Saturday, June 25, 2011

Role Models

The wholesale produce business was started by my immigrant grandfather and his brother during the 1936 depression. When I was a child my father, his brother and a cousin ran the business under the continued tutelage of my grandfather. He was the emeritus head of the family business while operations were really managed by my dad and uncle. For as long as I can remember the produce warehouse was my playground. A diversity of unique activities, niches and motley playmates the world has ever seen.  People of all walks of life and social status would rub shoulders and at least temporarily befriend each other for the sake of daily business. The level of tolerance and camaraderie was palpable and unlike most public places. The other spin to the ambience was that it all occurred in the very early morning hours of darkness between midnight and dawn’s first light, partly outdoors in the elements and under the partial shelter of a warehouse that included massive walk-in coolers. The entire area had a mostly damp, humid aroma of decaying fruit and vegetables. The perfume of fresh and fermenting produce is a unique blend that is recognizable regardless of location. The many colors of the local and exotic fruits were a perfect counterpoint to the variety of human beings laboring and customers just passing through. Loud gregarious calls were the order of the day. Intermingled with jokes and technical jargon describing an order being processed from the warehouse, glaring lights pierced the darkness illuminating artistic displays of fresh fruit and vegetables. The energetic pace was infectious, seductive and bordered on carnival.   

Growing up in a family business I was not treated as the owner’s son but as just one of the employees. If anything I felt a self imposed higher standard to show the rest of the crew I was capable and deserving of their respect as any co-worker. I wanted to be liked by the other co-workers because it made me feel more adult. Of course my family’s recognition and approval meant a lot as well. I worked with people of poverty and privilege. I learned growing up among my motley workmates of heartbreak, disaster, passion, redemption, trust, loyalty, honesty, tolerance and compassion. I was able to see first hand how difficult the human condition can get, how fortunate I was and how frail and vulnerable a life can be. I counted some of the most sorted characters among my many role models for I was a student to all of them.

All of these people and places became my extended family. Milestones of my youth and education were shared and celebrated with all of them as they often were an integral part of the experience. I once told my father during a busy morning while loading a truck with 50 lb sacks of potatoes how much I enjoyed working there. I said that I could work with him and my uncle forever. At age 15 and the only young person in this environment, my years of experience gave me a sense of accomplishment and confidence working along side adults. I was stooped over shifting the heavy sacks into position when I heard the low stern voice of my father in my ear, “I don’t ever want to hear you say that again.” He moved so quietly close to me that his voice sounded as if it was reverberating inside my head. By the time I stood up and turned he was already striding ten paces away with his back to me. I said nothing. We never spoke of that rare moment. When I shared the anecdote with him some 35 years later he did not recall it. For me it cemented something that I had always known: my parents wanted more for me. Although there were never any demands to do any specific thing other than always do my best. Clearly they wanted me to have and do more than they had. Their dream was for me to be a dreamer who could reach his goals. I learned how to love and be loved as well as respect, trust, dignity, honesty and tolerance. The value of experience that comes with age was also a common but unspoken theme. I am the result of many moments both memorable and mundane that taught me how a life can be lived and fulfilled. My role models and inspiration were everywhere. For that I am very fortunate and grateful.

Bruce Kaler M.D. is a practicing physician for over thirty years and has authored the medical mystery novel Turnabout as well as the non-fiction Owners Manual for Injury Prevention. Visit his website at . Health related articles at Ezine expert articles

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