After high school, during my summertime employment days, Jerry was my supervisor. He consistently wore a winning smile and was incredibly patient with me as his rookie apprentice.
When handed a job assignment, he was fond of saying, “Smells like work.” Which meant it was something to get done, but it wasn’t always fun. He was right.
I poured 30-pound barrels of a milkshake-like liquid into a machine, where I’d add more liquid, and then pour out pre-measured amounts into a paper-making machine.
The paper-making machine was monstrous—but not as big as the “tree compactors” that made the wood pulp. Those machines were loud and the stench from copious amounts of added bleach made me thankful I wasn’t on that side of the operation.
I got used to the rhythm of the paper-making machine. I’d hang up my freshly made bleached squares in the walk-in dryer. My final task was to stamp the dried paper with a reference number and then bundle it for the scientists to examine.
It wasn’t a bad job—the machines were big but not dangerous, and it paid well. Jerry had been doing this for years and he knew his work mattered to those he loved at home. Every day he’d have a story to share about his kids and their adventures. He coached baseball and took his family to the beach every weekend during the summer.
I began to understand Jerry’s smile—he was a happy man. The job may have smelled like work, but he did it for those he loved. And he did his work cheerfully.
Besides learning to operate a big paper making machine, I saw that work is what we do, but it doesn’t have to affect who we are. Like Jerry, I could be cheerful in the effort and support those I love with the right attitude. It took me more than a few summers to learn that, but while work isn’t a choice, my attitude certainly is.
Happy Labor Day friends!
Photo Below: 15 years after my years in the Bleach Lab at Rayonier--where my father worked.