Alcoholism Among Teens and 20-somethings


Alcoholism in America remains in the closet in spite of its acceptance by the medical community as a disease. And since this disease is listed as a mental disorder, it is doubly stigmatized. Worse, most people have no idea what it takes to be an alcoholic. Most see alcoholics in their mind as a person who lives on the street, is unemployed and who is at least 40 years old. In truth, none of those generalizations is truthful.

Few people ever think of someone in the 12 to 25 age group as being alcoholics. According to the National Institute of Health, people from age 12 to 18 reported 3.4% are heavy drinkers. For college students 18 – 22 reported 12.5% are heavy drinkers and binge drinking is 3 to 4 times the afore listed rates.
Because alcoholism is a mental disorder those in the age group described above are least likely to believe they are an alcoholic. Here are some of the common reasons given by 12 to 25-year-olds for why they are not an alcoholic:

• I’m too young
• I don’t drink every day
• I can stop anytime
• I’m doing all right in school
• I’ve never gotten a DUI
• I’ve only blacked out a couple of times

Chief among the reason for not being an alcoholic is age. There is a perception that to become an alcoholic takes many years of heavy drinking, drinking every day, and being at least 40. But in truth, if you drink because it makes you feel good, because it gets rid of bad feelings, because everyone your age is doing it and because it allows you to be more social are all indicators that you might have a drinking problem.

What follows is the Johns Hopkins University test for being an alcoholic. Go through these and see how many apply to you.
1 Have you lost time from your work because of your drinking?
2 Is drinking making your home life unhappy?
3 Do you drink because you are shy with other people?
4 Is drinking affecting your reputation?
5 Have you ever felt remorse after drinking?
6 Have you gotten into financial difficulties as a result of drinking?
7 Do you turn to lower companions or environment when drinking?
8 Does your drinking make you careless of your family’s welfare?
9 Has your ambition decreased since drinking?
10 Do you want a drink the next morning?
11 Do you crave a drink at a definite time daily?
12 Does drinking cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
13 Has your efficiency decreased since drinking?
14 Is drinking jeopardizing your job or business?
15 Do you drink to escape from worries or trouble?
16 Do you drink alone?
17 Have you ever had a complete loss of memory as a result of drinking?
18 Has your physician ever treated you for drinking?
19 Do you drink to build up your self-confidence?
20 Have you ever been to a hospital or institution on account of drinking?

You need only have answered yes to 3 of these questions to most likely be an alcoholic.

For the young person, questions 15 to 19 are probably the most telling and most likely to have said “yes” to. Answering yes to even one of these questions suggests an underlying problem.
Being an alcoholic is as much a why question as it is a how much question. That is, if you drink because you are feeling depressed, because you cannot be social otherwise, or because you have some really negative feelings, then you have a drinking problem. You have nothing to lose by deciding you have a drinking problem you cannot fix. Help is everywhere in the form of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The good news for young people is that there are thousands just like you out there. And even better, if you live near a city, there most likely are meetings for you. They are called “Young People Meetings.” And within these groups, you will find a secondary group that refers to itself as “never had a legal drink.” And the really good news is, within each meeting you go to you will find someone else who has exactly the same problem as you who have found a solution to that problem, and others. You need only ask, and they will tell you how they did it.

It does not matter if there are no young people’s meetings near you, the regular AA meeting will help you more than you can imagine. The first step is in saying that you have a problem you cannot resolve. Take that problem to a meeting and in time it will be resolved.

For more information please visit Alcoholics Anonymous’ Internet site at:

http://www.aa.org.

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Parents Are Failing their Child’s Education


I was able to retire at a pretty young age. Shortly thereafter I undertook substitute teaching. At one point or another I worked all grades, kindergarten through 8th grade. In those positions I got an up close and personal look into what is expected of today’s youth and how they are meeting those expectations.

