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Shiftwork


By Yvonne Nyenhuis

Fri, Jun 14th, 2013
Posted in All Commentary

By Yvonne Nyenhuis

Not everyone works “nine to five!” My husband and I had a friend living with us and taking care of our three boys who were under four years old at the time. It allowed me to escape domestic servitude for a while. I took a job in the department store selling paintings, prints and recommending framing for treasures brought to us by customers. I enjoyed dressing up for work, leisurely lunches and strolling through the skyways and shopping. After about three years the thought occurred to me, that maybe I should consider working in a factory where I could make more money.

Shortly thereafter I found myself working third shift at Shamrock Industries, a plastic factory in North Minneapolis. It was a big, dark barn of a place with giant machines that looked like railroad engines. A worker climbed a ladder carrying a 40 pound bag of plastic pellets which he poured into a funnel, a chimney on the roof of the machine. We made housing for machinery, wash baskets, book shelves and Kemps ice-cream buckets, 1,200 a day. Americans eat a lot of ice-cream! As the buckets spewed out of the “belly of the beast,” the operator cut off the flashing with a utility knife, wiped away excess oil, inserted wire handles, and stacked them, 25 to a stack, four stacks then sealed in a cardboard carton.

The jobs were rotated. Each night we checked a list in the lunchroom. If you were assigned ice-cream buckets you wrapped your thumbs with adhesive tape to protect your thumbs from the repeated pressure, pushing the wire handles into place. Timing was tricky. The wire handles could become hopelessly entangled. If you got behind you would soon find yourself sitting beside a mountain of buckets which continued to pour out of the machine.

I got home around 7:30 in the morning. My husband would be waiting at the curb. I left the engine running. As I got out, my husband slid under the wheel and took off to his work. I went into the house, gave the boys breakfast and sent them on their way to school. I’d tidy up the house, sleep for four hours and be awake in time to greet the boys when they came home. I prepared dinner. At six the five of us gathered in the dining room. I cleaned up the kitchen, slept for an hour and a half. 10:15 found me heading north on Lyndale Avenue in the dark.

After three months I had the opportunity to upgrade. I went to the Olsen Tool Company which made small plastic items and was located in South Minneapolis. I worked second shift and shared transportation with my neighbor Sharon. I’m really not clear as to the time line. I worked three years at the Olsen Tool Company and then went on to Control Data in Bloomington, Minn. where I also worked the second shift. Our sons got themselves off to school in the morning. I left for work at 2:15. The boys got home after three and stayed with a neighbor until 5:30 when their Dad got home. Now Glenn was the one to cook and serve dinner, supervise homework and bedtime. Five days during the week I never saw Glenn and the boys. I was a wife and a mother on weekends.

Control Data was a great improvement. I was paid well, had good benefits and excellent health care. I discovered a food store open all night. I remember one winter night returning home at 1:30 in the morning, climbing with bags full of groceries over three feet of snow piled by the curb. I loved the stillness of winter nights, clean and fresh, the sky filled with stars. Sometimes I took our Springer, Morgan for a walk. It was a magical time walking with him on the sidewalk, a white carpet sparkling with diamonds.

Life was full of surprises. One night, in late summer, I arrived home to find a black limousine usurping my parking place in front of the house. It turned out to be transportation for some “ladies of the night” who were strutting their stuff, two blocks away on Lake Street.

One day on the way to work, Sharon and I interrupted a mugging. A young man was standing behind an elderly woman with his arms across her neck, reaching for her purse. We came within inches of them. The young man took off running. I told the woman who was stunned to go in her house and call the police.

In winter mornings when I worked days at Control Data, it was dawn when I went to work and dusk when I came home. I didn’t see daylight or the sun for five days at a time. There were no windows in the factories. It was an artificial environment. There was an illusion that time stood still. Night and day, summer and winter didn’t exist.

Shift work can change lives dramatically and alter relationships, but it is often a matter of choice. It offers opinions, allowing time for hobbies, activities and child care. It’s part of the picture as we seek to bring order and meaning to our existence.

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