Help Along the Way

As I write about my Ford experiences, I have been repeatedly reminded how much other people were a part of any success I experienced.

Without my father and mother-in-law’s relationship with Joe and Sue Clark (not to mention the fact that they, not me, contacted Joe on my behalf), I would have never had the opportunity to be hired at the Nashville Glass Plant.

Joe was a maintenance general foreman, much like a master sergeant in the army, whose reputation, influence and 30 plus years experience far exceeded his organizational status. Only later did I understand the personal risk he assumed by recommending me for hire. Not only did Joe intercede on my behalf, he and Sue asked us to live with them until we could get established and find a place of our own. The first 3-4 weeks after we moved to Nashville, Ann and I lived in their very comfortable mother-in-law suite. On several occasions during my time at the Nashville Glass Plant I benefited from my relationship with Joe. Most of the time it was because of his initiative not mine.

Ann and I had just purchased and moved into our first home a few days before I accepted the job offer. We were certainly doing better financially but we still had little personal discipline and even less cash. The new job held promise of better times but the the move to Louisville and associated expenses was truly frightening. There was no Joe and Sue Clark waiting to help out. We had to sell our new home and the possibility of taking a loss was real.

Nashville Glass Plant was notified that I had been offered a ob in Louisville as a production foreman. Because I was an hourly employee, there were no relocation benefits available. We would have to bear whatever expenses the move cost us. I visited the personnel office to begin the process of terminating my position as an hourly employee and then being hired as a salaried employee at the Louisville Assembly Plant. I was grateful to learn that my time as an hourly employee would count toward my Ford service. I remember how gracious and helpful the people in the personnel office were.

At some point in the process, a supervisor took me aside and told me they were going to process my paper work and hire me as a salaried employee at the Nashville Glass Plant and then they would transfer me to the Louisville Assembly Plant. What it amounted to was a paper only transaction but what it would do is entitle me to relocation benefits as a salaried employee. Our moving expenses would be paid by Ford Motor Company and the sale of house would also be covered. I was stunned. It was truly a gift. Someone was willing to something that was not required of them to help out. I have always thought that Joe Clark may have had a hand in that but I never had any way to confirm it.

We were on our way to Kentucky

p.s.

As I wrote this post I was reminded that my Ford employment was not the first time I had benefitted from others along the way. After I graduated from high school my Dad contacted his cousin who was business agent for the local Operating Engineers Union and he arranged for me to get a job as a Pump Operator at a construction site at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville. Despite my unqualified status, I was hired and paid a very good wage. I worked that job until I left for college.

After Ann and I were married and moved to Florence, Alabama my dad called a friend who offered me a job. I worked as a laborer unloading coal rail cars for $1.25 per hour for 4-5 hours a day. The money didn’t cover expenses and was a incentive that led to Ford in Nashville.

So much for being a self-made man.

 

Becoming “The Man”

“The Man”  is a slang phrase that may refer to the government or to some other authority in a position of power. The phrase “the Man is keeping me down” is commonly used to describe oppression. The phrase “stick it to the Man” encourages resistance to authority, and essentially means “fight back” or “resist”, either passively, openly or via sabotage.

The term has also been used as an approbation or form of praise. This may refer to the recipient’s status as the leader or authority within a particular context, or it might be assumed to be a shortened form of a phrase like “He is the man (who is in charge).”(Wikipedia)

I submitted an application and resume in response to an ad in the local paper for production foreman at the Ford Louisville Assembly Plant in Louisville, KY. Ford was adding a shift to their heavy truck production line. Soon after, I received an invitation for an interview.

Since I had been working for about two years at the glass plant, I had some idea what being a production foreman entailed. My bosses were production foreman. It was clear that the job was demanding but the prospect of increased income, better benefits, career opportunities trumped any concerns at that point. A big downside to accepting the job included moving to a new city where we did not have any family or friends. This would be particularly difficult for Ann. Additionally, accepting a job as a salaried employee would mean that I would no longer be a union member and would lose any of the protections that came with union membership. If I should not succeed, there would be no safety net. If I had a complaint, there would be no union rep to address my grievance with the company.

