How I Spent My Sweet Sixteenth Summer Vacation
by Eva Pasco
Mr. L, one of the finest and certainly most inspiring English
teachers I had at Lincoln Senior High, assigned his sophomores a theme composition on the first day of
school--the better to break the ice, become acquainted with us, and to assess our writing skills, or lack
thereof. Though I should have written about my first summer factory job I
didn't. Instead, I opted to embellish on those lazy, hazy days spent at
the beach, more in line with the generic generalities spouted by fellow suburban classmates who
flanked me on all sides....
In 1967, I took my first job under the umbrella of summer temp.
Capitol Heel Lining occupied a large part of the old Wanskuk Mill complex on Branch Avenue,
Providence. Battered and glass-shattered, the Wanskuk stood its weed-littered ground on Rhode
Island turf from a bygone era when its machinery was powered by raging water in this
eminently manufacturing state. Like an aging sage, the mill's wisdom trickled through
those walls to teach me lessons in life I've never forgotten.
No. 1 - Education is priceless. Beyond the
prevailing stench of glue and the 9 -5 noise of the machinery, not to mention the tedious repetitiveness of
menial tasks--the workers hammered this into me. Coffee breaks and lunchtime afforded me the
opporunity to socialize with women semmingly straight out of the moive Goodfellas. They were a motley assortment
of disillusioned and burdened Maries, aged before their time. Hair ratted beyond natural boundaries
and fried by peroxide, they dissed their less than stellar husbands and lamented the wrong turns taken in
life. They most always ended these tales of woe by admonishing me to stay in school if I knew what was
good for me.
No. 2 - Respect
others and embrace differences. Punching my time card each
morning before taking my place at the bench alongside the other girls, I chucked my myopic vision of
humanity nurtured by a sheltered life. I began to crawl out of my introverted shell to mingle
and pal around with a prima donna whose mom was divorced and had a boyfriend...whoa! Another girl
whom I deemed tough with the hard knocks to punch my lights out became one of my closest friends that summer,
and we enjoyed shopping downtown.
No. 3 - Live and
let live, shunning authority for authority's sake.
Under my timidity, the Sixties Chick within brewed that summer and thankfully still
flourishes. Quietly and subversively, on the sly of the floor lady who checked our work
piled at the end of our bench, I glued the plastic eyes on a pair of lion slippers Clarence
"crosseyed." My faux pas escaped the floor lady's hawk eye during inspection round while each of
us bit our lower lip and lowered our eyes to stifle a good laugh.
The summer of '68 found me at the Wanskuk assembling
pamphlets and booklets at Sidney-Higgins Bookbinding, dominated by sweet old ladies who taught me how
to play a mean hand of gin when work was slow. I would go on to have other summer factory jobs,
some leaving me grimy at the end of the day while coming up against the least savory bullies society
puts in charge of women. Since I'd been a proficient typist at the age of nine, I could have written my
own ticket to land a cushy office job, but I refused to wear nylons all summer. In retrospect, working
inside these sweat shops taught me the finest lessons in life--the biggest one--
Don't get too full of yourself.
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