A souvenir fan that Dylan and Jake brought me from Las Vegas.
Dylan and Jake were in Las Vegas two weeks ago for a friend's wedding, and they stayed on for four days to see the sights and visit other friends who live in the area. When they returned from their trip, they surprised me with a souvenir that I just loved. Not because it was expensive or imposingly magnificent (and I certainly hadn't expected them to bring me anything), but because it was so incredibly thoughtful.
All of my children have a real gift for choosing things they know will be meaningful to me. I've never been one to have a long list of "What I Wants" or to desire expensive gifts. At my age, if there's something I want that badly, I'll figure out a way to get it for myself. But if you give me something that simply made you think of me, I will treasure it forever.
The wall of Japanese fans in my home office.
So why was a Las Vegas fan so special? The guys checked out some souvenir shops and looked at the usual souvenirs like refrigerator magnets (which are fun, too), but when they saw the fan, they knew it was perfect for me. Jake remembered that I have a whole wall of treasured fans in my office at home and just knew I would love it. He was right!
When I lived in southern California, I worked in a Japanese factory located in Anaheim for almost two years (May 1978 to March 1980). It was called AF Seal, shorthand for American Fuji Seal. All of our executives and most of our management were Japanese men newly arrived in the USA to oversee this new American branch of their company. Some barely spoke English, which made for some interesting situations, along with the inevitable small cultural clashes.
Employees of AF Seal outside our new facilities on Jan 24, 1980.
All of them loved this country, though, and worked hard to assimilate. Most of them adopted American names based on celebrities they admired. The president of the company called himself John, after John Wayne. Another executive called himself Kirk, for Kirk Douglas. My favorite supervisor, production manager Neil, was a fan of Neil Diamond (like me).
For them, work was family. In Japan, employees spent far more time at work than they spent at home, so they cultivated a supportive environment in which relationships mattered. We had parties for every excuse possible, including everyone's birthdays. We had barbecues and ballgames at the park, to which our entire families and our personal friends were welcomed. They even tried to get us to come to work early to do calisthenics with them, but we lazy Americans found that to be a bridge too far...
AF Seal production staff on my final day on the job, Feb 29, 1980.
These men returned to Japan regularly, for personal or business reasons, and when they came back to work they would often have small souvenirs for us. Most often it was a traditional, decorated Japanese fan. Hence, my lovely collection. I display them because they mean a lot to me. I admit freely that I totally hated wrestling with glitchy factory machinery day after day, but the people I worked with were absolutely wonderful. The fans on my wall are a reminder of their kindness and generosity, as well as their occasional bemusement at our American ways and attitudes.
Me with my sister Karla (ages 25 and 19) on our final day at AF Seal.
Oddly enough, AF Seal eventually became family for me in more than a fanciful sense. After she graduated from high school, my sister Karla joined the team. Then, when the company brought over a huge printer, my brothers LeRoy and Jeff hired onto the night crew of the new printing department. Only our youngest brother, Darryl, didn't join up. He was still in high school.
That meant that when our family decided to move to Arizona on March 5, 1980, AF Seal lost four employees all in one fell swoop. I won't lie. I was thrilled to get out of the factory life. Still, it was hard to say good-bye to those who had become like an extended family to us.
Examples of the heat-shrink labels we produced at AF Seal.
In case you wonder what we manufactured at AF Seal, we made heat-shrink labels for products like Kraft salad dressings and wine bottles for various wineries. I still see them on many grocery shelves today. You know the ones, where you twist the top and hope it breaks at the perforations like it's supposed to, so you can open the lid under the plastic.
At AF Seal, the labels were printed onto long, wide sheets of plastic (my brothers' jobs), which were then sliced into narrower sheets. Those were sent to the seamers, which folded and flattened them and glued them along the seam, which was very tricky. That was the machine I ran during my final months with the company. From there, the long rolls of labels were sent through the cutters, which cut them to their prescribed sizes (as seen in these photos) and perforated them. That was the department where Karla worked, and those were the machines I operated for most of my time at AF Seal. Finally, of course, the labels were assessed for quality, and then packaged and shipped off.
Those were some great times. Good memories. But you couldn't pay me enough to work in a factory again!