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Certain things have not changed since I was in the public-school system. Those students with a high degree of intelligence do well regardless of the situation into which they are thrown. That is a qualified “do well” however. The qualification is that if there is something at home which is very negative or if they have undergone a traumatic experience. Such students will need more and specialized attention. I will go into that a little bit later.

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I believe that all students, regardless of capacity, have expectations thrown upon them which far exceed those of my generation and for a number of generations following. Towards the end of my educational experience in the public system I remember that “new math” was being introduced. That, of course, is a misnomer because there is no such thing. Math, regardless of what name you put upon it, in essence has not changed much in 100 years. Certain portions of advanced, college level, math have been introduced such as theoretical math. But for our public-school kids, such things do not and should not apply.

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I have worked in four different school systems in the near-in Boston suburbs. One thing that was a constant across these systems was the amount of parental responsibility. This most important part of the educational system is greatly lacking if not entirely missing from the student’s education. How much a parent involves himself in their child’s educational experience greatly influences that child’s ability to succeed. Most importantly, the parent must set boundaries, discipline and structure for their child. A rebellious child is most likely looking for attention. When these things are not in the child’s home life, they end up in the lap of the schools, and in particular, the student’s teacher. These students frequent present a disruptive influence in the classroom which requires extra attention from the teacher. This, in turn, impacts the other 20 to 25, or more, students in the classroom. Then there is the student who consistently fails to do his homework. This again goes back to the parent who does not participate in their child’s education by failing to ensure that all homework in completely done.

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When I was young, that information that was not given me in the schools, came to me via television, newspapers, magazines or my friends. The advent of social media on devices like computers and cell phones have given the young person an unprecedented access to the world. Some of the things these children have access to may not be healthy for them. This is a point at which society today struggles to differentiate what our children should see from what they should not. The cell phone, in particular, has become a device too often used to bully other children. And this is where parents fail most frequently. I have had many experiences in the school system where a parent is called in to talk about how his child misbehaves and is a bully. The parent, however, will not accept what is being offered and declares that his child is not a bully. One factor in their making such a decision is that they do not fully understand what a bully is.

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When I was in elementary school, one of the ways we boys settled disputes was through wrestling on the playground. Fist fights were extremely rare and even then, they were forbidden. But somewhere along the way it was decided that no child should touch another child for any reason. We also played flag football which more often than not turned into tackling from behind. I do not remember any of us ever getting hurt but when we returned to the classroom a lot of our extra energy had been expended. But today’s overly protective atmosphere does not allow for this.

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Today’s students are being taught concepts, particularly in math, which were usually not introduced until high school when I was in school. While I can see the benefit of an earlier introduction, it is sometimes put-upon children who are too young to understand these concepts and so they fail.

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These educators, who I suspect all reside in college academics, have built a model that does not allow for the greatest chance of success at a particular grade level. Students fall behind and fail because this teaching model has failed to introduce the student to certain fundamental aspects of education. First, and foremost, students are not taught how to study. And by this I meant, at some point, possibly the third or fourth grade, a full year class in who to read effectively, how to study effectively and how to write effectively, be taught. Students are taught how to read and write, but that knowledge is never intertwined with how to study.

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Finally, it is my belief that all school systems be required to have a state certified social worker at each school. The social worker would not be answerable to the school’s principal, but to the city’s mayor or town’s manager. Their being independent from the school system, and that being understood by all students, might greatly help students who are struggling with bullying, bad home life and trauma. Such a person could easily have a great effect, a positive effect, on a student’s success.

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In recent years school systems have come under fire for failing their students. To some degree this is certainly true. But to a much greater degree it is the parents and state education administrators who are actually failing our students. This can all be resolved via parental involvement in a school system’s doctrine. Through Parent Teacher Organizations, parents can take control of how their child are taught and what they do in the schools. Communities must come together with educators. They must look closely at the students who are failing or those who are underachieving and find a course that will address those students’ needs.

