Sunday, April 30, 2017

Reminiscing: Working for a Loving

Last year I wrote an article about the first job I had, which was as a paperboy for the local newspaper. Those jobs are long gone, and it’s been over thirty years since I got that first job. Over the intervening years, I’ve had several other jobs. Some were good. Others were terrible. And there have been a couple of great ones.

My dad worked at the same job for thirty years. After he graduated and turned eighteen, he started working at Harrison’s. He stayed at that job for thirty years. I know so many people from my parents’ generation who worked at one job for thirty, or more, years, and then retired. Wendy is doing that with her career. In fact, this year marks twenty years at her job.

Erie Canal Discovery Center - courtesy ECDC Facebook page
 I know those jobs are still out there, but my adult working life has not been the steady job like those ones. I worked at a gas station, two different phone companies, a hardware store, a museum, and a desk job at a local historical level. I’ve joked that I waited until I was thirty before I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. That’s not far off from the truth actually. I got my current job when I was thirty-two. This August will mark eleven years.

From 18 until 32, I went through four jobs, the longest tenure being almost four years at Adelphia. At 32, I finally figured out what I wanted to do, got that job, and have loved every minute of it. It’s perfect for me and I’m very thankful to have it. Actually, this job and the job I had mostly concurrently with it have been the best jobs ever.

I actually started working at the Erie Canal Discovery Center before I started working for the Niagara County Historian’s Office. I was filling in at the Lockport Visitors Center desk initially. Soon, I was taking regular shifts on Saturdays and Sundays. Eventually, that grew into me working for the Discovery Center on the weekends. Somehow, after a year or so, I moved over to the Historical Society on Saturdays during the winter months when the Discovery Center was closed.

I worked at the Discovery Center/Historical Society from 2006 through 2013. I started there just before I got the job at the Historian’s Office. Once I started at the Historian’s Office, I did my Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at that office, and covered Saturday and Sunday at the museum. It worked out fantastically.

I absolutely loved my time at the Discovery Center. I got to interact with people all day, meet people from around the world, and discuss my love of the Erie Canal. In case you didn’t know it, I’m a people person. I could talk to people all day, so the job was perfect for me.

Maybe the coolest thing that ever happened while I was working there was when a group of college-age kids came in from the Ukraine. They were on a trip across the entire country. It was almost like backpacking through Europe, but backwards. Anyway, as a group they sang the “Low Bridge” song to me in Ukrainian. That was awesome. I can’t even describe it.

It was with great regret that I finally gave up that job in August of 2013. I loved working there. However, with  the girls getting older, they needed to be more and more places on the weekends. It was unfair to Wendy to make her cart four kids around all weekend while I was working every weekend. It wasn’t like we couldn’t afford it. I did that job for so long because I loved it. When I first started there, we needed the extra cash, but by the end I was there for the passion I had for it.

In the meantime, I had starting working at the Niagara County Historian’s Office. This is a job that is near and dear to my heart. I get to focus on history with lots of reading and writing thrown in. Add to that the different people I meet as they come in to do some research, and you’ve got a recipe for the greatest job ever. Everyday I learn something new. And, for the most part, each day is different.

There’s nothing quite like doing some research and holding a 200-year old book while looking for that information. How many other people over the years had looked at those books? How many people can claim to be able to touch items that are so historic? There is a story behind everything, and putting that story together and into context is the highlight of my job.

Niagara County Historians Office
Sometimes you have to wade through different sources to come to the truth. Many time, secondhand and thirdhand stories make their way into the narrative. It’s up to us to understand why these stories were told in these ways, and then to separate the folk history from the actual history. Both parts are extraordinarily important, but it is equally important to understand the differences.

There is one thing that sticks out in my mind when it comes to working at the Historian’s Office. Frank Gaffney was a World War I hero. He was awarded the Medal of Honor during the war, and was considered to second only to Alvin York when it came to awards and decorations from that conflict.

While working on a project about veterans markers in the county, he were visited by Frank’s grandson. He brought all the medals with him. Although it was after closing time and I had to get the kids somewhere, I hung around. I held Frank Gaffney’s medal of honor in my hand. That was my personal connection with that great man.

He was awarded the medal of honor for action on September 29, 1918 near Rossney, France. His citation reads: “Pfc. Gaffney, an automatic rifleman, pushing forward alone, after all the other members of his squad had been killed, discovered several Germans placing a heavy machine gun in position. He killed the crew, captured the gun, bombed several dugouts, and, after killing 4 more of the enemy with his pistol, held the position until reinforcements came up, when 80 prisoners were captured.”

It is stuff like this that makes my job so awesome. Between the two historical jobs, I was loving life. They have been the most perfect jobs for me, ever. I find it hard to fathom sometimes that I’ve been at the Historian’s Office for eleven years. It is my hope that I can continue to work there until I’m ready to retire. Since our youngest is only 7, I have a long time. And that’s a good thing. Between the rest of high school and college for her, I have at least 15 more years ahead of me. I would love to be able to say that I’ve worked at the office for that long. Here’s to the future and the past.

Craig Bacon is a big-time history buff. The kids love it, too. That’s why we’re Brown Sign Tourists.