One Saturday morning in early January 1989, we received one of those dreaded calls that many families have experienced: a “you have been laid-off/fired/let-go/get-lost” calls. We pretty well knew it was coming as the technology company G.E. worked for was always “restructuring”, and he had been pretty lucky to avoid the repercussions over his 10 years of employment. Nevertheless, we were devastated, and losing a job that provided a good salary at age 41 was more frightening than being laid off during the “entry-level” years of one’s life.
Realizing our luck would not always hold, I had gone back to college part-time in 1987 to finish my teaching degree. By 1989, I had completed my general education credits, but still had a long ways to go because I changed my major. I had long wanted to complete my degree, and I knew I should have started sooner as there was no career I wanted to undertake more than teaching. Nevertheless, I did apply to work as a secretary at my brother’s-in-law accounting firm, but I failed the typing test miserably, and we wisely agreed that secretarial work was not the best fit.
Of course, there were unskilled jobs I could have pursued, but after much discussion and many prayers, G.E. and I decided I should do everything I could to finish school as that would benefit our family more in the long term. This meant applying for every grant, loan, and scholarship I could find, carrying a heavy heavy class schedule, and attending school year round. It was a huge decision that placed a significant burden on our entire family.
For my husband’s part, he collected unemployment benefits – which barely scratched the surface of our needs – plus picked up every odd job he could find. These included janitorial work, delivering Yellow Page directories, and yard work once spring came round. He even worked construction with a fireman friend who also owned a small handy-man company. G.E. was willing to undertake any project that would enable him to provide for our family and put his wife through college.
For our boys it meant many things more than just downsizing a lifestyle that included activities and opportunities they enjoyed and planned for. Andy and Joe couldn’t go to the International Boy Scout Jamboree as their older brother Chris had because we didn’t have the money or the time to help them with fund-raisers. None of the boys could attend all the sport camps they had hoped for, but they were able to play Little League Baseball because of the generosity of the Draper Youth Baseball League who waived their participation fees – something they were willing to do because of G.E.’s long-time association with that organization’s board and coaching staff.
Because of the change in our financial circumstances, the older boys willingly helped their dad with his side jobs in addition to their summer employment. Over the years, Chris and Andy worked at some pretty “interesting” places – the smelliest and dirtiest of which was the egg farm.(I’m surprised they still like omelets!) Employment at the nearby elementary was a relief in comparison! Joe, 12, joined his brothers and dad in cleaning offices and delivering the Yellow Pages, and 8-year-old Tim became the resourceful entrepreneur who sold toys, video games, and other odds and ends to get money for the things he wanted or needed.
Like Tim, G.E. and I sold everything we could. The first to go was our fairly new Suburban. My parents gave us their old car to drive, and Gar’s father gave us a dilapidated 1968 seafoam-green stationwagon and a utility trailer to use for the yard-care business. Sometimes, out of desperation, 14-year-old Andy had to drive the thing because he was the only one available to complete the appointment to mow, trim, and edge!
Even with the class-load I carried, it took 2 1/2 years for me to finish my degree. This was the era of keeping in touch via pay phones and long distance charges. Because I went to BYU in Provo, I became a long-distance mother. I purchased a “1-800” card that allowed me to call home and check on the boys. Home-cooked meals for them often meant eating cheese quesadillas on the run or in between homework, chores, part-time jobs, church and school activities. For the most part, they handled it all splendidly – better than their mother.
I knew the toll it was taking when I read one of Joe’s school essays based on the book Banner in the Sky. The assignment asked students to share a challenging experience in their own lives, and our son wrote about the impact of his father losing his job. He earned an “A”, but the essay made his teacher and me cry.
While G.E. obtained employment a few months after the layoff, the pay was just over a third of what he had been making. That meant he and the boys continued to clean offices, mow lawns, and work other jobs. One year, Joe hired on at Taco Time and bought his school clothes and Tim’s.
Over the course of that experience, a neighbor tried to recruit G.E. to sell a multi-marketing product, but my husband said no because he couldn’t live in the “iffy” world of straight commission. We needed to know exactly how much money was coming in and when he’d be paid in order for us to meet our obligations. The neighbor’s response was that he would never perform manual labor as G.E. did to bring in a few dollars here and a few dollars there. But somehow our patched-together income was enough to keep us afloat for the several years it took us to “swim to shore”.
In the meantime, I finished college and started teaching middle school and finances improved. Whenever I count my blessings – which is often – I always include the fine men in my life who made that possible. As a result, I enjoyed a wonderful career in an area I loved and was able to significantly contribute to our family’s income. When financial challenges struck again – which they did – we were able to tackle them in a better, less stressful way.
I adore my “boys” – G.E., Chris, Andy, Joey, and Tim – who have all had to overcome many difficult trials in their lives, And today I want thank them for putting their mom through school over 25 years ago!
I love you all – and Happy Father’s Day, 2015