Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sweet Sixteen to Senior Citizenship

I had lunch with Donna today. We became friends the summer before our junior year of high school when I first moved to Wabash. From Sweet16 to 63. Hard to believe that many years have passed but our 45th class reunion was this summer, proving to us that we are, in fact, senior citizens.

Between us, we've been married to five husbands, borne two children, lived in several states and worked at jobs too numerous to mention. She was a telephone operator once, sitting in a room all night by herself, sticking cords into holes to connect callers. She used to dial me from West Virginia at 3:00 a.m. when her work was slow. Difficult to imagine in an era of cell phones and instant connections that phone calls happened that way. She also opened the first video store in our town when most of us didn't even know what a VCR was. Since then, they've become obsolete. I wrote a column and was provided one of the earliest computers by my syndicate when almost no private citizen had a computer. I could even send my columns electronically...at 1200 baud. Yee-hah!

None of the factories where either of us worked exist any longer, like the old General Tire down the street from me. Many Kentucky families, including Donna's own, moved up here to Indiana to get jobs at General Tire during World War II. My family moved to Wabash because of General Tire too. Mom was a Quality Assurance Representative for the federal government sent here to inspect gas masks.

I can't remember if Donna ever took her turn there but I did, cutting the excess rubber off of gasket pieces for a short time. It was piece work and the older women there warned me off producing too much which would cause them to get time-studied and the rate adjusted upward.

General Tire changed its name several times as it was sold and re-sold. A new sign would be put up out front but no matter what it said, we still called the place General Tire. It was such an elemental part of this community, we couldn't imagine that it ever wouldn't be there. Now, it's closed and weeds are growing up in the parking lot. Almost no place we have today pays as well, relatively speaking, as General Tire did. The workers came off their shifts black as pitch and stinking of rubber compound. They were, collectively, a rather rough bunch, prone to acts of violence during strikes. We felt sorry for them, having to spend their lives there in that hot, ugly place but wouldn't we like to have it back now? Thousands of Wabash families were raised on generous GT paychecks.

As for me, I worked as a realtor (good luck surving on what you can make selling houses in Wabash these days), a bartender (in a rock and roll bar where we had so much fun, most of us would have worked for nothing, and sometimes did when, it was all we could do to scrape the money together to pay the band on Saturday night) and a secretary (serving both sweethearts and shitheads - my favorite bosses: a Democrat mayor and a Republican sheriff). I was also employed in other factories bending pipe and cutting hose and taping harnesses, running a laminating machine and a drill press, soldering and stamping and inspecting. And for one horribly memorable shift, I worked in a chicken house which was a mini-Auschwitz for birds instead of humans. Afterwards, I wouldn't even accept my day's wages, it felt so much like blood money.

I worked at a Sheriff's Department and travelled the country bringing extradited prisoners back to face justice in Wabash County. I didn't care so much about the justice as the fact that most fleeing felons run to cool places, with beach towns being at the top of their list. Transporting a prisoner from Fort Lauderdale isn't exactly like taking a vacation there but, on the other hand, traveling is lots more fun when you do it in a fully marked squad car.

Donna and I both seemed to gravitate to government in our later work lives. I worked for a Mayor, a Sheriff, a Prosecutor, a School Principal. She worked for a high school, a county auditor. Some of our friends went on to the automotive industry and made more money than we did but, nearing retirement, the security of government turned out to be a a positive.

I was consumed by politics; she thought politics was the province of hypocrites and shied away from getting involved, although we both tended to be liberal Democrats.

She loves the Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning; I love NASCAR and Jimmie Johnson. We both love to read.

She's a dedicated Grandma; I'm not a Grandma at all.

Sixteen to 63. We have shared graduations and weddings, poverty and maternity, death and divorce, happiness and heartbreak....47 years later we're still facing whatever comes together.