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Fifty Years of My Life (1939 - 1990)
A Memoir by Jeff R. Noordermeer

My first paycheck from the aluminum foundry

After I waited ten days in my apartment, my sponsor came one morning and took me around Syracuse to find a job. I must say my sponsor, Mr. Kowalski, was an aristocratic looking person. He drove a late model Buick and was a well mannered man. First he took me to the social security office to get a registered number. From there we went to the Armed Forces selective service system to register as I was still draft eligible. When we drove around, Mr. Kowalski was asking me all kinds of questions. He noticed that my English was very poor. So he decided to find a job for me where there was not too much of language involved. He looked at me, and so far as I understood, he said, "Joe you are a strong looking man, and I am going to take you to a friend of mine". He took me to a large aluminum foundry factory where they made all kinds of traffic lights and castings. Mr. Kowalski and the manager of the foundry were friends. They talked for a little while in the manager's office, and I was told to report the next day for work. I was getting paid $1.40 an hour.

casting aluminum at a foundry

This was my first job in America. I took a bus to work, and as I looked through the window everything looked so different to me. I was used to clean streets and spotless homes. The bus ride to work took me all through the neighborhoods of Syracuse. I noticed how unclean some of the houses were. It seemed to me that they never cleaned the windows. In Holland the women would scrub the sidewalks and wash the windows at least twice a week. Everything looked so different, even the streets were so much wider than ours. Here was so much open space which I didn't see in Holland due to the overpopulation.

My first day at work, I reported directly to the foundry manager who had talked to my sponsor. He was a short, stocky man, very neat and well dressed. He was of Italian descent. He took me to the foundry room where several hot gas ovens were melting large aluminum blocks. I was going to do manual labor and was going to work around the foundry floor wherever help was needed. In the foundry on the floor there were specialized people in making certain sand molds. Most all of the people who worked in the foundry were of Italian descent. The men who formed those sand molds had been with the company for many years. It was a special kind of sand they used to form those molds. Each form was different, as the traffic light castings were all different in sizes. After the forms were all molded the heated aluminum was poured in the sand molds. The labor of pouring the hot aluminum into the sand molds was only done by Negroes. Whenever one of the Negroes didn't show up, I had to fill in. We had to carry a large stone pot which was assembled between two steel rods. There had to be a man in the front and one in the back to carry this hot aluminum to the sand mold and pour it into the form. The hottest spot of this work was on the ovens where you had to hold the stone pots to be filled.

After the aluminum was hardened, the sand mold was broken and we had to do all the clean-up work. Most of the people were paid by piece work, so all of them were always in a hurry. I didn't know what piece work meant and what it was all about. I had to help most of the men, and because of my communications problems I was cursed for all kinds of things. They sent me over to another working man to ask for certain tools, and when I asked them what his name was they told me to ask for Mister Prick. Here I was calling the man dirty names and I didn't even know about it. The job was not easy, but I was used to hard work as the coal mine days in Holland had given me a good experience.

The first Saturday came along and the foundry manager asked me to work. I told him that I didn't want to work on Saturday as I had read in the newspaper in Holland that Americans only worked 35 hours a week. The manager said to me if I wanted to make more money I had to work on Saturdays so I was going to get paid overtime. I didn't work the first Saturday, but the man on the foundry floor I was working with told me if I wanted to keep my job I better work on Saturdays if I was asked. I needed my job real bad, so I worked on Saturdays whenever the foundry manager asked me to.

My first pay check was thirty dollars, but I hadn't worked a full week. A security guard from the company (Crouse Hinds) with a pistol hanging next to his side had a large tray with all the pay envelopes in front of him. We were paid weekly in cash.

My first pay check was only thirty dollars, but I was able to give Frank his ten dollars back. I paid my $12.50 rent a week, and that included all of the groceries we bought weekly. I still had enough money left to drink a few beers after work.

After my first pay, I didn't even go home. There were many bars in the area where I worked, so I stopped at the first one I ran into. I asked the bartender for a beer. He asked me what kind of brand I wanted. I didn't have the slightest idea what he was talking about. The bartender noticed that I had a language problem. So I drank tap beer and a few of them too much. There were a lot of things which bothered me and I was not too happy about. It was very hard for me to communicate with the people I was working with, and everything around me was so different. Sometimes I was so confused and didn't know what to do.

CONTINUED: Too much food and drink at the company picnic
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© Copyright  - Antonio Zamora

- Foreword
- Old Rotterdam
- World War II
- After the War
- Coming to America
- Washington, D.C.
- Southeast Asia
- Philosophy of Life

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