Cliff has spent the biggest part of our married life being the sole breadwinner for the household, working a variety of jobs.
When we first met, he worked in the city at a metal-plating place where they anodized aluminum. In 1969, he started working part-time at a little country butcher shop not far from our house; he loved that job, and eventually made it his full-time occupation. Because it was a family-run, small operation, there weren’t a lot of fringe benefits: much of the time he worked there, we had no health insurance. We were fortunate to have come from healthy stock.
Cliff left the butcher shop, then returned; but as years went by, there was less demand for its services, so he acquired a job where R B Rice Sausage was made. For the first time in his life, he had a really good-paying job with wonderful benefits; we had two kids in high school, so the money was welcome.
Then, after three years there, with no prior warning, that plant closed and moved operations to Nashville, Tennessee. Cliff was devastated. He took the first job he could find at another hog-killing place, over an hour’s drive away: this was the only job I’ve ever known Cliff to literally hate, but he couldn’t imagine being out of work, so he made that long drive every day for almost a year. Finally he could take no more, and quit to do concrete construction. That job paid well, but like all construction work, if the weather’s bad, you don’t work; it’s also mighty hard, physically, for a man in his late forties.
Our next-door neighbor, David, had a good job with a company that was always hiring, and Cliff talked to him about the possibilities of his securing employment there. David figured there was a good chance Cliff could get hired, but he’d need a high school diploma or a GED.
Cliff’s parents moved often throughout his growing-up years (he says they moved every time the rent was due, but I don’t think it was that bad). As a consequence, he was forced to switch schools often, and of course, didn’t do well. When he was fourteen, he got his first job throwing newspapers before and after school, and when he was sixteen, he decided to drop out of school and make money.
While Cliff was working construction, I happened to see a notice in our local shopper about free GED classes, and Cliff signed up. At his initial testing, the teacher told him, "You won’t be with us long."
Cliff actually enjoyed his twice-a-week, evening sessions in class. He’d never understood math, and suddenly it began to make sense to him. He almost seemed disappointed when his lessons were over.
The big day arrived when he took his test. There’s a wait of several days before results come back on the testing. Finally one Saturday, the mail we’d been waiting for arrived; Cliff was out back of the barn building a pen for my pregnant sow, and I took the unopened envelope to him... and my camera.
So that’s the story behind that picture: one of the best success stories I’ve lived to see.
Oh, and that job he was after? He's worked there for eleven years now.