I graduated from high school, now what? Well, I realized I needed a job, but where? The size of the town, my age, and my education were limited. I had made a trip to Washington State University in Pullman, to see the campus, but I realized I wasn’t ready for college and did not have the money to go either. My future education planning is complete in this exchange; MOM: “Do you want to go to college?” STEVE: “No.” MOM: “OK.” At this point, no one in my family had gone to college, so there weren’t any traditions or history in higher education to go by.
My parents traded my 1960 Volvo for a 1965 Ford Mustang coupe. It had Twilight Turquoise exterior and white vinyl interior. It had a 289 cubic inch V8 and a three speed transmission. Oh, did I love that car. I slept in the back seat of it the first night, because I was so excited to have something this nice. It was now my responsibility to take care of. It represented a change in my life and direction.
I was able to get a job at the local Ford dealership. They had a gas station in conjunction with the dealership. I was hired to pump gas, change oil, and wash some of the new cars. They had a red 1969 Mach 1 fastback with black strips that drove me wild with car lust. I thought I was doing ok there, until one night; I washed a ’69 LTD coupe with a 390 cubic inch V8. I was going to put it back in the garage when I punched the accelerator. After I parked it and was walking back to the gas station office. I could see I was going to be unemployed fairly soon. The black tire marks of the burn out were very obvious. The next day my employment there was ended.
My next job was picking apples at an orchard near Omak, WA. It was about fifty miles from home and my first venture on my own. I had a sleeping room that was part of a barracks. Its size was about 9’x 12′ which was bigger than my bedroom at home. It had a window, a front door, a cot with an army wool blanket, a 3’x3′ table, one chair, and a wood burning stove. Bathroom and showers were in a separate building. In May, it was still chilly in the evenings and early morning. We had a wood burning stove at home, so I knew how to work it, but there was something wrong with the damper of the wood stove in my room. I could not keep a fire going and was constantly cold. It seemed like I was the only worker with a car. My co-workers were all older than I and apparently chose to spend their money on wine rather than on transportation. They did not shave or get haircuts either. Lest you should think I was describing a hippie commune, neigh I am not. I am describing cheap labor of the down and out. In the mornings, we would collectively move into the orchard, equipped with tall wooden ladders. I learned you do not just pull on the apple in a brutish way, but twist the fruit at the stem with finesse to release it into a canvas bag, much like a paper boy’s bag of old.
I wasn’t loving the job, but knew I had to stick it out to provide much needed income. At the end of one day, after working the orchard, I returned to my sleeping room to find that the mice had opened my Oreo cookie bag and divided them out like cards in a game of poker. If I was going to eat my Oreo’s, I would have to ante up. I could tell the deck was against me, so I folded and let them have the cookies. I spent the next day at a park trying to decide if this job is really what I wanted to do. I decided I did not want to continue, so reluctantly I went home.
My brother was living in Oklahoma and said I could get a job where he worked. So at the age of 17, I left home to move to Oklahoma City. I loaded my Mustang with the few possessions I had and started south. My parents decided to follow in their car, so my sister and I were in the Mustang having a taste of independence. I still remember going through Montana. The sun was shining, all the windows were down, and the radio was turned up. Brenda and I were having a blast.
I did start working with my brother. He was a certified welder in a shop that made commercial hot water heaters and steam cleaners. I started as a shop helper earning the minimum wage. I liked working with my brother. I moved in with him and his wife and newborn son. I had my own bedroom. It was like living at home, but new and exciting. I know I didn’t appreciate the sacrifice Larry and Connie made for me by allowing me to stay with them. They were very patient with me as I was learning what it took to become an adult. They allowed me to make some mistakes and learn how to correct them.
My hair started to grow longer as did my sideburns. I wanted to look good in my work clothes, which were blue jeans, a fire resistant uniform shirt with my name on it, and a pair of black biker boots. I don’t know why I wanted to look good; I did not know any girls. Perhaps it was the beginning of wanting everything I would have to look good; my clothes, my cars, my future furniture. I think I wanted to have pride in what was mine.
The company Larry and I worked for had two locations. One was at the corner of NW10th and Villa. The other, which was called “the farm”, was on Melrose Lane between Rockwell and Council Road. My brother started working at the farm. A driver would transport products from between the two locations. J.D., the driver, was a middle aged black man. I liked to eat lunch with J.D. because he was quiet, had a peaceful persona, and he was a man of faith. I would tell him my ideas and he would help me come to make wiser decisions. He would speak of his family and about work and he helped me see beyond myself. I gave descriptive titles to my other co-workers. I was the youngest worker in the shop so everyone seemed old to be. There was a guy in the office named Ron. He was about twenty five and seemed to have it together. He was clean, well dressed, and college educated. He drove a 1967 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser with chrome wheels. He later got a 1969 Pontiac Gran Prix. But one day, he invited me to go with him to Hudiberg Chevrolet, in Midwest City. He picked up his new 1970 El Camino with a 396 c.i. and 4 speed. It was Midnight Blue with White strips. What a ride that was!
I moved from being a shop helper to assembling the units. I would build natural gas burners and LP burners. I would attach the controls and eventually test the units for leaks. The guy in the room next to me I called “Phil, The Stink”. He was a small framed man, very thin, but he was a hard worker. He crated the units for shipment. One day, he came to my doorway asking me to pull a 1 ½” staple from his knee. I told him I didn’t think I could, but I did give him a pair of pliers so he could. Being thin, Phil would get cold easily. He had a gas heater in his area that he would wrap himself around. Phil did not use deodorant. So in the summer and in the winter, Phil always had a distinct fragrance. I wanted to tell you about “Paul, the Painter”. Paul’s job was to paint the inside and outside of the tanks, and other parts. Most of the time he would stand in front of a paint booth that had running water to collect the paint overspray. Paul had three or four of his front teeth missing and he smoked a pipe. He was generally happy, smiling with the pipe lodged in the open area of his smile. Sometimes, Paul would have to crawl inside a tank to paint it. I think the fumes would get to him. I would see his pipe coming out of the tank like a periscope, the bill of his cap, and finally his painted coated face, still smiling. He would take a deep breath of fresh air and try to make his way out of the tank. I think outside of work this would be called “huffing”.
I was doing ok with money, but I could use some more. I mean, who couldn’t make it on $3.25 an hour. Larry started part time work at night at a Minnie Pearl’s Chicken Restaurant. I followed and after the store closed we would go in to cut chicken. We used a machine that had a stainless steel blade with no teeth. We would cut eight to ten boxes of chicken on ice every night. Management told us we could eat all the chicken we wanted to at the store. It didn’t take long to stop eating chicken. There was a Pizza Hut next door and sometimes it was arranged to swap fried chicken for pizza. Minnie Pearl’s was a nice diversion and allowed me to earn some extra money, but I was starting to get lonely.
I had moved to a garage apartment that was behind my brother’s mother-in-laws house. It was small but fine for me. Most of my meals came from Safeway. I was living large; Swanson frozen chicken dinner one night and Swanson frozen Salisbury steak dinner the next. Sometimes, Larry and I would hit the Dairy Queen when they had the foot long chili dogs on sale, 4 for $1.00. I think the most we could handle were $4.00 worth. I liked their strawberry sundaes, as well.
I was establishing a new life, but like I said, I was lonely. I didn’t know anyone other than family. I wasn’t dating. Was this it? What would be the next step? It turns out to be a phone call.
I appreciate your likes and comments.