I traveled to Louisville for my interview. The first person to interview me was a salaried employee representative who worked in the personnel office ( that would be the human resources office today). It was a strange and prescient experience. The interviewer’s name was Royal Graham. He was an older gentleman, maybe in his sixties. As we began, he was reviewing my information and started the interview with a question that threw me completely off guard. He asked, “Where do you go to church?” I answered “Church of Christ”. I am sure that my face betrayed my uncomfortableness with the question. He realized that and immediately explained that he saw I had attended Abilene Christian College and he was an elder in a local Church of Christ. He set me at ease on that subject but then proceeded to encourage me to not accept a production foreman job because he believed it would not be a good choice. Although he did not express it directly, he implied that it was no job for a Christian young man. By the time the interview was over, I was confident that he had my interest at heart but I was not persuaded. Several other members of management interviewed me and after reaffirming my desire to be a production foreman I returned to Nashville.

After a few days I received an offer to become a Production Foreman at the Ford Louisville Assembly Plant. I immediately accepted the offer and thus began my journey to become “The Man”. Little did I know…

Moving Up at Ford’s

Continuing reflections on my career with the Ford Motor Company (Ford’s).

It was 964, almost two years since I was hired by Ford Motor Company as an hourly production worker at he Nashville Glass Plant. There had been ups and downs including being laid off for several months but I had settled into the routines of production work and schedules. Because of my low seniority i worked a lot of different jobs and schedules.

Ann was busy taking care of two babies and managing our home. We had moved several times in the two years. I was working a seven day operation schedule which meant my shift assignment changed each week and off days varied according to the shift being worked. The upside was that there was a generous pay premium and built in overtime days. I also got four consecutive days off once a month. The biggest downside was the shift changes which impeded sleep and family activies since the rest of the world seemed to be M – F and 8 hour days.

We were beginning  to enjoy the good pay and regular paychecks. Despite our undisciplined money management, we decided to purchase our own home. After looking at our options, we purchased a small house (800-900 sq ft) for $10,000.

Several weeks before we purchased the house I happened to notice an ad in the Nashville newspaper. The Ford Motor Company Louisville Assembly Plant in Louisville, Kentucky was expanding their heavy truck production and was seeking to hire Production Foremen. The position was salaried and would mean increased pay and benefits and opportunity for advancement. It seemed to be a good opportunity. I don’t recall what specifically motivated me to apply. Perhaps it was just the natural progression of the american dream. How could I ever expect to be the President of Ford Motor Company if I didn’t move up in the organization. I felt reasonably confident that I had a good chance of being hired because I was currently a Ford employee and I had two years of college. I mailed my resume and a short time later received an invitation to come to Louisville for an interview. Shortly after my interview, I received an offer a job as production foreman which we accepted. Little did I know what that would mean to our future. Most immediately, it meant that we would have to sell our newly purchased home just weeks after we had moved in.

More on getting hired as a production foreman to come.

 

How can I help?

The following excerpt from Richard Beck’s blog post today http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2014/08/eccentric-christianity-part-6-eccentric.html is a real eye opener for me. He reveals a truth concerning our churches that I have sensed but have been unable to define. I am convicted.

Success in America is to need nothing. To never need help. Your job in America is to be fine. Autonomous and self-sufficient. To be anything less–to need the help of others–is to be a failure. A drag on society. A loser.

This shaming is killing our churches as it shuts down the economy of love, the ways in which we share and respond to the needs of others and how they respond to our needs. The theologian Arthur McGill calls this economy of love a community of neediness.

But the flow of this economy shuts down if everyone in the church is neurotically shamed into hiding their needs from others. We all would rather play the hero, we all want to be the helper, the one who serves. But we don’t ever want to be the one being rescued, or the one needing help, or the one who is being served. Standing in that location–being the needy one among us–is very, very uncomfortable.

Churches tend to hide their fear of loving each other by serving strangers outside the community of faith. The church gives food at the food pantry. The youth group builds a house for a poor family on a mission trip. We send money overseas to the Third World.

Those people are the needy people. We’ll help them. But me? I’m fine. I’m good. No, I don’t need anything. Can I help you?

