“Colleen, we’re taking you off the floor and putting you into screen-printing,” said my shift supervisor at Oresman Bros. Factory, on Pulaski St., in the Crompton section of town. He apparently had great faith in my ability.
I didn’t know screen-printing was a skilled position.
He introduced me to Tom, the taciturn man in charge of that dept. who’d teach me how to superimpose an image of Santa with his reindeer…Santa with his sleigh…the elves at work in the toy lab…onto the red felt cloth that would go to the sewers, after us.
Except I never got the image right.
My prints looked like what would be in the field of vision of a drunk…all wobbly and wavy.
Tom gave up on training me and I knew: I created the “rejects” mill inspectors would label.
You see, “inspector” was my previous job at the mill.
When I wasn’t checking product quality and affixing my inspector’s number to a product, I sat at a machine all day, as foot press operator, lining up bells on the toe of Christmas stockings and then bolting them to the fabric. When I got bored doing that, I devised a method where the bells came down a chute, faster, inadvertently bumping up the piece rate a worker could accomplish in an hour. My co-workers weren’t impressed. They were going to do these jobs a lifetime, while mine was a temporary stint.
Every day that summer, I’d go home with red plush fiber lodged in the pores of the skin. I never considered where else those particles might be.
There was the Christmas break, home from college, where I worked at the Post Office, in a time when we employees put mail in little boxes assigned to individual houses. On one occasion of thousands of envelopes arriving at the Post Office, addressed to young men in town, I learned that these were draft notices whose recipients would go to Viet Nam. I knew I’d be changing the Christmas holidays for many that year.
And my very first job—at A&P grocery store, across from that U.S. Post Office, on Main Street. The same grocery store I’d accompanied my parents to on so many occasions, during a time when markets enticed customers with sets of inexpensive dinnerware packaged as individual place settings and S&H green stamps. As a child, I loved to affix the green stamps to books we filled for catalog items we wished to purchase.
As checker, I worked from the age of 15 (working papers allowed,) where I stood for hours and manned the cash register that never told the change (we had to mathematically figure that out) and whose drawer was tallied each night, to make sure the count agreed with “items sold.”
We store clerks needed to know, too, the ever-changing prices of every item of produce, as well as regular inventory, unlike today’s grocery clerks whose computerized machines or those damnable stickers tell them all.
We kids in this mill town never had life easy. There was no sense of entitlement. Most of us worked from the very day we could legitimately do that and others did illegitimate jobs “under the table,” for no one simply gave us money.
Today, I know those jobs were critical to the person I became.
What job(s) did you have, as teen or young adult, in our mill town? (feel free to write letter to editor or put your answer one one of the Facebook pages dedicated to West Warwick where I post my column. Or add below, in the Comment section.)
West Warwick native, Colleen Kelly Mellor (email@example.com), is a motivational speaker and freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Wall St. Journal, Scripps-Howard, and many regional newspapers. She is author to the children’s books Grandpa and the Truck (grandpaandthetruck.com) and is regular commentator in the Providence Journal. She currently completes two books, “The Asheville Experiment” and “In the Shadow of Princes.” Follow her at colleenkellymellor.com.