Blue Collar Beginnings

Blue Collar Beginnings

The meme I used in my last post is about doing what people think you can’t do. If you’re discouraged about something you want to do, maybe this post will provide a little encouragement.

I started working in a sock factory when I was sixteen. My plan was to earn money for college, then quit. Like John Lennon once sang, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans,” I ended up hanging around for a few years, seventeen to be exact, as a sock boarder, making good money for a textile worker, but dying a slow death. A supervisor once told me sock boarding separated the women from the girls, the men from the boys. He wasn’t joking. My chance to get out came when a University of Georgia Evening Classes brochure arrived in the mail. A few months later, I enrolled as a provisional student—the first step on the longest and hardest journey of my life.

Most of my classes were interesting, some were treacherous, a few as boring as a blank wall. Being a wife and mother, as well as a full-time worker, I never had enough time to study. Sometimes I woke in the morning with a textbook opened where I left off when I fell asleep, and a new round spot on the sheets in the color of whatever uncapped highlighter that fell from my hand.

There were comments made by others, often behind my back, with, “She’ll never make it,” being the most popular line. I didn’t listen to them. I kept a poem in my purse called Believe within Your Own True Self by Harold F. Mohn, and sometimes I listened to a local church’s rendition of Squire Parson’s “The Master of the Sea” while driving to and from classes. Just a little encouragement on the bad days, and there were quite a few of those.

During the eighties, UGA required students to take Physical Education courses. I signed up for a class, Body Conditioning, which I interpreted to be aerobic dancing or calisthenics. It was running, not jogging, but running. Each class, weather permitting, we ran through adjacent neighborhoods, with me lagging behind, huffing and puffing, side hurting, and stopping to hug Stop signs. Frequently, people would come out of their houses to watch us. I imagine some of their conversations went like this:

“Look at them chaps go,” said spectator one.

“That one trailing behind look likes she’s about to die,” replied spectator two.

Spectators laughed.

That class didn’t end soon enough for me.

I suffered through three math classes, but made it with prayer and the help of three tutors. The only thing I remember from the most monstrous class of them all, Analytic Geometry and Calculus, was that a ‘D’ stood for Done.

My biggest hurdle came with my first required programming class. The programming logic wasn’t soaking into my brain. I had no tutors, nor did I know anybody who could program anything other than a VCR. After driving home from a particularly frustrating class, I sat in the car and had myself a good pity party. I told God I needed that class to graduate, but I was failing, big time. In tears, I begged, “Please God, I need Your help.” I knew my naysayers would laugh and say, “I told you she couldn’t do it.” Worst of all, I would disappoint my family. How could I tell Kim to go to college when I couldn’t handle it myself?

Pity party done and long story short, the next day I called a woman I knew who worked in the company’s corporate office and told her about my situation. A few days later, a programmer in our IT department helped me understand the logic in the practice program I was struggling to compile. With his help and a lot of prayer, my grades went up, and I passed the final.

Six months later, I quit working in the sock factory, so I could attend day classes and finish my degree, which I completed fifteen months later. I never boarded another pair of socks. My life-changing journey took a little over seven years.

Whatever it is you’re striving for, don’t give up. Got naysayers? Use their negativity like Red Bull to give you the energy to keep going. Run into roadblocks? Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you have to work harder than the others, do it! Just don’t ever give up. No matter how long it takes or how hard it is, it will be worth it when you reach your goal.


© Dee Hardy | Encouraging the Discouraged, 2015. All rights reserved.

And the phoenix rose from the ashes…

Happy New Year! I am not sad to see 2014 go, no more than I was unhappy to see 2013 disappear. These have been destructive years, of both the inflicted and self-inflicted type, with a few highlights here and there, blessings, or moments of extreme happiness. I woke up on this first day of 2015 with two questions. The first one to God, yes, I’m a believer, and I make no apologies for it. I asked Him, “You see my messed up life—what are You going to do about it?” The second question was for me, the same question, but slightly modified. “You see YOUR messed up life—what are YOU going to do about it?”

Before my husband died, every day was a new beginning, a chance to start over and never, ever give up, no matter the circumstances. It was that attitude that helped me through difficult times, including being married with a young child and disabled mother, working full time in a sock factory while commuting to Athens, sometimes four nights a week to attend night classes at the University of Georgia. In addition, for most of my life, there were people I could take care of:  my mother, helping her with cooking when many teenagers were enjoying being typical teenagers, Dan and Kim—people who needed me, making me feel like I had a purpose. Mama died, Kim grew up, went to college, and moved away, leaving Dan, and me alone; empty nesters, enjoying life as he began his well-deserved retirement. His health deteriorated, and my focus became doing everything I could do to keep him alive and happy. I failed.

After Dan’s death, my purpose in life changed. So used to taking care of others, I didn’t know how to take care of myself. I shoved the grief off to the side, so I could handle the seemingly never-ending cycle of problems. The first four years I managed to keep things together and accomplished a few goals: improved my health by leading a healthier lifestyle, I completed my MBA, which kept my mind busy, and I went on two happy and unforgettable trips to Europe with Kim. Then things started to change.

My Mama used to say, some people would cut your throat and laugh at you for dying to protect themselves. I finally realized there are people who will never respect me or value my presence. In their eyes, I’ll always be second-class no matter what I do or achieve. There are selfish, mean-spirited, condescending jerks who masquerade as decent human beings everywhere, including in workplaces and churches, social media, male and female, all races, and religions. We all deal with them. The trick is not letting these germs and parasites define your self-worth.

I messed up there. Despite being raised by a widow, I didn’t understand that being a widow meant being vulnerable. For the first time I measured myself by other people’s yardsticks. In addition, I foolishly looked for comfort materialistically to help fill the emptiness, which isn’t possible, by the way. I stopped taking care of myself, stopped taking my medications, my weight ballooned again, along with my problems. The attitude that got me through most of my life dissipated, replaced by discouragement and a severely tested faith. I crashed and burned, sinking into unchartered territory, for me, at least, convincing myself there was no hope.

Kim and I attended the Fleetwood Mac concert in Atlanta a few weeks ago. Before they began singing “Gypsy,” Stevie Nicks gave an inspiring speech. Below is an excerpt:

“So, the reason I’m telling you this very long, drawn out story is…if you have a dream and you believe in it and people will always say….no, no, no, you can’t have that, you have to do this or go that way. If you believe in your dream, don’t ever let anybody stand in your way and tell you can’t do it……Just focus and say this is my dream, this is my world, and I’m doing it.”

Her words slapped me in the face. I used to tell people this all the time to encourage them to make changes if they weren’t happy with their circumstances. If I could do it, they could too. Stevie Nicks hit me over the head with my own sermon. I will never forget that moment.

I love the capital of my state: Atlanta. Her symbol is the phoenix; the mythical bird consumed by fire, and then rose from the ashes. Atlanta rose from the ashes after the Civil War. It’s my turn to rise from the ashes. As I start this journey, I pray God will give me the words to encourage other burned out survivors to renew their strength too.



© Dee Hardy | Encouraging the Discouraged, 2015. All rights reserved.