Sunday, May 17, 2009

Eight Summers and Counting

If you told me as a student just finished her first year of university and starting a seasonal job at Connon Nurseries that nearly a decade later I would be beginning my eighth summer there, I wouldn't have believed you. If I did believe you could see this in my future, I would have probably have done some serious vocational planning and rethought my liberal arts degree in Honours English and Religion. In my second summer at Connons, I could not fathom why one older girl who had a business degree under her belt from Redeemer University College would be back working a general labour job.

After each year of school, I returned to Connon Nurseries for four months of repetitive, mindless manual labour, and after I graduated in 2005 and failed to find a job, I spent a fifth summer there, and worked into the fall before getting a receptionist job. What made the job were the people you worked with, other students mostly. Some summers were so much fun, and we had crew outings and filled the cutting room with laughter. Others were more dramatic with personality clashes or theological arguments that turned into personal conflicts. In the early spring we "pulled plugs", poking out the young plants with our sticks and trimming the roots with our pruning shears, with four of us going on the potting machine. We got to work with two Spanish ladies, Gloria, from Columbia, and the first year with Lilianna, also from Columbia, and every year after that with the diminutive Alma from El Salvador. They were a great team on the potting machine, and sat together in the cutting room in the summer months, filling their shared flat with expertly cut plants while conversing together in Spanish. They also taught us Spanish phrases and songs, and generally added colour and liveliness to the work environment. Another full-timer was Cheri who had worked there since 1990, knew much about plants and seemed to know everybody in the Dutch community, and was the designated waterer of flats. The first five summers our supervisor was Paul, or Paulito as Gloria called him, a short man of few words. Arie was the main supervisor, and other than my grandfather whose greenhouse I worked in during Spring Break growing up, he is the favourite of all the bosses I have had. He had a Dutch accent and a good humour, though he expected you to work hard and never place your elbows on the cutting room table.

I was a receptionist all winter into the spring and summer before leaving that position just as I was about to start living on my own. I soon found another job as an order desk clerk, a contract job that was flexible enough to allow me to pursue some Greek courses with the goal of going to graduate school the following year. These plans ended after I became ill and spent some weeks in the hospital. Arie phoned to see if my sister would be working in the summer, and when I answered the phone and he learned my job and health situation, offered me a job back at Connon Nurseries. I accepted and following another health set-back returned for a sixth summer, telling myself it was temporary until I regained my footing and found something else, and worked into the fall before beginning another receptionist job. But I was back for a seventh summer and third fall season, and now an eighth summer. While I am now taking correspondence courses with the goal of getting into a nursing program, I cannot rule out the possibility of a fourth fall or even a ninth summer should I be accepted into the practical nursing program and not the accelerated nursing program at McMaster, which is extremely competitive.

While I sometimes am embarrassed to admit I still work at Connon Nurseries after obtaining a bachelors degree, I will readily attest that Connon Nurseries has been good to me, and most of the countless hours I have spent there have been relatively happy ones. There is something about repetitive, mindless labour that is soothing and the camaraderie with coworkers has usually enlivened the monotony of endless pulling of plugs or cutting of plants. And while I hope that in nine years, I will be busy with a career in nursing and taking care of a family, I think I will always be slightly sentimental about the nurturing of young plants and the smell of potting soil.


Marian said...

I think whatever your job if you do it "as unto the Lord" and you genuinely care about the people you are with, then that job is not a waste, no matter how many years you do it or how overeducated you think you might be for that position.

Suzanne den Boer said...

That's true and good theology, although sometimes it does feel like a waste. Your comment reminded me of a poem by George Herbert I wrote a paper on for Seventh Century Literature. It uses the imagery of alchemy to reveal how all vocations can be made holy if done for as for God:

Elixir, The

Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see,
And what I do in anything
To do it as for Thee.

Not rudely, as a beast
To run into an action;
But still to make Thee prepossest
And give it his perfection.

A man that looks on glass
On it may stay his eye,
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heaven espy.

All may of Thee partake
Nothing can be so mean
Which with his tincture, `for Thy sake,`
Will not grow bright and clean.

A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine;
Who sweeps a room, as for Thy laws,
Makes that and the action fine.

This is the famous stone
That turneth all to gold,
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for less be told.

Suzanne den Boer said...

I mean Seventeenth Century Literature.

Karen / Clint said...

Nice to hear your thoughts. I am with you on the smell of potting soil. I LOVE it.

Suzanne den Boer said...

I think part of my love of potting soil is because of my memories of March Breaks with Grandpa and Grandma, working in the greenhouse. Those are some great memories! I miss them.