Friday, November 4, 2011


Life is a series of beginnings and goodbyes; and no matter the number of our years, we never quite get used to it. This is the story of a beginning.

If I had a dime for every time I heard the retort: “Grow Up!” I would, today, have a tidy sum. From little on, whenever things went awry, or mistakes made, someone in authority would direct their focus to me and say: Grow up! As a parochial school kid in the forties and fifties, nuns were more than willing to dispense that phrase to anyone whose immaturity caused them consternation. During the greater portion of my grade school years, I could have been the poster child for immaturity with “Grow Up” tattooed on my forehead.

In high school, immaturity is magnified due to adolescence’s rapid infusion of cognitive and physical growth, developmental hormones, and social responsibilities. One enters secondary school as an “old child” and four years later leave as a “young adult.” Within those forty-eight months, a person is expected to acquire appropriate academic, social and personal skills prepared to enter and function in the world of grown-ups. That’s a formidable assignment for anyone; for me, it was an embarrassing struggle that challenged self-esteem, questioned self-worth, and tested personal discipline and resolve.

The full impact of inadequacy was evident a few days after graduation as I warily pondered my future. With high school over, one prominent question demanded my full attention: “What do I do now?” There were several choices: college, military service or employment. Due to low academic achievement and class rank, college was out of the question. Enlistment in the military required a level of confidence and maturity I did not have; so finding a job was my only viable selection. Job-hunting began in earnest on a hot, sunny day in June, 1958. I decided to apply at Inland Steel. I would become the first member of our family to choose steel mill over refinery: my grandfather, uncle, father, and two brothers had careers at Standard Oil, AMOCO, and BP over the years. I chose the machinist apprenticeship at Inland Steel.

One of the major limitations with telling one to “Grow UP!” is the lack of support information. No one ever told me how to grow up. Progress was hindered by confusion, awkwardness, anxiety, insecurity, ignorance, immaturity and fearfulness. Most prominent of those fears was rejection. I realized I was now on my own. No one ever told me how to apply for a job, get to Inland’s employment office in Indiana Harbor, what materials I needed, or what to say. Full of uncertainty, I mustered my courage and put “growing up” on the fast track.

A few minutes before 9:00 am, dressed in a long sleeved white shirt, tie and dark suit, I headed for Inland Steel—four miles away. From my home on Cleveland Avenue, I walked to Front Street and followed Dickey road to Union Carbide and Standard Oil, crossing 129th Street at Markstown. Heated by hurried walking and pre-summer sun, I continued past Youngstown Sheet and Tube, Company; over the Indiana Harbor ship canal, Inland’s Plant 3 Coke Plant to the corner of Dickey Road and Watling Street; turning the corner, I headed east. The American Foundry’s giant steam hammers shook the sidewalk’s pavement under my feet. Crossing the tracks, past a parking lot and Knight’s Bar, I arrived at Inland’s employment office. It was 10:15 as I took my place in line.

Because I was not eighteen, a Work Permit was required. I had to walk back to Whiting, procure the permit at the high school, and walk back to Inland. It was 1:45 in the afternoon when I re-joined the line of job-seeking applicants. By 3:30, I had filled out the application, briefly talked with a personnel representative, and told I would be notified if hired. Walking home during rush hour added to the day’s discomfort of missing lunch and perspiration-soaked clothing. The process of becoming a “Grown Up” left much to be desired.

I was hired in late July and began my apprenticeship August 11, 1958. Crossing the threshold to adulthood was difficult. Countless life-lessons, struggles, challenges and unanswered questions would be confronted. I would be tested in ways never envisioned. Childhood was over. Without rehearsal, adult responsibilities arrived and demanded attention and problem-solving at the speed of life. Growing up, one learns to draw upon experience, emotional strength, spiritual Faith, loved ones, and all avenues of information. Cut me some slack—the process continues.

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