My first job was changing labels at a pants warehouse in New Bedford, Mass. When an order came in that required, say, a hundred pairs of men’s size 32 W 32 L and the warehouse only had sixty, well the pickers would bring a stack of 30 W 30 L. Or, 34 W 28 L. Or frankly, anything close enough.
I ripped out the old labels neatly and sewed the new ones with this nifty machine.
Sometimes the sizes weren’t even close. I remember an order of boys pants for a PX down South. We scrambled to turn size 12 boys into size 8 and so on.
I know better than to trust the label on an article of clothing. I have to try it on. You should, too.
Did I feel we were being dishonest? Of course. But I was 18 and waiting out that summer between high school graduation and my freshman year in college. I was going away from home, a big step for a shy girl. Every cent I made went into the bank.
My Dad called in a favor with the foreman so I could get this job. I don’t recall how they knew each other but I do the Christmas tree he gave our family one year. The tree’s needles all dropped within a couple of days and my mother has the photos for proof.
Once New Bedford used to be a hub for textile mills. My mother’s parents, who came over the boat from Madeira, were weavers. So was my mother when they made her drop out of high school. By the time I came along, the textile mills had moved down South, where labor was cheaper. Now, they’re overseas.
So, what was left were distribution warehouses. Among their biggest clients were military bases all over the U.S.
The warehouse was located on the polluted Acushnet River. The stairwell had an interesting assortment of profane writing like “Maria sucks dead Portagees.” I’ll spare you the coarser stuff.
The building didn’t have air-conditioning so it got hotter as the day progressed. Large fans kept the air moving.
My co-workers were for the most part lifers. A few were young like me, including a friend from high school who worked in the office, but they weren’t going to college. I was mindful of that so I did my job and tried to be as friendly as necessary.
I came back the next summer. I worked as a picker, sometimes stashed in the back of the warehouse where a rather frightening woman ruled. She left me alone and was rather nice after I passed her toughness test. I was more sure of myself that summer. I hung out with a few workers. Sometimes we went swimming at a lake after work.
And, oh, one afternoon a man tried to choke me. I dumped my bottle of coke over his head after he made rude remarks about me during our break. I saw a woman do that in a film. She didn’t get the reaction I got. But this was real life and not the movies. I’ll write about that in a future post.