An Old Dog Is Inspired to Learn New Tricks
A paper mill manager nearing retirement finds his faith tested when he loses his job.
We’d relied on the health insurance from my job. We didn’t qualify for Medicare yet. COBRA would last only a relatively few months. But then what?
Not being able to provide for my wife, that made me feel even more useless.
The next day I rented a U-haul and our younger son, Wade, and his girlfriend came and helped us load the heavy stuff.
The old house was in bad shape. The roof leaked. The kitchen wallpaper was peeling. Our first week back, I stepped out on our front porch and the railing fell off. Frustrated, I snatched up the broken railing and heaved it behind the garage.
Every day I searched employment websites on the computer. I scoured newspaper want ads. I swallowed my pride and called recruiters and my colleagues in the business. “I’ll do my best,” a friend said, “but it’s brutal out there.”
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The recruiter asked me to update my résumé. I did—but left off how old I was. I’d graduated college at 31, so my graduation date didn’t give my age away. Most of all, I prayed.
One day my cell phone rang. The recruiter. “Neil, I’ve got an opening near you. They want you to come for an interview. You’re perfect for them.” Finally, my prayers had been answered.
The interview lasted all day. Five different people spoke to me.
The recruiter called that evening. He sounded less confident this time. “If you’re who they’re looking for, you should hear in a few days.”
Two weeks passed. Finally the recruiter called. They’d hired someone else. “I’m sorry, Neil. It’s your age,” Aline said. “You should have dyed your hair!”
I laughed. Not like I had all that much hair left. But inside, I felt worthless. God, aren’t you listening? I demanded.
A few positions came and went. Each time I lost out to somebody younger. And cheaper, I thought, though by now I was willing to work for anything.
I’d been out of work six months the day I opened the mailbox and found a school tax bill. I snapped. God, how are we supposed to pay this? You know my unemployment check won’t stretch that far. We had already spent our savings: food, gas, the few improvements on the house we’d absolutely needed.
I ran to the bedroom and looked around. What could I sell without Aline noticing? I pawed through my things. A few old books might be worth something to someone on eBay. An antique camera seemed in good enough condition to fetch a couple hundred...
A glint of bronze caught my eye. I dug the object out. A belt buckle a supplier had given me 30 years before, with a picture of a paper machine embossed on it. I’d worn it proudly nearly every day in my early years in the industry, until styles changed and I thought it looked a bit old-fashioned.
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Like me, I thought. We’re both relics.
I fastened the buckle to a worn leather belt, looped it through my jeans and closed it. I looked at myself in the mirror. The receding hairline, the fringe of gray, the wrinkles around my eyes, the paunch. Heck, I could see why no one believed I could still crawl over and under a paper machine like any young engineer.
It didn’t matter that I could troubleshoot any problem from specks in the sheet to curling on the edges better than anyone, that I knew the latest equipment and the most exciting innovations. If people saw me as old-fashioned, why would they hire me?