(A Scintilla 13 Story)
I started work at age ten. My job was to wait for the person to my left, usually my grandmother, to pass the plastic bag to me. Then I would put two acorn nuts in and pass it down the line. I stood at the cold metal table and did that every Saturday and Sunday from 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM. I kept doing that, more or less, for another 5 or so years.
No one forced me to work, though I was pretty much stuck there anyway. The company my dad worked for (and I would later work for off an on for most of my life) needed people to work on an assembly packaging line. It was mind-numbing, easy work, but it paid pretty well, considering how easy it was.
My dad needed to recruit a bunch of warm bodies to come in and get the work done. Most of my family could use an extra bit of income. Thus, for the first couple of years, the packaging crew consisted almost entirely of my grandmother, aunts and uncles, brother and sister, cousins and both parents.
That’s how I found myself spending every weekend in an abandoned Military Command structure that had been converted into a warehouse. I’m pretty sure the entire building is lead paint and asbestos, so when I inevitably get lung cancer, I’m going to stubbornly blame that place and not my cigarette addiction.
For the first few weeks, I would romp around and play with my younger brother. We were only there because anyone that would normally be a babysitter was also there. I don’t ever feel like I had a lack of adult supervision, though. If we started to become too much of a hand-full we would be given note pads and pens or markers and be allowed to draw. I even have a very distinct memory of my father making an entire suit of armor out of cardboard boxes and stomping around like a robot.
Eventually, I got bored. Younger brothers are inherently boring, unless they’ve already grown into rock stars, then they are mostly okay. On the other hand, OLDER brothers and cousins are always awesome. I wanted to be like them, so I wanted to work on the assembly line. The adults relented after my constant pestering and I was given the easiest possible job to do.
I didn’t have trouble keeping up because I only had to count to two, and some jobs on the line went to eleven! I didn’t mind doing it because I was with my family, especially my older siblings and cousins and that made me way cooler than any dorky little brother ever could understand.
I wasn’t paid at first, of course. No one wanted to admit that there was a nine-year-old working on an assembly line in a warehouse constructed of pure death. So, instead, my parents bought me a kick ass new bike as payment. That just fueled me even farther, and I decided I really liked this job thing. I would just keep coming back.
So, I just kept going and going. After the first few weeks, I even started getting paid as contract labor. I made serious bank for a kid my age and wisely saved it, although almost all that money was gone by the end of my freshman year of high school. As the years passed by, the packaging crew sort of changed from this family thing into a place where employees of my dad’s company shunted off their kids to make some spare money on their own.
By the time I left the packaging line to go to work at a more socially acceptable job (a Walmart Cashier) at age 16, I was one of the oldest members of the crew. If I had been wiser, I wouldn’t have left then. I was making more money doing packaging. Still, there was theater and debate tournaments that kept me away from working on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
I won’t ever forget the lesson, though.
Money is nice.
Perseverance pays off.
… and I can still count to two.