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It is not our schools that are failing us, it is we who are failing our schools.

What’s Killing Our Teens and Young Adults? Hidden Secrets.


This is one of those little things that I created entirely from personal experience.  But it is also the preface to my next offering.

I loved my parent and they loved me. But neither of my parents had a clue about bringing up children. There were three of us and for much of our adolescent and teen life we were latch key kids. But my parents were horrible with communications. I doubt they ever knew what was going on in my life, what I was thinking, what I feared, what I wanted or even what I needed. It’s not their fault. Theirs was the generation of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and I cannot fault them for that. It was all they knew.

What they did not realize is that they had one very troubled child in me. I had been sexually taken advantage of by a couple of neighbor girls who were twice my age, I was 5. I did not recognize it as abuse at the time, and even thought it to be fun. The fun stopped when certain neighborhood boys decided to sexually attack me. It was when I first experienced depression, a depression that lasted for decades. The sexual abuse end when I was 15. I had gotten mad at my mother and decided it time to run away to New York City; we lived near Boston. I was hitchhiking my way there, of course, and was picked up by a man who overpowered me just by his very presence, and my past experiences. He took me to a remote cabin in the woods near a pond and raped me for hours on end. In the morning all I wanted to do was get home.

When I got home my mother asked me where I had been all night and I lied and said I had slept on a park bench in a neighboring city. Not entirely unreasonable since I was a headstrong boy and rode by bicycle everywhere or took the bus where ever. Upon reflection I wondered why she had not bother to call the police to report that her 15-year-old son had not come home that evening. I never did ask her that. But some weeks later I told her of the incident, fighting back enormous fear, only to have her say “boys don’t get raped.” I was brought up Roman Catholic so the next place I sought out help was from a priest at Merrimack College. After I told him what had happened he suggested I ask God forgiveness for my sin.

To backtrack a bit, I had been an excellent student thought my first 5 years of elementary school, almost always getting an A in every subject. In the 6th grade my grades slipped to all Bs and by the 7th grade the Bs and Cs, mostly Cs. By high school I was narrowly avoiding outright failure in every subject.
In the 7th and 8th grade I was the constant target of boys who were looking to make fun of someone. I was actually fairly good at softball but because I could not throw a ball properly, I was always the last kid picked. When high school rolled around I dared not even try out for any of the sports teams, football and baseball I would have enjoyed. Instead, I went where all the other “losers” went, the school band, at which I excelled. In another attempt to be socially accepted, I joined the extremely popular, or so I thought, drama club. I got a speaking roll the first time I tried out and worked my way to the leading roll by the time I was a senior. But my social life still lagged and I had failed to realize that being a member of the drama club was just another collection of misfit toys but still more acceptable than the band.

In the 7th grade we had our first dance. It was held at a student’s house as were the others that year and the following. I didn’t have a girlfriend, I didn’t dance, and I didn’t feel like I fit even. I must have had some sort of self-abuse ideal because I kept going. In high school it was more of the same only worse. Starting in Freshman year my fellow classmates flouted their “steady” relationships. The boys began to brag about all the girls they had had sex with. It was not until my junior year that I had my first date. The idea of asking a girl out was just to scary. When I finally got up the courage, she said yes and not long after became my first, and only, girlfriend in high school. We went to the Junior-Senior Prom together, had a wonderful time, and I thought I was on my way. She broke up with me shortly after that but at that point I didn’t care too much because I had badgered my parents into sending me 300 miles away to a boarding school so I could get into college.

When I graduated from high school I was still a virgin, not a bad thing, but had had only kissed a girl once. I was too fear filled to just try to kiss a girl and anything more serious, which I did daydream about, was just out of the question. I limped through high school with just a few friends and even some of them picked on me, made fun of me. They knew I would neither stand my ground nor fight back.

