I worked at Derby Foods, Inc., 3327 W. 47th Place, Chicago, IL 60632, for twelve years. I started working on the midnight shift two days before my eighteenth birthday, but Jessie who hired me told me to tell everyone I was eighteen so the factory wouldn’t get in trouble for violating federal child labor laws. The factory-made Peter Pan Peanut Butter and Derby Tamales. Occasionally, they put the generic “Giant” labels on the Peter Pan Peanut Butter jars that were shipped out east somewhere. Many people laughed when I told them I worked in a peanut butter factory. Now that I think back, it does sound kind of funny. Besides, how many people would admit to working in a peanut butter factory–I mean besides me. I worked there for twelve years in all, but not consecutively. I started on May 7, 1974, and worked continuously, not counting two layoffs, through May of 1978 when I went to Mexico on vacation for a month and didn’t come back to work on time from my vacation. I heard that I got fired, but I didn’t care. My mother was extremely upset because I had the dream job that she had always wanted. She couldn’t get it, so she did everything in her power for me to get it. When I returned from Mexico, I went to the unemployment office and filed a claim because I had heard that I was laid off again. Well, I started receiving unemployment insurance checks which led me to believe that I was laid off and not fired. I never actually talked directly to Jessie or anyone else from Derby Foods to find out what my actual job status was. On August 23, 1978, I enlisted into the United States Marine Corps, mainly because my unemployment benefits would soon end because I would be called back to work and I didn’t want to work at Derby Foods anymore. While I was in the Marines, my mother had talked to Jessie at Derby Foods about me getting my job back–the job I never even wanted in the first place! I soon received a letter from Derby Foods stating that I could have my job back when I was honorably discharged from the Marines. My mother called me up to congratulate me even before I received the letter, which I immediately threw away upon receiving it.
When I returned to Chicago in July of 1981 after being honorably discharged from the Marines, my mother wanted to know what I had done with the letter, so I could take it to Derby Foods and get my old job back. I told her that I couldn’t find it. I really didn’t want to work there anymore, but I didn’t want to go to college at that point in my life either. In September, my life savings from the Marine Corps had been spent in a mere two months. I didn’t have all that much money because I pretty much earned about minimum wage working for Uncle Sam. Well, I had found my own apartment near Marquette Park at 3006 W. 64th Street and I had to pay the rent somehow. My mother was upset that I wouldn’t live with her in her house, but she would go to my new apartment every day to clean, bring me used furniture, and unpack my things. I started working at Derby Foods again in September. As luck would have it, I didn’t lose any of my seniority or benefits while in the Marines because of federal laws. In fact, the fiscal year for the factory started on November 1, so I worked about three weeks and then I had to take a three-week vacation before the fiscal year ended or I would lose all that vacation time. I was kind of glad I went back to Derby Foods. Of course, before I took my vacation time, Jessie asked me if I was going to Mexico again. Everyone was worried that I wouldn’t return. I told them that I planned to stay home and read books for three whole weeks. This worried them even more because no one at Derby Foods ever read any books.
I met all kinds of people at Derby Foods, from different Chicago neighborhoods. When I first started working there, everyone treated me nicely because I was so young. They all told me to finish high school so I wouldn’t have to work there all my life like they did. It was very good advice, but I couldn’t work full-time and go to high school full-time. I told my mother that I wanted to graduate from high school, but I couldn’t study and go to work at the same time. I would get home at 7:30 a.m. from working the midnight shift and then I’d have to go to school. Most days I couldn’t stay awake in school. Eventually, I dropped out of school. But I did get my GED thanks to my first wife who was so embarrassed being married to a high school dropout. I’m glad she made me take the GED test or my life would have turned out so differently. Some of my co-workers at the factory told me they were disappointed that I didn’t graduate.
About 1982, I was laid off again for nine months. Everyone told me I should complain to Derby Foods because a certain Peter was still working and didn’t get laid off even though he had less seniority than me. Whoever made up the list of people to be laid off didn’t include my time in the Marines for my seniority, so it appeared that I had less time on the job than Peter. I actually didn’t mind being laid off for those nine months! I did a lot of reading and writing back then. My mother would call me up every day to tell me to call Derby Foods and tell them that I had more seniority than Peter. I told her that I liked being laid off. That I liked not working and getting paid for it. She just didn’t understand. I worked there until September of 1986 when the factory shifted its operations to Sylvester, Georgia, but didn’t take any employees with them. Like I would have moved to Georgia just to work for Derby Foods! Thus ended my illustrious career as a manual laborer at the peanut butter factory.