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A letter to my first job

This was me at 19 working my first job at Saunoris Garden Center in Chicago Ridge, Ill.

I owe a lot to my first job. I really lucked out with a place that I could call home for 10 years, a place that I felt welcome at, and a place that I learned a lot from.

I started there when I was just a junior in high school in 2003, and left there on the way to start a career in 2012. I worked part time, full time, on major holidays, in busy and slow season, and through college. I felt like I was part of the Saunoris' Garden Center family, and everytime I visit there, I still do. I don't know how many people can say that about their first job.

I learned the value of hard work when I was there. There are certain days that will forever stick out in my memory from my wonderful time employed there. I recall walking in on a hot summer morning and seeing a cement truck parked just outside of the 'old greenhouse.' My boss told me to come over to help after I punched in. I knew it was going to be a long morning. It was. My job that morning was to carry wheelbarrows full of cement down skinny greenhouse aisles and gently pour it as my boss smoothed it onto the floor. By the end of the day, I was exhausted. Whatever temperature it was outside, it was at least ten degrees hotter in those greenhouses.

In those days, I didn't have to go to a gym. Saunoris' was my gym. I frequently had to unload semis worth of nursery stock - trees, shrubs, carts of flowers. Sometimes it might be raining out. And you had to do it quickly. In the busy months, you would get call after call on your radio for carry outs to bring customers stone, sod, nursery stock, or soil to their cars. Sometimes you'd get calls to fill their propane tanks. At the time, I could lift three, four bags of topsoil on my shoulders at once. Each bag weighed around 30 pounds each.

But I liked it. I embraced the hard work, the satisfaction of helping people out and getting them what they needed. As the years there passed, I learned new skills. I learned the importance of patience. I was frequently assigned to keep an eye on the watering in the entire place - we had a nursery yard, three greenhouses, a backend with several tables of annuals and perennials and oftentimes, we had pots of flowers growing on the ground or ones on carts. On hot days, watering would be my main job. My shoes would be soaked by the day's end, and I had to learn a delicate balance between under and over watering flowers. I became skilled at knowing what flowers needed more water than others, which ones I needed to hit first and at what time of the day. I learned how to pace myself and how to be patient as I made my way through the entire place.

I learned from people, and learned a trade. I didn't know really anything about horticulture going in, but when I finished my time at Saunoris, I did some landscape work for people and redid all the landscaping when we moved into our home. I even built a small greenhouse. The people that worked there taught me how to care for different flowers, trees, and bushes. They taught me about PH levels, if they needed sun or shade, if they flowered or not, etc. I also made sure to read every flower tag I could find and even checked out some books from the library at the time. When a customer came to me and I didn't know a question, I asked. I wanted to know.

I became more confident there. I started to train new workers, and began teaching them what I knew. I wouldn't be a teacher for a number of years yet, but Saunoris was training me for that already. I began selling nursery stock and helping customers choose what would work for them. I felt good knowing that I could give them some advice to help improve their home.

I made friends there. I worked for good people and I worked with good people. And most of the people I worked with were hard workers. They liked what they did. We all got along. It was not an easy job. Customer service is never easy, but we had fun doing it. I would come home each day as dirty as could be. Dirt fell out of my wet shoes and it looked as though I fell down a chimney from all the topsoil and sod I handled that day. But when I went to work the next day, I did so with energy and positivity. There are so many great stories from working with the people I did. Stories that I will cherish forever. They may not be interesting to those that didn't work there, but they are to me.

I don't think I would be the person that I am today without having worked there. Sometimes when I water my flowers or go past a neatly designed landscaped house, I think about my time spent there. And when I go there to buy some flowers or nursery stock, I am filled with the greatest memories. I'm glad that this small business from Chicago Ridge, Ill. has made it through all these years, and I hope that it continues to, because people need places like that. Thank you, Saunoris. Thank you for all you did for me.

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