I've not quit for the now old-fashioned reasons

     I've worked in a toy factory for thirty-one years now. Very few of those years I've been happy in my work and many more of of those I've wanted to quit for one reason or another but stayed the course through it all. Good for me, eh? It's more than that, in the face of 40% or more attrition in the workplace becoming almost epidemic, when new hires, state-wide, quit jobs within a few weeks of starting despite dramatically increased starting wages and benefits. Thirty-one years on the job is unthinkable when so many people nowadays don't even finish out their probationary period.
    I've not quit for the now old-fashioned reasons of: paying back the bank for money I have borrowed; having to support a family as most often the primary source of income; weathering the financial and emotional effects of two divorces; and, bearing the expense and responsibilities that rural landowners have. 
    Sometimes others in the family have need for a little assistance for one thing or another, so being employed for as long as I have, has enabled me to do what I can for all of us.
    Granted I could've set my sights higher. If I had been so motivated I could've created bigger opportunities for myself by leaving this rural area of Minnesota and moving to Minneapolis/Saint Paul or Saint Cloud or Duluth or Alexandria, Mankato or a host of other metropolitan areas for higher education and income. I could've become a physician, or a veterinarian, as I originally was interested in becoming. Or a college art teacher, a more viable career choice, even an industrial psychologist, as I once entertained.    
    My female friends of the latter 90s encouraged me to quit the factory; they thought I could do better things than work in a factory setting. Their attitudes were contagious and I did began to think, as I thought fifteen years or so earlier, that there was life after the toy factory. In fact, while I was attending college in the 1980s, I encouraged other students-older-than-average (SOTA, as we were known) to go back to college or take classes they would enjoy, as my college days were among the best fun and wonderfully creative years of my life to that point. 
    But hesitancy seeped into the equation when I realized that all those female friends were supported, in part, by husbands, or wealthy fathers, who helped bear the financial loads. They could risk 'risk' and bounce from one spontaneous undertaking to the next. I wasn't that courageous. I only saw as far as the next loan payment, electric bill, telephone, car and health insurance and student loan payments that had to come out of my pocket every month; as well as gasoline for the car, diesel fuel for the tractor, and all the time and labor I was invested in.
    I became critical of my shortcomings not being someone else, not doing greater things with my life and intelligence, not becoming a college English professor, not an art teacher, not a physician. I had but to look around me at the 'successful' educated people my age with all their social achievements, all the upcoming college-educated youth vying for lucrative jobs and getting them, all my friends who fly off to exotic locales all around the world on a whim. I could easily think, "I am less than because I work in a factory," as one point in time I did think that way.
    One of my father-in-laws was, let's say, 'disappointed' I was going to marry his daughter. In a successful effort to humiliate me after I was first employed at the factory doing grunt work on the assembly line, sweating buckets of perspiration, and getting somewhat dirty as was the nature of that particular position, he somehow arranged for his other children and their spouses, who all were attending universities for law, engineering and mathematics to meet me, for the very first time, as my co-workers and I built the toys they could well afford to buy. I was greatly embarrassed. I did feel a lesser person for having to do physical labor and not the means to do the great things they were all poised to do. I could only see my own reflection in the mirror of their eyes and not all those other 'general laborers' working behind me.     
    Despite this guy's efforts to dissuade our marital union, his daughter and I were married for sixteen years, parting amiably at its dissolution. We have a beautiful daughter who now is an architect.
    American industry was built on the backs of people like me and my father, his brothers, sisters, our family. We weren't the industrialists that grew immensely wealthy by the sweat of our brows; we were the laborers. We were the members of the labor unions; the workers in the aircraft factories, foundries, munition plants; the shipyard workers, the truck drivers, the dockworkers, the guys digging a ditch, the cooks in hot kitchens, the seamstresses working for a few dollars a day, the dairymen in town and on the farm, the autoworkers, who were all working hard to make a buck to feed ourselves, our families, the neighbors. We are America, along with everybody else who is invisible, everybody else who others fail to see as successful for just being employed trying to make ends meet. 
    Some people, after learning I've been employed at the toy factory for so long, congratulate me. Others act dismayed as though I've wasted a good deal of my life doing something beneath me, somehow. But I can't accept that thinking. I have but to walk my farm, camera in hand, where over the past forty years, I've planted tens of thousands of trees; mixtures of native grasses and Purple Prairie Clover that I planted for CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) and know that working where I do enabled me to live where one of my greatest pleasures is walking across my fields in the evenings observing the glow of the clouds and the sunsets, sightings of wild animals, the migrations spring and fall of geese overhead. Working in the toy factory has had its rewards.
    

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