Shortly after I graduated from high school, with honors, and then flunked out of Boston University, I became suicidal. I didn’t understand there to be any good reason for me to go on living. I had on and off bouts of suicidal ideation, but I never tried to do it. I always felt a greater desire to live, even though life continued to feel pretty miserable.

What was missing from my early years was structure and help from my parents in understanding the basics of living. Everything was trial and error for me. My mother never missed a chance to punish me when I was wrong but never knew how to praise my successes which meant I did not know when I was doing something the right way or that if I made a little correction in my direction, things would work out really well. I don’t blame them though. No one had given them instructions on child rearing. They did they best the could and I loved them just as they were, although I had a strange way of showing it at times. The thing that hurt me the most is that I never as a child heard my mother tell me that she loved me, my father either. My mother could not even show love via a hug which is the one thing my father could do. I later years I learned that both my parents were broken, my mother being the worst by far.

As it turned out, my mother’s secrets became mine, even though at the time I was entirely unaware of them. But what I do not understand, to this day, is how every teacher I ever encountered never pick up on what a depressed kid I was. Or if they did, they did nothing.

I carried a heavy load of secrets into my adult life and those secrets nearly killed me. To mask the pain I felt, I drank to excess. I find it amazing that I did not start drinking in high school considering how miserable I almost always felt. I had all these secrets, none of which I was trying hide, and yet they remained hidden because I knew of no way to release them, there were no outlets available.
An inner strength kept me alive but not everyone has such strength. To many teens and young adults today have secrets they are unable to release. As a society it is our responsibility to find ways, attractive ways, for them to let go of those secrets and kill of the demons inside the before those demons rise up and kill them.

Get Former President Obama Back in Politics!


My suggestion that former President Barack Obama return to public life might sound a bit outlandish, but it is not without precedence. Our sixth President of the United States, John Quincy Adams, 1825-1829, served in what many historians describe as one of the worst presidencies ever. Adams, however, returned to the U.S. Congress from 1831 to 1848 which he served with distinction. His leading platform, the elimination of slavery. Not an easy time for abolitionist when the movement was not very popular.
Then former President William Howard Taft, 1909-1913, served as a justice of the U.S. Supreme Judicial Court from 1921 to 1930. The Republican Party of 1908 was disaffected with Theodore Roosevelt and his populist actions and turned to a reluctant Taft as its nominee. Although it is not documented anywhere, it is believed Taft was relieved when the Republican party split between him and Roosevelt in 1912 and Woodrow Wilson won the election. Although Taft served but nine years on the Supreme Court, he was elevated to the position of Chief Justice and died in office in 1930.
This brings us to Barack Obama. At 59 years of age, Obama is considerably younger than a large portion of the House and Senate. As shown by Elizabeth Dole when she moved to North Carolina to seek election there, Obama need only move to Virginia to find any number, most in fact, that are held by Republicans. Right now, he lives in Washington D.C. even though he claims his home state to be Illinois.
The point being, for 8 years, Barack Obama served the United States with distinction and honor. He was also as capable as any president this country has had in the past 50 years, maybe longer. His statesmanship as outstanding as his ability to understand complex problems.
I do not expect Mr. Obama to read this blog but I wish he did. I know for fact that there are millions upon millions of Americans who wish he were still serving. Maybe someone will pass this on. I can only hope so.

Bring Mental Illness Out of the Closet


What is mental illness? “Mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in thinking, emotion or behavior (or a combination of these). Mental illnesses are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.” (https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/what-is-mental-illness) This definition is what the American Psychiatric Association declares.

 
But mental illness has yet to gain full acceptance among the general population and, of course, insurance companies. People fear going to see a psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker because to the stigma attached. That is the thinking, but it is incorrect, and I will speak on it a bit later.

 
I suffered from depression for most of my childhood and adult life. Several times I had to be hospitalized because of it. This, of course, allows me insight into the disease. I venture to say that every person on earth has at one time or another suffered from mental illness. Many have not recognized it as such because they fully recovered in reasonable time.

