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Have you ever received those reports from Social Security? They’re the ones that tell you things like how much you’ve earned each year during your entire working career, and how much you can expect to get each month when you finally retire.
I don’t know if it’s because I’m a baby boomer approaching retirement (no one’s going the other way), but each year I get more curious about these reports. When I got one the other day I made a pot of coffee and sat down to read the whole thing from cover to cover and then went back and reread some parts two or three times.
In the part of the report that gives your earning history, they list the amount you earned in a particular year that was subject to Social Security withholding, but they don’t tell you where you worked in any given year. The first amount listed for me was for 1959 when – according to the folks at Social Security – I earned about $120.00.
I thought for a minute, then remembered that the first job I got that required a Social Security card was as a dishwasher at Blueberry Cove Camp in Tenants Harbor. Back then I knew a little about Social Security, but didn’t care much about it. When you’re a suave, sophisticated 15-year-old it’s hard to imagine ever becoming a doddering retiree.
The cook at the camp – and my boss – was named Thelma Wall. She came from the flinty hills of Vermont, and it didn’t take long to realize that she was every bit as flinty as the hills she came from. Thelma ran her kitchen like the field marshal of a great army. I ranked very low in her army.
Her daughter was named Dijobee (don’t ask what it means or why she was named that because I never found out) and she operated as Thelma’s chief of staff.
My schedule had me come in around 8 a.m. just as everyone was finishing breakfast. I had to wash all the breakfast dishes and then hang around to help Thelma and Dijobee get ready for lunch. I ate my lunch on the job and then did up all the lunch dishes. Once they were dome I was off until three in the afternoon when I would come back to help with supper.
The best ‘benefit’ offered to me was the meal allowance. Thelma might have had the grace and charm of a timber wolf, but she could cook like an angel. I also learned pretty quick that she particularly favored those who liked her cooking, and I had no difficulty showing that I couldn’t get enough of it.
During the first hour of my new job Dijobee showed me how to prewash the mountain of dirty breakfast dishes and load them into a large metal rack. The rack was then lowered into a sink of scalding water for the sterilization process. The camp’s kitchen was a dishwasher-free zone, and all dishes had to be washed by hand.
If Thelma came by my sink and saw the smallest speck of food on a single dish she would take the whole rack up and dump all the dishes back into the pre-wash sink while saying, “It looks like these will have to be done again.”
Who would have thought that a dry, bureaucratic document from Social Security would bring back memories of old Thelma, but it did.
Now I can’t wait for my next Social Security report. Who knows what memories it will jog?
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is mainestoryteller@yahoo.com.
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