I was a Teamster. All I know is I had a card that said so. It wasn’t until the mid 1970s, somewhere between 1974 and 1977, when we went on strike that I really got it. Most of us twenty-something flight attendants lived from paycheck to paycheck. Strike equals no paycheck. Yikes! I remember sitting on a metal folding chair in a large meeting hall receiving our strike instructions: we were eligible to collect strike pay if we put in three 8-hour shifts a week picketing the airport. We were to hold the line and not let any strike-breakers through to man the aircraft.
I had visions of baseball bats, and thugs in pulled down caps breaking through the elbow linked chain of us 110 lb girly-girls. Wait a minute! WE were the Teamsters; WE were the ones that would be wielding the bats. Oh dear! Thought I. No, I was not looking forward to carrying a picket sign. No, I did NOT want to be filmed for the 11:00 news, walking around in a circle for hours shouting about the unfair working conditions and low pay. I didn’t know I was being mal-treated until they told me so at the meeting.
One of us came up with a brilliant plan: we park a Winnebago at the airport, pull all three shifts in a twenty-four hour period once a week, and collect our strike pay. There were at least six of us in on this plan, maybe more. As I recall, the strike lasted several months. Each of us brought provisions for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus chips, dips, and (drum-roll), beer. I know we had bottles because my hand-crocheted turtle trivet is made from bottle caps – beer bottle caps. Yes, we drank the beers in the Winnebago during our strike shifts. We took turns walking around in a circle with the sign-on-a-stick that declared: “On Strike” on one side and “Teamster #” (whatever our number was) on the other.
It was ludicrous picketing at 2:00 am in an empty parking lot in the cold where absolutely nobody but us Winnebago sitters were (if a tree falls in the forest …) We had conversations through the windows as though we were sitting inside with the others. It reminded me of the scene in “The Jerk” when Steve Martin was hitch-hiking outside the family shack as he leaves home to seek his fortune. As stupid as it was, we continued to walk the circle, lest a Teamster rep pull up to check on us and bust us for cheating; we needed that strike-pay, so picket we did!
The strike lasted for several months; from early September 1977 to early January 1978. Inside the Winnebago we played cards, flipped through magazines, and solved the problems of the world. While magazine flipping, I came across a craft project: crocheted turtle trivets. With a minor investment of yarn and a crochet hook, I could make Christmas gifts! I gathered the beer bottle caps, taught myself how to do the magic that covered the bottle caps, and followed the instructions to make the little feet and face. I was lucky Mom and I had learned how to make “Granny Squares” for afghan blankets some years back, so I had a bit of experience.
To this day, my trivet is the last-turtle-standing (or rather, laying). He, Tommy, has graced my Thanksgiving table for lo these many years: thirty-six, to be exact. Nobody in my family claims to have a turtle trivet, although I am certain everybody got one as a gift in 1978. I thought, as a joke, I would make a new batch a few years ago. I couldn’t find the pattern anywhere. I took Tommy to several crochet shops in California. Nobody could help. I considered disassembling him to see how he was made, but panicked at the thought of not being able to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again.
The turtle trivet got moved to Costa Rica. He is, to my knowledge, alone in the world. Come forward o ye turtle-trivet owners and let us unite!
Thanksgiving dinner this year he traveled to Lomas Del Paraiso in Atenas, Costa Rica, at the home of our gracious hosts. On his back sits the all-important “Corn for Squanto” that is traditional in our family. Whether or not the corn story is true, it matters not. It works for us.
Tommy is my touch-stone for remembering to take nothing for granted, practice daily gratefulness, and to save those bottle-caps. There could be more turtles some day … if I ever figure out how I did it!