 
When the words “mental illness” are proffered, people tend to go to the extreme and think the suffering person likely is schizophrenic or psychotic. But in truth, most mental illnesses are a much more benign form. Chief among these is depression. I think everyone struggles with a bout of depression at some point in their life, sometimes caused by death of a parent or friend, extraordinary stress in the work environment, or financial problems. These sorts of depression can be easily dealt with by short term therapy. And many times, without the necessity of medication.
But when depression causes a person to stop doing normal things for a long term, months, it is likely that the person will need a heavy dose of psycho-therapy combined with medication. Such depressions present in women after birth, post-partum depression, after the death of a child, after rape, incest, attack on the person’s life and so forth. And as funny as it may sound to hear, these depressions are rather normal reactions to traumas. Be assured, the road to recovery from these situations varies but is quite frequently long-term.

 
Then there are two psychiatric illness which most of the public fails to recognize as such: alcoholism and drug addiction. These diseases, however, are the outward manifestation of more serious illnesses. People frequently use alcohol to get rid of the fear they have when entering either a very stressful situation or a social situation. Alcohol does the job, quite well too. And since it works, the person uses it more and more both for the original reasons and then for other reasons their mind says that alcohol would be useful. This is generally referred to as self-medication. The problem, of course, it that the individual is failing to deal with the root problem. And by not dealing with those problems they, like most other illnesses, only get worse and require more “medication.” The person finally gets to the point when he is using alcohol daily because it makes him feel good, until is doesn’t. The, “until is doesn’t” happens when the person gets fired from a job, loses a spouse, becomes overwhelmingly in debt, and many other situations. It is basically the same for the drug addict.

 
It is important to recognize that these are not bad people who need to get good but are sick people who need to get well. But where? A person is declared in need of a detox but when the advocate, usually the person’s physician, calls around looking for a bed is such a facility they find there are no beds to be had. There, of course, are the detoxes where a person has to pay but most people cannot afford the out of pocket expense.
Alcoholics and addicts need a minimum of 90 days in a detox, but most detoxes push these people out after two weeks. Some, state run facilities, allow for longer stays. At the heart of these problems is the insurance companies which refuse to pay for more than a 2 week stay. The likelihood of a person staying clean and sober after a two-week stay is near zero.

 
There is a common theme here. Every one of the various types of mental illnesses I have brought up, the person involved has a feeling of not being worthy, feeling useless, of having something deep within themselves which feels so horrible that they feel shameful and cannot find it within themselves to share their deep dark secrets. And in the end, it is one of these deep dark secrets, their demons, that turns the person either suicidal or alcohol and/or drug dependent.

 
The bottom line is that we are doing a horrible job in helping these people. We must remove the stigmatism attached to mental illness. We must get all insurance companies to treat mental illness the same way they would treat any other illness. We must insure that there are sufficient facilities to deal with those who sick and suffering.

Always Finding the Wrong Person? Here’s Why


I have a lot of friends who talk to me about their being unable to have a good relationship. Now, these people are all single but having a good relationship is for both single and marrieds of course. But to have that good relationship there are certain things which must be true first.

 
Everything which follows is dependent upon your ability to be completely honest with yourself first, and then with the other person. Without honest, a failed relationship is guaranteed. The first thing you need to do is to take stock of yourself. What is your self-image? How do you truly feel about yourself? Do you love yourself? Do you even like yourself? If you even feel a little bit of negativity about those first questions, then you should not even attempt to date.

 
One of the first things you need to come to terms with is the fact that you are not perfect. Every member, without exception, of the human race is flawed. The person in the successful relationship has either fixed those flaws or come to terms with them as simply being a part of you that you cannot easily fix, that is, if they are repairable. The worst thing you can do, absolutely, is to deny a flaw you know you have. It is also dishonest which breaks the first rule: total honesty is an absolute.

