I started dating Gene when I was 16 years old. I had only been driving for a couple of months, had recently procured my first job as a waitress in a local steakhouse, and I had a 21-year-old boyfriend.
I still don't understand why my parents didn't shoot him on sight. Maybe it was because he was a long-time member of the same church that I attended and my parents knew his parents, and had known of him forever. Maybe they just trusted me, having been a pretty good teenager, as far as teenagers go. Whatever the reason, I'm glad they didn't kill him. I can't guarantee that Gene and I will show the same restraint if either of our girls ever pull a similar stunt.
At any rate, I was still in high school, and Gene, having been out of high school for three years already, had a job. He had gone to work in a sawmill with his dad after he graduated, and was still there. He left the house around 5:30 every morning, and I would set my alarm clock for shortly after 5:00 just to speak to him before he started his work day. Later, I would sometimes stand in line for the pay phone at lunchtime to call him again during his lunch break. (This was clearly before teenagers everywhere owned Blackberries.) When I worked during the week, I would head to the restaurant after school and work 4-11, then come home to do homework and go to bed, so I didn't see him much during the week. We'd go out on weekends - usually in his brand new car rather than in my clunky old Blazer that I was nonetheless grateful to have.
I got a pretty clear picture back then of what life would be like with him years later, when we were married. Early mornings, evenings filled with chores (me) and school (him), and any free time to speak of occurring only on weekends.
Sure enough, when we married in 2001, Gene was still at the sawmill. At least he was making pretty good money, and had insurance for himself through the company (no family plan!)
By the time Rachael was born in 2004, the sawmill had dropped the insurance policy and frozen employees' pay.
Sure enough, he wasn't making a red cent more per hour when Milly was born in 2007 than he had been years earlier.
And by the dawn of 2011, he not only had no benefits and crappy pay, but even his hours had become inconsistent - sometimes working only a day or two per week. We would often go to bed every day for a week not knowing whether he would be working the next morning. The money wasn't enough for a family of four; the stress was too much for Gene to bear. Hating his boss and dreading each morning that he had to report to work was no good for him - a previous layoff had been a blessing.
He had been looking for a new job for years - yes, literally years. He had begun searching in earnest for a new job when Rachael was just a baby, but the employment options in our area are limited. Not having a college degree - only certificates in computer use, programming and repair - he found himself overqualified for many jobs, perfectly qualified for but lacking the piece of paper necessary for others, and unable to consider many because he simply made more money at the sawmill. It was a wretched search.
A few weeks ago, my stepdad - a Pepperidge Farms vendor who often hears of job openings in other companies - called to tell Gene that Utz was looking for a good man. Gene promptly submitted an application online. That was Friday evening - on Tuesday morning (when he happened to be home, thanks-for-nothing to the sawmill), he received a phone call asking him to come in for an interview. That day. Even though everyone else would be interviewed on Wednesday. They liked his application - having experience with helping my stepdad on his own route - and wanted to meet him first.
That Saturday, they asked him to ride along with another Utz man on his own route, to see what the job was like, if it was something he would like to do. He was mostly there to observe, but happily jumped in to help.
The following Friday, he reported for a physical and drug test, and submitted paperwork for a background check.
And this past Thursday, Gene worked his last day at the sawmill.
At 4:45 p.m., the heavens opened, rays of sun shone down on his head, and the angels rejoiced. Or maybe it just seemed that way to us.
Tomorrow morning, Gene starts his new job at Utz. We have no idea what to expect - all we know is what time he should show up tomorrow and what paperwork he needs to bring with him. We don't know if he'll start off in the warehouse (likely) or how soon they may be training him on his own route (from what we've heard, probably not long.) We know that they are regularly off on Wednesdays but work on Saturdays, which will mean a big change in our regular schedule. And once he has his own route, there will be no set starting and ending hours - he'll be home when he's finished, whenever that may be. That will be just fine with him, but harder on me, since it makes hard to plan dinner, not to mention evening activities. Saturday family activities? Only if they're in the evenings.
Even so, I am so incredibly grateful for this new job. It is an incredible answer to prayers - many, many prayers. I know that he'll enjoy being around people so much more than he did sitting in a box all day at the sawmill. I know he'll be offered benefits and vacation time, which are novel ideas to us now. I know he won't be in imminent danger of falling onto a huge saw every day, which is nice.
This job will mean so many changes for us, but changes for the best, and I can't wait to see how they all work out.