Friday, September 2, 2016

A Personal History of Labor

Friday greetings on a delightfully sunny and dry morning here in the Midwest.

As Labor Day approaches, I feel the need to thank my parents for instilling in me the value of work. When I turned 16, I wrote a letter to the manager of the local warehouse and showroom of the Baldwin Piano and Organ Company. I had seen an ad in our local newspaper, looking for piano and organ salespeople. I had been one of those kids that played in the front of the Wurlitzer store in the mall, with the "sh-boom" stops in full gear, entertaining the throngs with my renditions of "Spanish Eyes" and "Tico Tico." I had also watched and listened to salespeople feed people a line about the instruments that were deceiving. So I decided to apply for the job at Baldwin.

I had no resumé to submit. I don't even think I knew what that was! I wrote a letter to the manager in pen on onion skin paper, letting him know about my experience listening to salespeople at the Wurlitzer story in the mall. I received a call a few days later, inviting me to come in for an interview. I didn't even have my driver's license yet. My parents, hard workers themselves, encouraged me. And, to everyone's surprise, this sixteen-year-old got the job as a piano and organ salesman, making $2.25 per hour and 3% commission on sales. I was surrounded by people much older and more experienced. I had my own desk and was often the only person in the showroom as I worked two nights a week and Saturdays. I will never forget the day that I sold a nine foot concert grand piano; the cost back then was $15,000.00. A commission of $450.00 meant that I could buy my first car, a Volkswagen Beetle that cost $350.00. It had plywood for a floor and no heat, but who cared? I no longer had to take the bus to the showroom!

While in seminary college, I was the cantor at two of my parish's Saturday evening Masses, earning ten dollars per Mass, which seemed like so much back then. After doing that for awhile, I began playing the organ at two Saturday evening Masses at Saint Peter's Parish in Lowell, Massachusetts. I also filled in at another parish in my home town.

My first summer job was arranged by my Dad. I worked in the "grinding room" of an electronic fabricator company. Monday through Thursday, the schedule was 7:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. and Fridays, we worked from 7:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. I used a hand sander to sand the metal cases into which computer components would later be installed. The dust was overwhelming, but there were no official safety measures in place. I would come home exhausted each night. You don't even want to know what it looked like when I would blow my nose! I would fall asleep by 8:00 P.M. and be ready for work the next morning. This was the hardest labor I have ever experienced, but I was slowly growing to appreciate the fact that for many people, this kind of work was not just a summer job, but a job for life.

My second summer job was as "Chef's Helper" at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

I enjoyed this work so much. We prepared all the cafeteria food. Do you know what it is like to cut an enormous piece of tripe (cow intestine) into tiny strips to make "Philadelphia Pepperport?"

During my time in the graduate seminary, I got a job playing the piano at the South Shore Country Club on the shore just south of Boston.

I played in the lounge on Friday and Saturday nights, returning to the seminary some time after 1:00 A.M. After a brief hiatus, I began playing for Sunday Brunch in that same country club. It was so much fun having my family, classmates, and friends come in for brunch and play the piano for them. There was an abbey close by and one day I recognized one of the monks at brunch and a sneaked a phrase from On Eagle's Wings into Surrey with a Fringe on Top and immediately every head at the monk's table turned toward me and I just smiled away.

Because the seminary faculty judged "public entertainment to be inappropriate for a seminarian," I had to leave that job that I loved. The country club, incidentally, was owned by one of the most generous and prominent Catholic families in the Archdiocese of Boston.

I have just always had that sense that work brought dignity and purpose into my own life, so my Dad got me a part time afternoon job at a huge stationery supply company, where I filled orders for hours on end. It was pretty boring and monotonous, but I gained an appreciation for those for whom this kind of work was their daily routine.

After not having been ordained, I wondered where I was headed in the job market. I began work/ministry as director of liturgy and music at three parishes over the next fifteen years: Saint Mary Magdalen in Altamonte Springs, Florida, Epiphany in Port Orange, Florida, and Saint Marcelline in Schaumburg, Illinois. All during this time, I spent time as a team member with the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, presenting RCIA training institutes throughout North America and a few in Germany as well.

In 1999, after having earned the doctorate at Catholic Theological Union, I began my work here at World Library Publications, first as an editor, then for the last eight years as associate publisher and now Vice President and Chief Publishing Officer. In addition to my work here, I still do RCIA training for dioceses and present keynotes, workshops, and parish missions on a number of topics.

Wow, after having written this little anthology, I realize that labor has really been at the center of my whole life, from the time I was sixteen. I began by saying that I am grateful to my parents. I watched them work so hard as the six of us kids were growing up. Some of that work, especially for my Dad, was back breaking. They did everything so that we would have a roof over our heads, food on the table, gifts at Christmas, and camping getaways every summer. It was a life that was the product of their labor.

I just hope and pray that my own labors have somehow built up the family of God, as my parents' labors built up the Galipeau family.

I hope you have a restful and peaceful Labor Day. And please pray for the unemployed and underemployed. And thanks for listening.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

1 comment:

Eileen Brown said...

Your "labor" has been a gift to my life!