The Voices in Your Head
I got a job on the bread stick line at Bachman’s Pretzel factory in Temple. PA between my freshman and sophomore year of college. I rode my yellow Schwinn bicycle 6 miles over Mount Penn for work every morning. I was the only college student working there that summer and the women on the line resented me at first, as they thought I thought I was better than them. I did not. The little tow motor operator sneered and threw rude, dirty remarks at me too, at first. I told him right out the gate that that would not be tolerated and I knew that I had to change the game or I would not last long and be happy.
To work the breadstick line, you had to teach your hands to do two different things. Your left hand scraped breadsticks off the mountain that was piled high on the stainless table; the hand pulled them down to the conveyor belt that was moving across at your waist, then pushed them gently into the two-holed slot, and brushed the excess sticks off- all with the left hand. The right hand, picked- it straightened the two out, grabbed any broken ones and tossed them, and replaced any vacant slots with perfect breadsticks. This was a lot to do with your hands but after awhile, I got the women to do something besides- sing, in rounds, while we scooped and picked. What fun we had and how the hours flew by.
It was hot in the pretzel and breadstick factory as they baked them in large ovens. For our half hour lunch break, I talked the ladies into having a little fun. I convinced them to wear their bathing suits under their white polyester uniforms, to save time. For when the lunch bell rang, we grabbed our bagged lunches and raced down the street to Bernhart’s Dam Park, where there was a waterfall. We stripped off our uniforms and in-between sandwich bites, stood under the drenching, refreshing waterfall. After 20 minutes, we high-tailed it back to the factory, fed and cool. These women were not young, but middle-aged and had never done anything like this before in their lives. Although the tow motor operator was not able to join in with the women on the breadstick line’s swimming party, he became a friend too.
If it was a hot night, even during the work week, my best friend Colleen and I would sleep out in the pine forest of Mountain Springs Restaurant, which sat on top of Mount Penn. In the morning, as the birds began to sing, I hopped onto my yellow Schwinn and rode the rest of the way to work at the pretzel factory. It was all about fun back then and I still work hard to make more fun in my everyday life as a gezette. It’s gotten harder to do for there are not as many older folks who want to play. But I always believed that I had a choice- make the best of a situation, find some fun. How can you make a factory job fun? It can be done. It is a choice.
I drove that exact route that I used to cycle the other evening, on my way to a Christmas Market held in my old neighborhood of Antietam in Pennside, outside Reading, PA. The rec center where the fair was held, is right next to the swimming pool that I lived in during the summertime, where I was on the swim team. I was there, the other night, as an author, to sign and sell my new book, “The World is Our Classroom.” I was hoping that I would see some old friends, folks that stuck around the area after they grew up, and I was not disappointed. The board manager of the market is Jimmy Pace, a podiatrist and excellent swimmer who was a few years younger than me. I had not seen him since he was 13 and me 15 and I can still see his skinny, tall body in his red, white and black striped tank suit, crouching down on the starter block as he readied himself for take-off. Big hugs were delivered all around. Just seeing him took me back to my childhood. I also saw an old life guard, and close friends of my deceased parents, who used to visit my family home on a regular basis. I hadn’t seen any of these people for close to 50 years. One woman came up to me though, scanned my table of four books that I have in print, showcasing the many long-distance hiking journeys I have taken and remarked, “You have had yourself quite a life.”
“I have,” I replied.
And she continued, “Most of us did not. We did not follow our hearts and just lived a life that we were told to live.”
I told her, “I just did what I wanted in life. It seemed pretty simple and easy.”
I wanted to ask her who those people were exactly in society who told her what she should do to be happy, and why she even listened, as if she did not have a choice.
I was walking with a friend quite a few years ago who remarked about my remarkable life, “I am starting to think that you do not have voices in your head that tell you that you cannot do things, that try to defeat you.”
“No voices,” I reply, “never heard any, would ignore them if I did hear them.”
“You’re fortunate,” she remarked. She has struggled her whole life to silence her defeating voices.
After returning home that night to my remarkable log home that we build from scratch to my equally remarkable artist husband who has also managed to live the life he imagined, I asked him, “Do you understand these voices that tell people what to do?”
“Sometimes it is parents. Sometimes people make choices, like getting pregnant early or creating debt in their lives that limit their choices.”
“But before all that, when they are young, in the dreaming, planning life stage. Who tells them they need a home with 2 ½ baths to be happy, a new car, make a lot of money, etc. And who says they have to listen? That they don’t have a choice?”
I never understood it. Why would you give up one of the best gifts of a life- the free choice to design and create it any way that you want, to build in as much fun and happiness that you can fit, (over and above all the challenges life throws at you that you have no control over)? There is so much that we DO have control over. Why would you give it up? Driving back across Mount Penn, past the now darkened windows of the Bachman Pretzel factory, past the waterfall at Bernhart’s Dam, I am grateful that my own heart’s desires and love of life were too loud and overwhelming to ever give any dumb voices in my head a chance, if they ever did exist at all.
Posted in: Life's Moments and Lessons