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An Act of Friendship

During his later years, my father liked to periodically tell a story that made a powerful impression on me. It had to do with an act of friendship—one that changed the course of his life.

In 1940, when he was twenty-seven years old and living in New York City, he was in bad straits. With only an eighth grade education and no trade or employable skills, he was struggling to make a decent living. He felt pressure to improve this situation because he had a wife and a four-year-old son to house and feed, and very little money to do it with. A hard worker, he had been going from one unskilled job to another, trying to keep his head above water. He had pushed clothing carts and loaded boxes of dresses onto trucks for a garment company, delivered telegrams for Postal Union, and worked as a delicatessen deliveryman. At the time of this story, he was pumping gas at a Sunoco service station.

But the service station job simply didn’t pay enough, and he was steadily falling behind on his bills. He turned to the newspaper’s help wanted section and spotted an ad for a machinist placed by a plastics company named Bishures in Astoria, Long Island. Even though he had no experience for the job, he was desperate. He set up an interview and presented himself as a skilled machinist. Miraculously, the person conducting the interview failed to see through his charade and hired him.

The foreman of the machine shop recognized during Dad’s first day that he had no machine shop skills and easily guessed he had bluffed his way in. He called Dad into his office and told him that he couldn’t keep him and asked him why he had lied to get the job, certainly knowing he would have been found out. My father answered truthfully, “I have a wife and child, and I need to learn a trade so I can feed them. I was hoping I could somehow last long enough to earn my keep-then I’d have a job I could count on. I’m sorry I wasted your time but I’m desperate.”

Apparently moved by my father’s story and honesty, the foreman decided to give him a break and let him stay on the job. He said, “If you work hard and are reliable, I’ll carry you until you’re able to earn your way. I’m going to teach you how to work on the lathe today, and if you catch on and do a good job, I’ll keep you busy on it while I show you how to do other things.”

The story has a happy ending. My father became a fine machinist. Then, over the next few years, he worked his way up to the next level and became what he proudly referred to as an “A-1 Mold Maker.” Plastic mold makers were graded by their skill level and A-1 was the best you could be. Ultimately, he began his own mold-making and plastic injection company, and built it into a thriving business.

While Dad and the foreman at Bishures Plastics never became close friends, they enjoyed a warm relationship for many years. Because the man had bestowed such kindness at a time when my father needed it the most, he always talked about his old foreman with respect and appreciation.

Sadly, although my father told me the foreman’s name, I can no longer recall it. Since there are no family members still living who might know his name, it’s lost to me. But, he’ll remain an important part of my father’s history, and his generosity will not be forgotten.

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