My father, Joe Kilkelly, born in 1903, worked at the Anderson Corporation in Bayport, Minnesota. After struggling through the depression doing anything and everything including cleaning cesspools, he was hired by the window makers as an office clerk. In the early 1950’s, he was promoted to the position of “Time Study Engineer,” and his job was to time workers and analyze the assembly operations to determine their efficiency. The book “Cheaper by the Dozen,” was part of my secret reading and was a source of ongoing comment (some incredulous) by my Mother.
……. Here a short digression…….
I was a very late arrival, the youngest of four, and my siblings were in college (the first in our family to go) while I was still pre-adolescent. Among the things they unwittingly introduced me to were Elvis Presley, marriage manuals, and The Life and Times of Adolph Hitler. These things merge in my memory with my Father’s new job. And with dancing — in the 20’s they had won Charleston contests in Crocus Park). My Mother taught me dances like The Black Bottom (which she said wasn’t nice but did it anyway), the Cakewalk, and the Charleston of course.
Time saving, genocide, wars, sex, popular culture, cutting a rug, and rock and roll and early TV.
My Father hated the work. He was bored, restless, and resented the constant pressure. But the money afforded us (working-class with aspirations) a variety of small pleasures like the small boat(with a motor) we could take on the river. We could have small bit more of the leisure as promised in the ads for time saving devices, kitchen devices, automation. So he did save that little bit of time because of the money. Time is money. That automation gave us time to be on the St Croix River on Sundays. Time for occasional meals out. Time to take a road trip in a “new” used car.
But workers did lose their jobs, friends, neighbors who worked in the factory, and my already unaccountably melancholy Father ( we didn’t call it depression then) became “Joe Kilkelly that Black Irish Son of a Bitch.”
As Weiner says, ” If we, in a small way, make human tasks easier by replacing them with a machine execution of the task, and in a large way eliminate the human element in these tasks, we may find we have essentially burned incense before the machine god.”
Maybe in burning the incense we also learned to blame the human element.
When my Mother died in 1960, l took over household chores, and my Father dried the dishes, and timed the process. If we did the dishes by rinsing them all at once, was that more efficient than one at a time? Just how long did it take to polish the copper bottomed pans? By not polishing did it save enough effort to forego the gleam they lent to a well tended kitchen and the moral outrage of the women in the community? Would my Mother have wanted us to save that time?
When he brought home a blender that promised to make everything, even cakes, he was deeply angry when the cake was bad. My Mother could have told him that.
Not very long after my Mother died, he retired. He couldn’t bring himself to do that work. He died a few years later.
He may have saved time, but it didn’t save him.
Anderson WIndows still puts out the best windows. Their slogan is “only the rich can afford poor windows.” And their profit-sharing plan, begun when my Dad became a Time Study Engineer, made many people in our little town millionaires — not us, although an Anderson Scholarship gave my my first year of college.
Thanks to Jill for such an evocative story.