It’s not that those people at the food pantry or in the Third World don’t need anything. It’s that the church is responding to these needs in a state of denial. The church is denying its own need, weakness and vulnerability. Thus, the church comes to see itself as a hero, riding in on a white horse to save others. Since we don’t need anything from the people we are helping there is no reciprocity, no economy, no relationship, no giving and sharing back and forth.

We show up, do our good deeds and then pack up and leave. Why? Because we don’t need anything from those people. They need us. We don’t need them.

But we do need them. And we need each other.

appreciating the Ordinary

I came across this quote from Brene Brown that I found helpful as I continue to wrestle with the question: “How does one find meaning and purpose in their old age?” 

Brene’ Brown calls to our attention this important facet of our ordinary days. In many instances, we equate ordinary with boring or, even more dangerous, ordinary has become synonymous with meaningless.

I think I learned the most about the value of ordinary from interviewing men and women who have experienced tremendous loss such as the loss of a child, violence, genocide, and trauma. The memories that they held most sacred were the ordinary, everyday moments.

When we fail to cherish the ordinary we begin to waste our lives. Attentive to our aging face, our over-weight, our range of influence, and perpetual need for money are at least four thieves; each screaming from sunrise to sunset about lack.

These and others succeed only because we give them permission to abuse us at will. The solution is to be attentive to the power of the grateful moment.

We are not to be bugged because so many calls come in. We are to be thrilled we can still hear the phone ring.

We are not to fret because the kids eat us out of house and home. Overjoy hits because our kids are growing o consider and normal.

We are not to be dismayed because prices rise. We are to be grateful we have abundant selection.

We are not to be frustrated by the discover of illness. We are to lavish in the truth that the medical field did not shut down exploration twenty years ago.

 We are not to be whining that there are not enough hours in the day. Rather, we are to praise God that we can drive the car all those places, pay the bills for all those in the family, and still find ourselves upright and energetic.

Decide. Decide to cherish the ordinary. Men, women, and children are suffering from a terrible (yet acceptable and unnoticed by the masses) disease called ingratitude for the simplest of gigantic blessings. Stop complaining, whining, and/or sighing. Treasure right now.

Arnold and Ruby Mae

2014 is proving to be a memorable year. Its historic, grueling winter and reluctant emergence of spring were, ironically, a reflection of my mother-in law and father-in-law’s end of life experience. After living 94 years and being married 74 years, Arnold and Ruby Mae Watson passed from this life. Despite all the truthful, comforting thoughts and words that accompany the passing of loved ones … death is hard. 

I am going to miss them a lot. 

No one can replace my mother-in-law’s (Mother) profuse, unrelenting, loving praise and appreciation of her undoubtedly favorite son-in-law (that would be me). Our separation by distance was bridged by a never ending, never delinquent arrival of birthday, holiday, anniversary and thank you cards and notes. Her praise for me was a gift of grace, undeserved for sure. I just hope that they were in some way self-fulfilling prophesies. 

Neither will there be anyone to replace my father-in-law’s (Dad) gracious appreciation for insignificant efforts on my part to do ordinary things. I no longer will I have anyone to embarrass me by speaking with great pride about my career accomplishments and personal achievements to everyone they introduced me to. His descriptions always were a bit overstated. He was proud of his family and I was always included.

They were not perfect people but they were the perfect mother-in-law and father-in-law for me. Absent their gracious and forgiving acceptance of me, I cannot imagine how my life and marriage could have been as good as it is. 

Thank You Mother and Dad

Word for 2014

At First Alliance Church there is a custom of choosing a “word” for each year. The intent, as I understand, is to provide a focus for prayers and thoughts as we go through the year. This year the word for FAC is POSSIBILITIES. Each person in the congregation is also encouraged to choose a word for themselves. I have participated in this exercise each year and this year is no exception. My word for 2014 is RECONCILIATION. Reconciliation has been on mind for a quite some time.

…if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 corinthians 5

A Goal to Guide Blogging

Richard Beck, who I read regularily and have come to appreciate recenty wrote about blogging and expressed some very thoughtful observations and advice on blogging. I intend to adopt his goal “to use social media sacramentally. To be a sign, a sign of life and grace.”. The full post follows:

 

I can’t fix it or make it go away. I can’t change the world. I’m not the Messiah. But I can be a sacrament. I can be sign of love, a sign of life. I can be a friend. In a cruel and inhumane world I can be a location of kindness.

