I turned my world upside down with a box. Make that three quarters of a million pounds of boxes. Yes. Boxes.
Each measuring fifteen inches long, twelve inches wide, and seven inches deep. Weighing twenty pounds apiece...give or take.
I carted, stacked, and heaved these boxes onto wooden pallets for eight hours a day. Each box precisely positioned in a pattern to guarantee its safe transit. Each box a piece of a puzzle that many times would rise ten feet high.
Once a pallet is completed, another takes its place. The boxes smoking down the conveyer belt... individual box cars waiting to be taken offline. Sometimes multiple pallets would be in play. In minutes, I would orchestrate a scenic range of cardboard canyons.
This is what I do.
You can call me the box slayer.
For the last several years, I have joined a small workforce of employees dedicated to MinnTex Citrus. There are two branches of MinnTex...one in Minnesota and the other in Monticello, Iowa. The Iowa facility is owned and operated by Terry's aunt and uncle (I think they have to claim me a relative too since I am married to their nephew). Bud and Georgia Johnson provide fresh quality fruit and meat/sausage products for fundraising projects in schools and any other organizations looking for a great product at a great price.
That combination has kept MinnTex booming since the early eighties. (And what I think is extra cool is that Bud makes sure the students he works with learn how corporations work through these fruit sales.)
For the first two years, I joined the women on the fruit line packing apples, pears, oranges, and grapefruit. It is hard work and at the end of eight hours, you feel like your arms are going to fall off.
Each run is separate. Some boxes hold oranges and grapefruit. Others apples, pears, and oranges. Each piece of fruit inspected to insure it is blemish free and beautiful.
But with the advent of breast cancer, the medicine I'm on plays havoc with my body temperature, and handling the ice cold fruit was preventing circulation to my fingers. So I had to take an honorary discharge from the fruit line.
This year, when Georgia called I asked her if I could stack the pallets, knowing the constant movement would prevent my little issue.
"Are you sure?" Georgia asked?
"Yup," I replied. I can do it...really."
"Well, we've never had a woman do that job before. It is pretty hard work."
"It's cool. I'm in pretty good shape," I assured her.
I think Georgia remained a tad bit doubtful, but she acquiesced graciously. Not surprising she's works with fruit...she can be a peach!
Driving over to Monticello every November/December is a bit of a homecoming. Many of the same women return every year to staff the assembly lines. At peak season, there are more than sixty employees packing, crating, hauling, stacking and loading fruit.
Man, I really enjoy these women. These ladies are women who own farms and want to raise a little extra cash for Christmas. Or they have good jobs in town and fit in the hours they can for Bud and Georgia. Some own seasonal businesses themselves and winter is their down time.
Sitting in the break room with Bert, Pat, Amanda, Sue, Leanne, and Tiffany is like sitting around your kitchen table drinking coffee with family. I learn where the best bargains are for turkeys or ground beef, killer recipes, who's had a baby (complete with photos) and who is hosting who for the holidays. Of course I share my tales usually about my daughter, Eden, who is now 14 years old. I get LOADS of good advice after each story which is greatly appreciated as having an only child means you aren't sure what's normal and what's not. (Good news on that front, the ladies all think Eden is your normal teenager who is driving her parents nuts.)
These ladies also have an incredible work ethic that is a homegrown product of Iowa in short supply these days. As some of them would say, they are no spring chickens (and neither am I), but they work with the ferocity of a sixteen-year-old. Actually it's the young adults who have trouble handling the pace.
Sue, who was my supervisor, is a proud and beautiful 70-year-old woman and she can fling a box as easily as the next person. It is impressive and inspirational.
My first day as a box slayer was an eye opener. I couldn't say I wasn't warned. But having openly campaigned for the job, I had something to prove. Frankly, more to myself than anything. It was like digging ditches all day long. You stooped, you hauled, you reached up high to place the boxes at the highest levels. It never quit until break. My first day, despite the fact I was working in a relatively small space, I walked six miles in eight hours. Taking boxes into consideration, I figured I was burning 3,000 calories a day.
At the end of that first day, everything ached. Even the bottom of my feet were so sore I tip toed around. I took aspirin and geared up for the next day.
After four days, my muscles were getting used to the routine. Slinging boxes turned into a rhythm that I lost myself in. By the end of the second week, I wasn't sore and I could see some muscle development. This wasn't a job, it was the Johnson/MinnTex Gym where I was getting paid to compete in the next International Federation of BodyBuilding & Fitness.
After the third week, I decided it wasn't that important to be a body builder.
The fourth week, I began to experience box burnout. Fortunately the season was nearly done.
By the time, I had finished, I had stacked more pallets than I care to count. I handled three quarters of a million pounds. There were a few moments when the boxes were flying so fast, I had double boxcars stacked on the conveyer waiting for me. While the warehouse is lightly heated, I usually dressed in just a tee sweating like a salty dock worker on a hot pier.
But I am thrilled I held up my end of the deal. It was actually a bit empowering.
I still have my muscles, and I'm going to pursue a more traditional route to maintain them, because I have a really bad habit of flexing my arms in front of Terry. He still refuses to arm wrestle me.
Next year I will again wrangle my way onto the stacking line. It's not about the paycheck. It's about the people. It's about the empowerment. It's about getting out of my box.