The Gardens - In the Beginning

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

I'm running as fast as I can.

The twenties...20's...10+10+?  I think the best thing about my twenties is that they only happened once.  The job was usually a job scraped one level up from the bottom of the barrel.  I was an adventurer of meager resources tripping from one misadventure to the next.  The best I would ever have would be no more than I could come up with on my own.  No one beside me, no one behind me...I was alone when it came to planning the rest of my life.  I was so totally clueless.

I worked a year as a babysitter...nanny...whatever, in charge of a young know-it-all girl with a younger semi-bullying brother to a much younger angelic brother, a don't-ever-tell-me-what-to-do afghan dog, and a smarty pants standard poodle.  Each time I made a decision that their mom would never have made in a million years, or so the young lady thought, she made a phone call to mom at work.  She made many phone calls to mom at work that first many, in fact, that mom was highly motivated to skip work for an hour, come home and lay hand to butt.

The afghan made its home under the kitchen table defying me to change her routine, the poodle popped out ten curly black pups that year and sadly later on she died, the bully brother flushed the angelic brothers goldfish down the toilet  and both brothers spent more than a few time-outs in the corners of their bedroom. We became a tight knit little family after a questionable beginning, and I had only good memories for the rest of that year, except perhaps for that high strung afghan princess.  It was a sad farewell the day I decided to work at the naval base in town...the town that was smack dab in the middle of a desert.

I was a 'blue' collar worker at that naval base with no ships.  I worked on the assembly line making ammunition, you know...250 lb and 500 lb bombs, mortars, get the drift.  My most favorite of those crappy jobs was in the filling house. Downstairs sucked!  It was the area where the small rail cars traveled on railroad tracks through the bottom part of the filling house, each car carrying six bombs with their base upright to be filled with molten powder.

Platforms bordered each side of the rail tracks, and that is where we stood in our canvas coveralls covering our cotton long johns, steel toed grounded shoes, elbow length canvas gloves, and face shields; holding the pouring hose folded shut, then unfolding to let the molten hot liquefied powder fill up the empty bomb casings to the correct level.  Little bits of molten powder were always spraying up during the filling process, and during breaks we would be gently peeling them off the lower part of our face.

We were always sweating like pigs at a barbecue.  I was the only woman working in that filing house with a fairly rough group of men.  The lower part of the filling house was surrounded by what is called a bunker; tall concrete walls, fat at the base and tapering as they ascent to the top of the first floor.  This would supposedly protect the outside world if we all kissed out butts know...KAPOOEY! and we all blow up.

Finally I was liberated and placed on the upper floor of the filling house, up above the concrete barrier with windows covering all four sides and a second crew of tough men who never seemed to socialize with the lower level crew.  I was the cleaning person.  I knew I was the cleaning person, because in this group of chauvinistic men, cleaning was woman's work.

The alternative to sweeping the raw powder off the floor and platform areas around the cooking kettles and moping, would be work that was as hard as the lower level; but I had my fill of the broom and mop brigade after a short time, and voiced my opinion to my boss.  I wanted to be treated as an equal with these rough characters...I wanted the cleaning job to be rotated through all the crew.  The first rough and tough macho guy that had to clean floors for the next week was...well, let's just say he looked like a wounded puppy with his tail tucked between his legs.  He was a MAN doing woman's work.

I almost bit off more than I could chew.  This was a muscle person job, and my arms were a bit puny.  Okay, they were a lot puny.  I suffered.  Round metal cans with a handle at each side, and a half opening lid on hinges, with somewhere around fifty pounds of loose yellow pieces of raw powder inside were brought in on a conveyor belt from another building.  A person would pull them off the conveyor belt onto the roller bar platform for the next person in line to grab and carry to the next kettle to be filled.  A strain to lift off the roller bars, it was a double strain to heist that can up high enough to dump its contents into the kettle instead of the floor.

The heat was turned on, the kettles were filled, and as they agitated, the uncooked powder on the agitator fins would be scraped off with wood paddles back into the kettle to cook.  The lid was closed during the final stages of melting until it was like molten lava ready for the lower deck crew.  It will never be said that I let any job get the best of me.  My arms muscled out and soon I could keep up with the best of them.  I began to win at arm wrestling with the men.  I actually became a celebrity in the lunch room for my arm wrestling feats.  I loved it.

Rotated to the roller table and pulling those hefty cans off the conveyor belt eventually earned me a squashed finger and a finger nail that had to have a hole drilled in it by the dentist to relieve the pressure.  I went right back to work on the conveyor belt.  Guys are impressed by this kind of toughie stuff.  I was macho girl, fitting right in with all those macho guys.  I was part of the gang and they all seemed to love it.  I couldn't see this occupation following me into older age...the type of work that becomes harder to do each year until eventually one day the body hits a brick wall and screams just forget it.

The switchboard operator position at the base headquarters got me out of the living on the edge to the living on the bored-out-of-my-mind working group.  My entire day or night was monopolized by that antiquated switchboard staring me in the face defying me to remember who was plugged into whom.  I was in a two handed plugging purgatory.  Uninspired subnormal intelligence was not my forte, so I was well on the way to hell in a hand-basket just my second day out on the job.


  1. Oh boy...I can relate to the emotions your works evoke. Not that I've done the same jobs or anything but might as well have. Where are we? 1940's? When women worked mens' jobs to help the war effort? My mom used to be a switchboard operator, though I honestly don't know if these plug in types were still being used when she was old enough to do that job. I can't imagine trying to remember who was talking to whom on those things and which lines represented whom!

  2. Wow! I've done a LOT of things in my life, but I can't imagine being brave enough to 'suggest' my work be shared by all! Good on ya! Great post.


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