 
Another part of taking stoke of yourself is to admit to those things in your past which have been hurtful to others. But knowing those things is not enough. You have to take a step back and find that character flaw that caused you to do what you did. Then you must go about fixing that character flaw so that it does not repeat itself. Lots of people admit to character flaws but it is on a small subset of them who actually do something about it. But once you have successfully taken actions to either eliminate or reduce that character flaw, you must seek out the party you offended and make amends. That does not mean you simply apologize. You tell the person about the character flaw and that you have either fixed it or are working on it. Then you get to apologize.

 
We called such misdeeds “the wreckage of our past” and to be successful in the future we must clean away that wreckage. Ah, but then there is that person you wronged who you have entirely lost track of and have no way of contacting them. In this case, the simple act of repairing the character defect is all that is needed.

 
By this time, you have realized your imperfections and worked on them. But there is still a lot of work to do. People who have truly successful relationships have taken care of their physical, mental, and spiritual health.

 
The physical part is the easiest. You simply visit your primary care physician and attend to any physical problems that are brought up, weight, diet, medications, etc. By doing what I have suggested previously you are dealing with your mental problems. But here’s the thing, you must have a confidant who you trust implicitly and relate to that person all the things you are doing. This does not mean you need go to a therapist, but it does mean you are talking with someone who will give you well-reasoned, thoughtful advice. It also means that this person will tell you that you are falling short of your goal, who will have the courage to not only tell you that they do not think that you are being entirely truthful but will suggest how to be truthful. This person is also the person who is going to help you exorcise those demons inside you that you have been too scared or too embarrassed to relate to another person. When you courageously push through these things, good mental health is almost a guarantee.

 
Spiritual health is by far the most important and most difficult part of being an entirely healthy person to maintain. Spirituality does not have to be a part of religion and for my purposes here, it does not. Spirituality comes when you have successfully finished those things you I talked about before. It means that at the very least, during the worst of times, you will know absolutely that you are a good person, that you are doing your best, and that you are always seeking out the next right thing to do. How do you know the what is the next right thing to do? Sometimes it will be obvious but many other times it will not be apparent. At such times you try to think it through, seek out another person’s opinion, or, if it is something that requires immediate attention, then do what in your heart you think is that right thing. But if you find it was not the right thing, have faith that in trying something different a second or even a third time, is perfectly acceptable. The key here is allowing yourself the right to be wrong.

 
Once you have a good relationship with yourself then you are ready to make a foray into having a relationship with another person. That relation also starts with complete honest and progresses into the area where you feel like this person is your best friend. When attempting a relationship, always have a short list of things you consider deal breakers. For example, mine was that I would not date a smoker. Another might be that the person must the same religion or same politics ideals as you. If you do not do these things, your chances of a healthy loving relationship is nearly impossible.

 
There are people who look absolutely gorgeous or stunningly handsome on the outside but when you find out what’s on the inside, you see not just a horribly flawed person, but someone who is truly mentally and spiritually sick. Such people are always a bad choice.

 
You may say to me, “but I’m not beautiful or handsome.” What’s on the outside need count very little to not at all for the person you want to be with. This assumes that you are taking care of yourself, physically clean, well-dressed. Think of it this way, the most intelligent people in the world are highly sought after but all that intelligence is hidden from view. The beauty of the intelligence only shows itself when the person speaks on his specialty. This applies to you because whatever is going on in your insides comes out when you do some, say something, feel something.

An Education Second to None


My birth family what is referred to as land poor. We had a big house surrounded by a number of acres of both open fields and wooded areas. My family ancestry shows we were the second family to settle Andover, Massachusetts, which today is call North Andover after an 1855 split. For the most part we were farmers, sometimes minutemen, then factory owner and by the 20th century men who commuted to Boston to work.

