Where But In America?
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by Frank Shortt
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My first paying job was as a go-fetchit at a coal mine at about thirteen years of age.
My job was to pick up the debris around the mine entrance as well as any lumps of coal that fell of the loaded coal cars as they emerged
from the mine adit. I also kept the water bucket filled. This was a thankless job as it only paid about fifty cents a day. This was
in the 1950ís when times were pretty tough in Buchanan County, Virginia.
My brother Wendell
and I soon learned that there was more money in cutting the timbers that propped up the ceilings of the mine. The ceiling consisted
of a layer of slate and then sandstone over the top of that. How the measly timbers we cut held that top up is beyond me. We would
arrive home from school, eat a quick meal of beans and corn bread, and then proceed out the road a ways with a large crosscut saw.
We were paid a whopping ten cents per timber which had to be at least four inches across at the sawed end. We accomplished this by
cutting larger trees of oak, maple, and poplar, sawing off the rounds to the desired length, and then splitting them with a steel
wedge and a sledge hammer. How we could consider this a step up is now a matter of much contemplation.
We were later put out of business by John Rose who came along with a chain saw that he had just purchased. He could cut more timbers
in one hour than what we could in two or three days. We found ourselves unemployed and I think that this was about the time that Wendell
left home to find work in Wilmington, Delaware. As for me, I was still in high school and had to take any job that would provide me
with chewing tobacco, cigarettes and an occasional trip to Raven, Virginia to attend Wilsonís theater and homemade ice cream establishment.
Just before I left home for the USAF, I went to work for one of dadís cousins cutting brush
with a huge scythe in a wasp/yellow jacket infested field for fifty cents an hour. I spent more time fighting off yellow jackets than
I did cutting brush. Needless to say, I was mighty glad to turn eighteen and be able to join Uncle Sam with a whopping pay of thirty-two
dollars a month and free food and board at Lackland AFB, San Antonio, Texas. I was the lowest form of human being: a lowly airman
Ėbasic with no momma, no daddy, and no Santa Claus.
After Basic training I was sent to
Mather AFB, California, to begin training as a Special Vehicle Repairman. I sported one stripe on my uniforms, paying for them
from my meager pay. I was fortunate enough to be put under the tutelage of Staff Sergeant Ezekiel Keyes from Florida. He and I hit
it off right away. He saw that I had potential as a test-taker, not so much a mechanic, and thus was able to pass all the tests thrown
at me. As a result, I was able to attain Airman First Class (Buck Sergeant) in twenty-seven months. I was ridiculed by my fellow mechanics
that could actually do the work but could not pass the tests. As a three-striper, I was able to get some pretty soft positions such
as being put in charge of the Quartermaster Gasoline Station with about fifteen men to do all the work and I did the paper work. We
did minor repairs and gassed up all the base vehicles. With this job, I felt I had really moved up in the world. I believe that my
base pay was $187.50 per month. Pretty good money in those days as all my room and board was paid.
On being discharged from the Air Force, My new bride, Sharon, and I went for a nice tour of the east coast. Finding nothing there
that would help me make a living, we returned to California and San Jose. Sharon had lived in San Jose since seventh grade.
My first job in San Jose was as a service station attendant for Tony Azzarello at his Phillips 66 station. It was only part time but
I figured this would give me some income until I could procure a more permanent position. This turned out to be as a shipping clerk
for Norton Abrasives Co. at Santa Clara, Ca. Ironically, I was turned down for a job
selling insurance because my southern accent was too thick. They must have needed more of a Midwestern accent.
Norton paid our bills for exactly one year. I was laid off because of a policy of only keeping one man permanently hired because business
became slack at certain times of the year. I then applied with the School Department of San Jose Unified and was hired as a custodian.
This lasted for about a year and I was then hired in the maintenance department, as of all things, a go-fetchit! It certainly was
a move up, moneywise, from being a custodian. I lasted there until 1969 at which time I was induced to go to Flagstaff, Arizona to
train for an assistant managership of a hardware/lumbertaria.
The owner reneged on his
promises, especially when he found out that the Veteranís Administration would match any raises he would give me and pay for my training
in management. His reply was, ďAnything that does not benefit me, I want nothing to do with!Ē That was that! So, back to California
to start over, after having bought a home in Flagstaff, the expense of moving all our stuff there, and the mental anguish of leaving
all that we had held dear in California.
Miraculously, we cleared two-thousand dollars,
when we sold the house in Flagstaff. This helped pay for our moving back to San Jose as well as helping with a down payment on a new
little home there. Soon as we became settled in 1969 I applied for a job with the Alum Rock School District and because of a letter
of recommendation from the San Jose job, I was able to obtain a job as maintenance/custodian. Soon after that a job opened up as a
school custodian and I was appointed to go in as a temp. Because of my work ethic I was eventually hired permanently to that job and
it lasted until 1977.
While at the custodian job I was appointed to do testing for all
the new maintenance and custodian jobs that opened up in the district. The head of the custodial department, Gabe Contreras, saw my
potential as a leader, so when a night custodial supervisory position opened up, I applied and was hired as the new night supervisor.
Prior to this I had been taking the place of the then night supervisor when he would be on medical leave or vacation. God was very
good to me as He saw a more lucrative position for me in the future.
When I was a custodian
at the school, I had put in for part-time work at Orchard Supply Hardware. They hired me as a pick-up-station attendant loading patronís
purchases such as cement, sand, fertilizer, steer manure, and all kinds of other things. I became pretty buffed loading those heavy
items. Meanwhile, I was beginning to do flea markets and antique shows on the side. For once in our lives we were able to eat something
besides beans and potatoes.
In 1985, I was appointed as Chief of Operations for the Alum
Rock School District and this lasted until my retirement in 2000. It was a very tense job but very rewarding. Not only was I paid
a very good salary but my points for retirement with the Public Employees Retirement System added up very swiftly. I was 57 years
old when I retired from public life and have enjoyed writing for several publications as well as to go back to school taking Creative
Writing which helped me immensely to write properly.
This is not to brag about my accomplishments
but merely to show what a little hard work and perseverance can do for a person with only a high school diploma. Where, but in the
land of the free, could a person rise from poverty to having the things we think we need?