Into The Working World

DADNMEIt was 1955 and I was 17 with a high school diploma and no where to go. I was stuck in Greenwood Center the rest of my life.  It was taken for granted that if one was out of school, it was time to find a job. I was offered one at a summer “camp”..for lack of a better word. It is one of those jobs that is blocked out of the mind after a few years because you just do not want to remember how miserable it was. Suffice it to say, I lasted two weeks of rising at 4 a.m., working all day with a half hour rest and getting back into bed around 9 at night. It included taking care of the guests at meal time, doing laundry etc. I thought my experiences with Miss Hobbs would help, but my employer was not cut from the same mould. After one very upsetting morning trying to learn to use a “mangle” to iron a sheet, I decided this was not going to be my life long career. I had previously taken a civil service test in Rumford and passed with flying colors with my typing and secretarial skills, thanks to a very persistent Mrs. Crockett, my business teacher in high school. No matter how well I did, I was too young to be employed by the Federal Government. So I was fighting to iron a sheet the quick way.

There was only one way to go and that was to the local mill. I was terrified to think of walking into that big grey building in Lockes Mills known as the Ekco Company. I had been awarded two scholarships at the time of my graduation, but one must remember back in the Fifties, you either had money for the essentials and education was not necessarily one of the essentials or you had encouragement and money to get somewhere in the world. Finding neither, with my Dad at my side I slowly walked into the mill the first day. I had no idea how to punch the time clock and word had it that it was “tricky.” Ma worked in another section of the mill, so it was left to Dad to show me how to “clock in”.

Since I was too young to run a machine, I was put in charge of Ansel Jordan and Merle Lurvey in the sorting department. I crawled up on a stool with Lil Young on the other side, who made me feel at ease right away. I knew my Dad was on the other side of the giant wall behind us and was cutting the rosewood that would come down the shoot to the tray. It was our job to take out the bad wood and push the good into the bag hooked to the side. When it was full, one of the men would come and take it away and haul it down to where Ma worked and she would put it through a machine to make a knife handle. All those years I looked after Curt while my parents worked at the old mill and now Ekco and here I found myself doing the same thing.

Dad came around the corner a few times and said, ” How ya doin’, Muff?” I always said I was ok but I could see he knew the work was not as easy as some thought. Lil kept joking and that made the time pass more easily. I had to remember that I was earning 75 cents an hour!! This beat working for ten dollars a week. There was a silver lining after all in this dark cloud.

When winter came, Dad gave me gloves to wear while sorting as the ice chunks came through with the wood. Dad said the wood came from Brazil and I told him if he saw any strange spiders or whatever with lots of legs to keep them on his side of the wall!  Soon, though, work lessened and I was laid off. No more 75 cents an hour.

Enter my second experience at mill working. At this point the cold winds were blowing, snow was piling up and it was as miserable as a Maine winter can get. I was married and living on a farm on Rowe Hill. I was 18, young, healthy and wanted to work. Dad sent word that they were hiring at Penley’s mill in West Paris.

By this time I was used to time clocks and found the one at Penley’s easier to use. Up the stairs and there were rows of machines. Surely most households have used clothes pins made at Penley’s mill in West Paris, Maine! Well there were two types of machines..I was shown how to insert the spring and the two sides and put my foot in the stirrup to kick and voila! a clothespin. If I made x number of gross a day I got paid $1.00 an hour. Those women who had worked there a long time had machines which one just hit a pedal and , if I remember correctly, there was a puffing sound and the clothespin was made. I have always been very good at “piece work” and once I got the rhythmn of the machine, I was in hog heaven. I never failed to make my dollar each hour. Junior Farr was my boss and a very good boss he was…patient and kind or maybe I just looked pathetically young and inexperienced.

The women were unbelievably friendly to me and when word came out that I was pregnant, well a surprise baby shower awaited me after returning from lunch at the local drugstore one noon!! That pregnancy, however, cut short my clothespin making because of their insurance policy.

The worse part of winter working and living on Rowe Hill was a storm during the day and the roads weren’t plowed up to the farm. I cannot remember the times we left the car and waded, sometimes well above the knees, through the snow to get home. My husband was not well versed in fire making and since I had been building a wood stove fire since age seven, I took over that chore. So after his working all day in Locke Mills and my working all day in Penley’s, we stood over the old wood stove in the Rowe Hill kitchen waiting for the stove to get hot enough for at least a cup of coffee and enough heat for some kind of meal!

The miserable cold weather also had a silver lining. I seldom thought of the letter I received on my 18th birthday offering a job to work with the Navy in the Pentagon. Another one of those “what if’s”… but , in retrospect, I am quite sure I would never have been comfortable living and working anywhere in a city. As it were, my days working at Ekco and at Penley’s showed me the many sides of people and I learned a great deal from it.

If you learn from every experience, then it is a good thing.

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