I wonder if something similar might be necessary for social media.

I don’t think I can change people’s minds. I really don’t. I don’t think people are all that persuadable. So trying to persuade people is sort of like trying to address world poverty with your own checking account. If the poor will always be with us so will dogmatists. Myself included.

So I’m wondering, as I’m learning with issues like poverty, if we might learn to Tweet and blog sacramentally. The goal isn’t to argue, debate, call out or “win.” Because that game, as best I can tell, isn’t winable. Minds don’t change on social media. I’ve never seen it.

The goal is to use social media sacramentally. To be a sign, a sign of life and grace.

Looking back, my blog has been at its best when it has been sacramental. I wrote a post that told a story about love and grace. I shared something that educated, shed some light, inspired thought or reflection.

True, sacramental isn’t all that viral. But maybe it could be. Slowly and quietly. A flicker here and a flicker there. Signs and sacraments. Eventually. Everywhere.

Maybe that’s the way the world changes.

Cold Front

Shortly after we arrived in Florida Ann and I drove to Casperian Beach near Venice to see what it was like. While we were there we witnessed a dramatic scene as a powerful cold front moved across the gulf. I took this sequence of photos within just a few minutes. This was the same cold front that was sweeping across the entire eastern US and created record low temperatures.

That’s where they are getting in!

This is a continuation of stories about my days working for “Ford’s”at the Nashville Glass Plant. The last story introduced Mutt and Jeff, millwrights whose primary responsibilities seemed to be the harassment of unsuspecting new employees. Their antics were legendary. One that I remember hearing most vividly involved management.

A vertical draw furnace was one of  several glass manufacturing areas in the plant. As indicated by the description vertical draw, molten glass was pulled vertically though a series of rollers until it cooled. At the end of the rollers the glass was cut and packaged. Vertical draw required a tall building, four to five stories high. The area where employees attended the process and cut and packaged glass was located on the top floor. That area was particularly subject to high temperatures because of the draft created by the furnace on the ground floor and the chimney like shaft for the roller lines.

304px-Fourcault_process_for_flat_glass_forming.svg

Air conditioning was not feasible so the temperature of the work area was managed by man-cooling fans and large windows encircling the top floor. In the summer the temperature was barely tolerable. This was the scene for what was considered the coup-de-tat of Mutt and Jeff’s antics.

As millwrights, Mutt and Jeff (M&J) had free range of the plant. It was not unusual for them to make an  appearance on the top floor of the vertical draw furnace . It was a hot day but normal in most respects. The area had a manager who was new to his position, enthusiastic but naive. M&J apparently felt the same responsibility to initiate the manager as they did to new hourly employees. After appearing without any apparent reason they walked around the area looking very intently at the ceiling of the building talking between themselves. The manager, always nervous and watchful noticed M&J and followed closely as they continued their inspection. M&J ignored his presence but continued their conversation. Looking very concerned, M said, “There is no question about it. The only place they could be getting in is through the windows.” J agreed and added,”It’s serious. A lot of people could be at risk. The only thing I know do do is get the windows closed immediately.” Still ignoring the manager, they  hurriedly departed on their break-down wagon, seemingly to initiate some response to the crisis.

The manager was beside himself. Obviously there was a problem that needed to be addressed but he had been ignored and abandoned. Being a man of initiative and action (certainly so since he was the manager), he did what he felt was necessary to protect the employees and and, of course, assure he was not blamed for ignoring the problem. He ordered all the windows be shut. The temperature rose dramatically. Employees immediately complained and their union representative was summoned. As the heat increased, employees began to walk off their jobs to find relief. A frantic call was made to upper management, who came to the area immediately. When upper management and the union reps arrived the area manager was summoned to explain  what was going on and why. The emotional temperature was rising as quickly as the ambient temperature. It did not take much to figure out that the temperature was up because the windows were closed. In no uncertain terms the manager was asked, “Who the hell shut all the windows”? He readily admitted that he had given the order to close the windows. As one would guess, the next question was, “Why”? To which the manger replied before he could catch himself, “That’s where they are getting in.”

Somewhere in the plant M&J were riding their breakdown wagon looking for their next victim.