then driving them back to the starting point again. This was a lot of fun; lots of Mexican migrant families with kids---good for my Spanish! In fact, I decided to major in Spanish, thinking I'd be a UN interpreter one day. And living in a rental house in McMinnville with a couple of other girls was a blast! We were always entertaining and I managed to learn a few things about romance.

Senior year I was the dorm counselor, the so-called "senior girl", at one of the dorms. For this responsibility I got a slight cut in tuition and the dry cleaning concession, which paid a small stipend. I also got to contend with the potential panty-raids, drunken frosh girls, and campussing punishments. At Christmas, I decided not to go home right away and took a job at the local Penney's to make a bit of Christmas cash.

During my senior year, the fourth year in a row that I had been a member of the a cappella choir, I received encouragement from friends to apply to be on the young adult staff at the American Baptist Assembly grounds in Green Lake, Wisconsin. I was accepted and set off by train to Wisconsin shortly after graduation. It was the first time I had ever been far from home alone.

This three month interlude was one of the best experiences of my life. I met other college age young people from across the US, all with the same religious background I had but much more worldly! Linfield suddenly seemed tame by comparison. My job was as a snack bar worker (very hard on the waistline!), but it was only for a few hours a day. We had special activities and programming, as well as access to the high-powered and very liberal Baptist thinkers of the day (1963). I dated several of the guys and made long-lasting friendships with people I'm still connected to through Facebook. I even fell in love, at least temporarily!

At the end of the summer, I headed back to Goldendale again, while several of my fellow staffers headed for the Civil Rights rally with Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington DC. I wanted to go with them, but I did not have the courage. My courage to act came a few years later.

Instead, I went home to Goldendale with no idea of what I would do with myself. I didn't have enough Spanish fluency to be an interpreter for the UN and a degree in Spanish wasn't going to get me very far in Goldendale! So I stayed with my parents, watched soap operas with my dad over lunch, and on Nov. 22, 1963, as we were watching General Hospital, the whole world changed.


Miss Kitty said...

Wow, Ms. K. These work-life posts are fascinating! Can't wait for the next one.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, Miss K. They're sort of fascinating to me too----I am discovering memories I didn't know I had!