I got a job in a high-class men’s clothing store – Fred Barber’s on Hamilton Street. I have forgotten how I went about it. I probably walked in off the street and asked for a job and by the providence of God they hired me.
The boss, Mr. Barber, was a short, watery-eyed man who had a cigar in his mouth most of the time. His son, Gordon, managed the store; Jerry was a longtime employee; and Pat, the Irish tailor, had his workplace in the back room, open to the store by an archway.
I believe I was a fast learner, partly because I had already worked part time as a clerk in my brother’s grocery store in my hometown.
On occasion when the other men were busy I was able to sell several items of apparel to customers. I even got one or two men over to the suit racks and got a suit jacket on their backs before I was discovered and Gordon took over.
These men knew I was attending Bible School and this seemed a curiosity to them. They took opportunity to rib me about Christian things. On occasion when I was selling a customer a shirt and tie, Jerry would stand behind a clothing rack where only I could see him and sing in a little above a whisper the first line of “O come, all ye faithful,” beating time with his two index fingers. I think that was all the church music he knew.
Once when four of us were in the tailor’s quarters they got a bet under way. Each produced a one dollar bill and before I knew it they thrust the three bills into my hands saying someone had to hold the bet. I had neither the readiness nor the courage to refuse on the spot. They then teased me, noting that normally a Christian wouldn’t be involved in betting.
But they were not mean. Their playfulness showed they liked me. And they respected me, though to them I was just a 17-year-old kid.
They trusted me increasingly with the cash register and their customers. I sold a good number of Stetson or Biltmore hats that summer. In the forties men weren’t even properly dressed if they didn’t wear a quality felt hat, neatly creased on the crown and the crease steamed in place. That was part of the sale.
In that work situation, I believe the example of my immigrant parents, the severity of the times, and especially the benevolent promptings of the Gospel all worked in my favor.
In September I told Gordon I would be leaving soon to go back to school. To my surprise he eagerly began to persuade me to change my mind. He offered to double my salary (from $13.52 a week after taxes). Then he promised to teach me window dressing. I remained resolute.
Being a Christian had been an asset and a challenge in that situation. The Scriptures say, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17). Could that exhortation apply even to the workaday world and one’s secular job?
In the beginning, God worked — creating the universe (Genesis 2:2). Then he made a garden in Eden and put “Man” to work in it (Genesis 2:15). Adam and Eve’s two sons were identified first by their work – “Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil” (Genesis 4:2). The Apostle Paul was not only a trained Rabbi but also a tent maker. Even our Lord was known in his community as a carpenter (Mark 6:3)
The entrance of sin into the world made work more difficult (Genesis 3:17-19) but did not annul it as a duty. Paul set this rule for the early church: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
Thinking back more than 70 years, although I was a typical teenager still growing up, I believe I left a good influence behind with those men. It wasn’t that I had any opportunity to present the gospel to them or even enter into prolonged discussion on Christian topics.
But they saw I could be trusted, I was eager to work, and did as I was told. By my enthusiasm for the work and my willingness to put out for the customers I commended myself to them and many customers I served.
In the secular world, the quality of our work is our first line of Christian witness.
Photo credit: Ciara McDonnell (via flickr.com)