 

My mother and father met by an arrangement between friends and it was probably love at first sight for both of them. Unfortunately, I never asked that question, but I know my mother adored my father and my father deeply loved her. I thought I had the most perfect parents any kid could want. It never occurred to me that relative to everyone else who lived in our neighborhood, we were quite poor. Each of my parents worked hard and my sister, brother and I were well taken care of. That gave us the illusion that all was well. And in general, it was, but I now know that my parents struggled mightily to keep things together.
I found out when I asked my parents for my first bicycle that the ability to afford things was rather restrictive. The bike they found cost $10, a large sum in the later 1950s. It was well-used, but I managed to get many many miles out of it before it literally fell apart.
I believe I was about six years old when a neighbor kid asked me if I wanted to make 25 cents shoveling snow. Now in those days, in my mind, 25 cents translated into 5 candy bars. My parents could not afford to give any of us an allowance, so I was introduced to getting what I wanted via work. Much of this early work was what I was already doing around my house, taking out the trash, shoveling snow, mowing the lawn, and raking leaves. In those days we could burn a pile of leaves alongside the road. In the country-side one of the harbingers of fall was the smell of burning leaves in the air. It was everywhere and something I miss.
The lady for whom I shoveled snow I offered my services of mowing her lawn which she accepted along with taking care of her flowers. My business spread to other people in the neighborhood and I always had money in my pocket at lease briefly. My weakness for chocolate what as great then as it is now and I saw no reason to resist. But I bought other things with my money, a wallet, a pair of boots, a speedometer for my bike and other things.
When I turned 12 I was old enough to work a paper route for the Lawrence Eagle Tribune. My first route was rather lengthy, but I learned a lot. When it came time, each Thursday, to collect from each person the tidy sum of 42 cents for a week’s worth of newspapers. They were 7 cent a day, six days a week. The blue-collar and middle-class people would always give me 50 cents, an 8-cent tip, which I always appreciated. But the wealthy people always waited for their change with the exception of one man, Sam Rockwell, who was a wealthy Boston banker and as kind a person a you could know.
At age 14 and 15 I work on a vegetable farm about a mile from my house. For my 8 hours labor in the hot fields, I received the tidy sum of 3 dollars a day or 15 dollars a week that first summer. The next summer I got a raise to 5 dollars a day. Farms were then, and I expect now, exempt from paying minimum wage which at the time was $1.25 an hour. The farm was run by two Italian brothers and the fields were always filled with their parents and grandparents. I know at least one woman was in her 80s, and because she was widowed, she dressed completely in black every day regardless of how hot it got, and you never heard a single complaint. There were a number of these older women who were dressed in black. It was very hard labor, very demanding, and I got another lesson in work that I feel proud about.
When I turned 16 I knew I could find a job that paid better than the farm. As good fortune had it, there was a man who lived a very short distance from my house. This man I knew owned a mill in Lawrence. I had no idea what was made in the mill, but I went to his house and rang his bell. He answered the door and I introduced myself and told him what I was looking for. A 16-year-old does not recognize when he is properly impressing someone with his industry. Mr. Segal did not even give it a moment’s thought. He simply told me to show up at the mill office and there would be a job waiting for me. I had no idea that this job, though it lacked excitement, would give me a life lesson that I carry in my heart to this day. Mr. Segal’s mill was named Service Heel Company. His factor produced women’s shoe heels which when finished were shipped off to another company, actually several of them, who would use the heels we made to finish their shoes.
The mill was what used to be referred to as a sweat shop. That simply meant, people worked in a place that was hot and un-airconditioned in the summer and cold and poorly heated in the winter. The mill building itself, originally the George Kunhardt Mill, was built around 1890 and was part of the giant woolen industry in Lawrence. I would like to say that the people who I worked with ran the entire spectrum of a community but in truth it had one small sliver. Most of the people employed their had an 8th grade education, if that, and had worked the same job, in exactly the same location for 30 years or more. I know that for fact because I asked that question of several people there.
The thing with these people, almost without exception, is they were what was called “the salt of the earth.” If you worked there you were one of them and no one person was any better than another person.
