An Old Dog Is Inspired to Learn New Tricks
A paper mill manager nearing retirement finds his faith tested when he loses his job.
Employment Center. An optimistic name for what this place really was: the unemployment office. Forty or so grim-faced men and women waiting in line or sitting at folding tables, filling out forms. And I was one of them. I could hardly believe it.
A few weeks earlier, I’d been assistant plant manager at a specialty paper mill, an industry I’d worked in for over three decades. Now I waited for some harried clerk to hand me a form and a few pamphlets about how to file for unemployment.
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To say this was demoralizing and humiliating was an understatement. I’d always been able to earn a good living!
“Next!” the clerk finally called. She handed me a packet. I sat at one of the folding tables, slapped the packet down and opened it. “Application for Unemployment,” the first form read. I filled in the blanks, anxious to get it over with. Names of previous employers. Salary history. Special skills.
The questions went on and on. Then I flipped the paper over. Reason for your dismissal.
My pen scratched to a stop. Reason? What reason was there? I had multiple degrees—in agronomy, chemistry, paper science and engineering. I’d served as assistant plant manager for the past four years, overseeing the production process and keeping it free of defects, and I was good at it.
My boss lauded my attention to detail and just last year I’d brought home a bonus. At 63, I’d been looking forward to a comfortable retirement with my wife, Aline, soon.
Then the stock market plummeted, wiping out 40 percent of our savings. Orders at our mill ground to a halt. Some weeks the paper machines ran two days out of seven. The company cut everyone’s pay. After that, layoffs. I survived the first two rounds...but not the third.
I’d studied hard, worked hard and climbed my way up. Now, just like that, I’d been thrown aside. Lord, I’m not ready to be put out to pasture. Besides, Aline and I couldn’t afford it.
I completed the form and handed it to a clerk. “There’s a one-week waiting period before you get your first check,” she said. “Report back here next Wednesday for a group seminar on résumé writing and preparing for an interview.”
Like I needed that. I’d spent most of my career on the hiring side of the desk. What skills could I possibly need to learn? I was supposed to retire soon, not go back to square one!
Back at our apartment, I found Aline stuffing books and canned goods into cardboard boxes. “The landlord said if we hurry, maybe we can avoid paying next month’s rent,” she said.
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We had moved to be closer to my job, but had kept our old house and planned to return after I retired. We could no longer afford both places.
“Here,” I said, dropping my unemployment pamphlets onto a chair. “Let me help.” We’d both weathered some serious health problems. We were fine now, but at our age, all sorts of things could crop up.