WOSTER: Learning how to take orders big part of jobsI realized again that I was 22 years old and a college graduate before I ever worked for anyone other than my dad.
A couple of weeks ago, at the request of Lucy Halverson of the Lyman County Herald, I was writing down the many and varied stops in my journalism career, and I paused as I realized again that I was 22 years old and a college graduate before I ever worked for anyone other than my dad.
I suppose that wasn’t unusual in my generation. I mean, so many of us came from farm families. All the kids worked for their parents, one way or another.
It would have been pretty unusual for a teenager to go out and find a job that didn’t involve working on the farm, or for town kids, helping the folks in the family business or occupation. Where else would a parent find the inexpensive labor to make things cost out?
Until I went to college, I worked summers and a lot of Saturdays on the farm. I continued to hire out for the Woster Brothers farm partnership each summer learn to take orders from anyone except my parents — and my Uncle Frank to a lesser degree, but he was pretty low-key about ordering his nephew to climb on a mower and head for the alfalfa fields.
A kid can do a lot of growing when he has to learn to take orders from someone not related to him. And I’m not talking about a coach or teacher. I’m talking about an employer, a boss, the person who has power over your job, career and future self-worth. A kid can grow from taking his dad’s orders, too.
I took orders from folks like Howard Elrod, my math, chemistry and physics teacher, and from Don Giese, my track coach. Mr. Elrod could be somewhat intimidating, I’ll admit, especially when he was questioning why Mike Goldammer and I thought we were so smart we could skip the experiment parts of a physics assignment and go right to the findings.
We always knew the bell would ring at some point and we’d be free to walk out the door for our next class.
It wasn’t as easy to walk away when I was standing in mud halfway to my knees trying to hook a logging chain to the front end of a pickup stranded about 30 feet from dry ground, with my dad saying (in a rather quiet and controlled sort of voice) “What led you to imagine you could get through this section line in a two-wheeldrive pickup after three days of rain, anyway?’’
These days, I suppose, a kid might say, “You the man, Dad.’’ That never occurred to me.
Neither did, “Well, who would have figured that old pickup engine would be so gutless?’’
When he was my employer, my dad used his quiet, controlled voice a lot with me.
“What made you think this field of alfalfa would get mowed if you shut off the tractor for half a day and dug up half an acre looking for that badger?’’ Great question, the way he phrased it, but I couldn’t find a good answer.
“Did you ever consider that I might be right when I told you to always let the tractor cool down a bit before trying to pump gas in the tank?’’ Terrific question as we stood side by side near the feedlot, surveying the remains of a charred wooden fence and a smoking, black-streaked Ford tractor.
You the man, Dad?
When my cousin Leo got his first non-farm job in construction at Big Bend Dam the summer after his first year of college, he said the bosses yelled at him a lot, but they didn’t seem to take it personally when he messed up at work.
My first boss who wasn’t my dad didn’t seem to take those things personally, either. I worked for E. J. Buckingham at the Chamberlain Register the summer after graduation, 1966. He taught me a lot about ad sales, page make-up, type-setting and even news writing.
“Maybe if you did it this way …’’ was about as critical as he got.
Maybe that’s why I stayed in news and not in farming.