The Job Application

by Henry Swain

When we moved to Brown County in 1947, Tyson Milo was our nearest neighbor up the valley from us. He was, I would guess, in his early seventies. He lived on his farm most of his life.

After some time getting to know him, I found him a source of history, and I began to draw him out on what life in our county was like in the early l900s.

Ty grew up in hard times. The lumbering industry faded out as the last of the virgin timber was cut. There was a great exodus wherein, after a few years, Brown County lost half its population. Those who stayed were born to the hills with no desire to move away and become flatlanders. They became subsistence farmers, barely eking out a living.

Ty went through the eighth grade in a one-room school. He learned to read and write, but his teacher said he had some trouble with understanding. I expect in today’s time he might have been labeled dyslexic. Like most young men of those troubled times, working on the farm was more important than book learning, and most young men didn’t finish high school.

To help the family get some needed cash, Ty decided to try to get a job at a furniture factory in Columbus, a city some sixteen miles distant. He heard the pay was good. If he got a job, he could board there and still be able to send money home to help the family.

When Ty was a young man, horse and wagon were the only means of transportation within the county. A trip to Columbus was a whole day affair. He said you had to start at ‘early dawning.’ He could get to Columbus by mid-morning, then would leave mid-afternoon getting home about the time day turned to dark. The story Ty related to me about his first and only job hunt in the city is one I will always remember.

Ty hitched his horse near the factory and looked for the entrance. He asked two men sitting on a bench where to apply for a job. They pointed to two big doors, saying the personnel office was the first room to the right inside. Now Ty translated the personnel office to mean the “person” in the office he was to see was named “Nell.”

As he approached the counter, Ty was struck by how pretty Nell was. She had dark curly hair and a smile that brought a flush to his face. Her shapely form added comfortable lines to her gauzy flower-printed dress. He finally overcame his shyness and asked what he had to do to get a job there.

“First,” she said. “You must fill out this form. Take it to the desk over there, fill it out and return it to me.” Ty thought, as he moved toward the table, if I can fill out this form as good as she does hers, I’m bound to get the job. There were two other men writing on the papers before them, as Ty pulled up a chair and began to study the application form.

The word NAME was followed by the word FIRST with a long blank line following it. Ty wrote on the line, “Tyson Milo.” Below the word FIRST was the word SECOND, with a long line following it. Ty wrote, “I’ve always had the same name. I never saw a reason to change it.” Ty thought some of these questions were strange. The next line had the word RACE followed by a blank line to be filled. Ty had run some pretty good races in school, so he put “fast” on the empty line. In response to DATE OF BIRTH Ty wrote, “I don’t remember my birth, or anything else that happened that day.” JOB EXPERIENCE was the next heading. Ty filled in the line, “I never worked in a factory before. I figured you would show me what I had to do.” Ty wasn’t sure what QUALIFICATIONS meant so he wrote, “I was borned and raised in Brown County.” To the prompt DATE Ty wrote, “I can only think of three or four, but I sure would like to date that Nell there at the counter.”

Ty told me that he didn’t get the job and it was the last time he ever filled out an application. He said he wasn’t sure he would like working inside a factory all day anyway. He added that seeing Nell was worth the trip, even if he didn’t get the job.

After he finished his story, he seemed to stare off in space for a moment as though he were watching a movie made of him when he was much younger. Sensing sadness in his expression, caused perhaps by the recollection of Nell, I tried to think of something to cheer him up. Finally, I said to Ty, “I think the reason you didn’t get the job was that you were over-qualified.”