Wednesday, June 24, 2009

From lower Sixties to Upper Nineties

A week from today one will make the transition from living in a climate which has recently resembled Scotland in October to one that might be charitably compared to the inside of a very hot sponge.

This sojourn will last for basically two months. It will, as far as I can remember anyhow, be the longest time I have ever been absent from the place where I have resided for forty years. Ever.

My reasons for leaving could not be happier ones, but the many facets of leaving such a well-worn comfort zone have surprised me to a degree I had not expected. There has been much to do which I have never had to do before. The impending journey has engendered many lists, both paper and computer.

I never lose sight of the fact, however, that the reason for this departure is that I am among the luckiest of men. And for that I am ever grateful.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

More About Wild Elderberries

As a teenager, my Dad got me a job in a factory which manufactured food products, including peanut butter, relish, jelly and coffee. The jobs ranged from unloading sixty pound sacks of sugar or one hundred pound bags of coffee beans from railroad freight cars in the summer heat, to working on the end of an assembly line stacking 24 pound boxes of peanut butter as they rattled and clanked down a conveyor belt to be taken away by a cigarette smoking forklift operator, to cleaning sixteen bathrooms in a day. Fun stuff.

So my job on this one particular day was to take large metal tins of wild elderberries and smash the top open with a large ball peen hammer (hit right in the middle) and then dump the twenty five or so pounds of wild elderberries into a large metal hopper where they dropped to a cooker located on floor below. At some point in the process, large amounts of sugar were added, which was contained in bins the size of a mid-sized uhaul truck.

As the day progressed, I wearily smashed open one tin after another of wild elderberries, sending them on their way to be cooked and put into jars, labeled, boxed and stacked on wooden pallets by some other poor soul who had drawn that particularly back breaking job for the day. Once a line was put in operation, it did not stop for much of anything, and therefore it was a stunningly pleasant surprise to have a white shirt and tie walk up to me and tell me to cease operations for the time being.

Seems that several floors below mine, a group of four women with latex gloves on, sat at a long metal trough with wild elderberry jelly running through it, and fished through it nonstop, looking for anything which might not belong therein. And in the course of such searching, they began to detect items variously described as fur or bone fragments, admittedly NOT an intended part of the advertised product.

OK, so I was a college kid, a bosses brat and a well acknowledged smartass, but it did not take a college education (in progress) to figure out what had happened. For some reason, the company tolerated or even encouraged the presence of a number of cats in the factory, perhaps for cheap rodent control or to help the workers forget the slave-like existence many endured for years. And yes, one such was VERY pregnant and inhabited the sixth floor in the vicinity of the huge sugar bins. And it had been noted earlier in the day that said cat was no longer pregnant and that the location of her nest was thus far undiscovered.

My suggestion that they should NOT scrap the entire output for the day, but should merely re-label the product “Wild Elderberry Jelly Fortified with Kitten Parts” was not greeted with either grateful thanks, nor whoops of amusement, and in fact it is very likely that only my Dad’s position with the firm prevented me from being fired or beheaded.

But I still think it was a fair suggestion, and it would have saved them from losing an entire day’s output of Wild Elderberry Jelly.