I was a “floor boy” which meant I dragged boxes of unfinished heels to various stations where work was done on them. It being a union shop, I could work there for only 90 days without joining the union which was more than enough for me because it was only a summer job. Also, I was getting my $1.25 hourly wage which grossed me $50 a week, the most money I had ever earn. Those were the days that you had a time card which you had to punch in and out as you went. If you were one minute late you were docked 5 minutes of pay. That happened to me but a single time but that was enough for me to appreciate the idea of being somewhere on time.
The floor supervisor was a big man named Tony who had now problem rolling out his prejudices. Probably during my first week he took me to the rear of the shop and point out the window to the mill next to us. He said, “that’s where the spics work” and told me I had better not associate with them. In the early 1960s Lawrence already had a sizeable Puerto Rican community which some people like Tony could not tolerate for reason that make no sense. Ironically, I found none of that with the people who worked the stations in the shop. They were kind and very helpful. I got absolutely no training upon my arrival there and of course was quite lost with how to find what was needs and how to tell where I should be taking these boxes. It was the people who needed the boxes who train me of where to find things and how to get them to where they needed to be. They also made me aware that occasionally time sensitive heels would come through and I needed to be on the look out for them and drag the as soon as I saw them to the proper station. By the way, I actually had a metal rod with a hook on the end to drag these boxes around.
One of the stations was in a second building separated by a hallway and a large steel door. This was the paint shop where certain heels were spray painted. OSHA did not exist at that time and the man who worked the shop, alone, only had a face mask to protect him from the paint fumes. He did not have the oxygen mask that would be used today. I don’t know what, if anything, ever happened to him but considering the noxious fumes he inhaled, it is difficult to believe he was not damaged in some manner. But such were the mills back then.
I really do not remember the names of the people who worked there, some were but a few years older than me and others were easily old enough to be my grandparents. But to a person they were not but kind and considerate of me. I never heard them complain about anything. There was a level of respect between employees that was exemplary. I learned the life lesson of not judging people by their station in life. Rather look at the character of the person and you will know who you are dealing with. These people were of the best character.
The next summer I got a job at Raytheon Company in Shawsheen, MA, a part of Andover MA. I believe my basic title was clerk. I worked on the 9th floor of a 10-story building where there built radar systems to the US Army. I did not have a security clearance which occasionally got in the way of my job. The floor I worked on was concerned with completed radar components being properly finished and tested. It was the quality assurance section.
The job site, as opposed to the previous one, did employ a large spectrum of people. But there was something amiss with this group. There was lots of prejudice and angst between the various groups. People who worked in the metal shops and fabrication shops were looked down upon by those in the engineering department of which I was a part. Worse, this shop was also a union shop which had recently gone on strike. A number of men crossed the lines and of course became “scabs.” I had the bad manners to sit down and each lunch with one of the scabs and was told if I did that again I would be treated as he was, poorly. I hated that because I have never thought ostracizing anyone served any useful purpose.
I encounter one other type of prejudice quite unexpectedly. There was a young lady who I worked with, we both worked out of the same office but had different jobs but were otherwise equals. I found I that I was making 5-cents more than she because of my gender. I knew even than that that was wrong. I remember thinking that she had told me things about herself the left me believing that if anyone should be make more money it was her. It had to do with her background, but I do not remember exactly what.
I was glad to leave that job at the end of the summer. They offered me a full-time position with the added incentive of paying for my college education which I was starting that September. I turned down their offer, it was not a place I wanted to work.
And so there you have the first 18 years of my life and the informal, though extremely useful, education I received along the way. If you consider that I started work at the age of 6, I worked continuously for 52 years before I retired. I learned new things each of those 52 years but the best education I received were those years for age 6 to 18. They served me well and I am grateful for every person along the way who took a moment to show me something that was useful. God bless them all.