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Sometimes the thought is bigger than the gift.

 

The Stroh Brewery Detroit in the 70’s. Coincidentally, the six buildings in the background are of the Edward Jeffries housing project where I had worked as a laborer the summer before.

Sometimes a gift is so precious it is too good to be used. Maybe this makes no sense. I’ll try to explain.

In 1954 an economic downturn in Detroit made it hard for college students to get summer work. After having jobs in 1952 and ’53 making more than $100 a week, I was without a job. The best fall back that I could come up with was to go back to caddying at the Country Club of Detroit. This was the job I began when I was twelve. The pay was little, and the work was hard. I would do it for the short term but keep on looking.

The caddy master, Caesar, welcomed me back and promised to keep me as busy as he could. One of his jobs was to provide the most experienced caddies with certain special people. I would serve that purpose. When he asked me to caddy for Mrs. Gari Stroh, he explained that she was a nice lady who had just lost her husband and I should be mindful of that. Of course, I knew Mrs. Stroh was from the Stroh family that operated a famous brewery, one of the largest in the country.

I brought Mrs. Stroh’s clubs to the first tee and saw she was accompanied by a young woman, non-player, who she identified as her niece Bettina. Mrs. Stroh played just nine holes that day. Caddy etiquette was to speak only when necessary. There was no rule about listening and I was subjected to the banter of an aunt and her niece from a privileged family talking about parties, family and so forth.

I caddied for Mrs. Stroh the next week. She said she had asked for me. Engaging in friendly banter, she commented how nice it was for me to have a job walking around a beautiful golf course. I believed that this was said with the best of intentions, but I told her that on a good day I made only $3. I said I was a sophomore at the University of Michigan and in the prior two summers I had made more than $20 a day in a factory and as a carpenter’s helper. She seemed taken aback by this.

She asked if I would be interested in a job at the brewery. I said yes. Working at the Stroh brewery company would be a plum job. She asked for my telephone number and said that she would call me that evening.

Arriving home, I saw my three brothers and parents in the living room. My first statement to them was that if Mrs. Stroh calls it is for me. My youngest brother Joe said in jest what if its Mrs. Schlitz or Mrs. Budweiser. Then the phone rang. Joe picked it up and said “it’s Mrs. Stroh, for you”.

I was told that the workforce had been laid off back to 12 years seniority and that it would be impossible to hire any new summer workers. Mrs. Stroh said she was disappointed and so was I. Then she said, “I would like to do something for you and that would be for you to have a party for up to 200 people at the circus room at the brewery. All refreshments and food will be taken care of and I hope you and your friends will have a good time”.

Hearing this, I thanked her and hung up. After giving it more thought I decided the last thing I wanted to do was invite friends to a party like this. It could become raucous and I did not know that many people anyway. The best way to honor this thoughtful gesture and perhaps the best way I could remember it was to do just that, keep it as a treasured memory.

This was easier to justify when three days later I landed a job helping to build the Henry and Edsel Ford auditorium on the riverfront. This experience from nearly 70 years ago has remained one of my fondest memories. Since that time there have been other occasions when I have clung to a gift without a regret, enjoying the thought more than the gift itself.

By Savvy Senior

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