A guest post by Donna Kalinowsky.
I teach mathematics as an adjunct instructor at Berkshire Community College (BCC) in Massachusetts, which is one of a handful of states that does not allow its employees to pay into Social Security. To get my last requisite credits toward Social Security, I took a part-time job at Home Depot. Home Depot has taught me a lot about gratitude and dignity.
I have met several people at Home Depot who are good, smart, hard working people. I go to them often when I have an issue I can’t solve on my own. Some are part time like me, working unpredictable hours at $11 an hour. I doubt even the few full-time people earn a whole lot more. (Just like BCC, Home Depot tries to minimize full timers in order to avoid paying benefits, though Home Depot does offer some benefits to part timers if they work there long enough.)
I work there by choice, for a special reason, but for these people. This is their life. One girl has no car, so she has to take the bus to work. But if she is scheduled on a day when no bus service is available, she has to take a cab to work. If she’s scheduled for four hours at $11 an hour and a taxi costs $20, then it’s almost like she’s working for taxi money.
I have learned a lot at Home Depot, but not what I expected to learn. All my A’s in college were worth nothing here. I had to learn from a new set of teachers. I think about the time Kathy had to teach me the proper way to water because I was drowning all the plants. I think about Dennis, who patiently taught me how to use a pallet jack. How he refrained from laughing at me during the fifteen minutes it took me to awkwardly move a pallet of merchandise ten feet is a mystery to me. I remember his yelling at me for “fluffing”— pretending to work by moving stuff around on the shelves. He and Ian (who I swear has experience with every product in the Garden Department ) then proceeded to show me how to use the phone and the giant ladder to stock properly. I think about Wayne, a man of few words, who I followed around like a puppy dog because he knew all the day-to-day things that I needed to learn how to do. These were my teachers . Yes, they taught me how to do my job. But the real value of what they taught me had nothing to do with Home Depot.
I see them do their work with a quiet modest sort of dignity that I think is sometimes lacking in academia. I learned to respect the grizzled old guys and the world-wise young ones for being experts at what they do and working a whole lot harder than I have ever had to work in academia. But I guess humility and strength of character is where you find it. I think of Ed Clark, who was head of the Engineering Department at BCC when I was a student. He always made it a point to get to know the custodians and secretaries and security. He knew their names and cared about their problems. That always mystified me. To me, they were like invisible machinery, necessary, background noise in the service of students and teachers and administrators. I failed to care about or even see their dignity and their humanity.
Sometimes I gripe in my head about how BCC has treated me. But my job is something the people at Home Depot can only dream about. I think about how overjoyed they would be to have what I have. I think about how much I take for granted.
I think about what I have read, that these are the type of people who support Donald Trump. But doubt he has even a clue about the financial problems these people face every day, their real, day-to-day struggles. I think he is just using them to further himself and his agenda.
I am luckier than I have ever known. God had been far better to me than I have ever realized. I can only open my eyes and say a little prayer of gratitude and wonder why I am so lucky. I believe there is a purpose in everything. I am coming to know the purpose of my summer working for Home Depot.