Q: When did you make Christmas wreaths?
A: I think it was the last year of high school, so I was probably 17 or 18.
Q: Where was this?
A: It was in a cold, cold greenhouse on a farm. It was in Holland; I’m from Holland. It was pretty far from my house—like a 30- to 45-minute bike ride.
Q: You rode your bike?
A: There was no bus. It was in the middle of nowhere.
Q: How did you get the job?
A: I don’t quite remember but I think I saw an ad or my mom saw an ad in the paper. I wanted to earn money on weekends.
Q: How long did you do it?
A: It was for three weekends. That was all they needed; there are only so many holiday junk things needed per year. It was in November, so the rest of the year I think they do something else.
Q: What was it like?
A: It was three separate greenhouses. One was for students, and we worked on weekends. The second was for housewives during the week. And the third was for Polish immigrants. They didn’t speak Dutch and they came in every morning by bus. I don’t know where they were staying and it was very sketchy. I’m sure they brought them over for the month to work.
Q: How far is Poland from Holland? Can you take a bus?
A: It’s probably about a day’s drive. They were probably staying in the area for the month, though.
Q: So you made wreaths?
A: It was an assembly line for Christmas centerpieces. The first person gets the wreath, and then the next adds leaves, then more leaves, then ribbons, fake birds, and a candle.
It went really fast. I would put the candles in one after the other. Then they would give you a break and I would do leaves for a few hours. You know, for variety.
Q: Were the centerpieces made out of plastic?
A: The leaves were real. It was definitely natural. I think that’s why they were making them close to the holidays.
A few weeks later I saw one of the centerpieces in a big department store and I was like, “Hey! I know that wreath!”
Q: What kind of hours did you work?
A: It wasn’t eight hours; it was maybe six hours. But we weren’t allowed to stop. We got two 15-minute breaks. We weren’t even allowed to go to the bathroom. It was like something from The Simpsons. It was a real assembly line.
Q: So you ate your lunch on the break?
A: People would bring in sandwiches and eat there.
Q: Did you ever hurt yourself?
A: Yes. One time I was pushing in little birds. You had to push them in really tight and I pushed one of the big nails into the tip of my finger. There was lots of blood and I told them but they wouldn’t let me stop. I was getting blood on the leaves and finally they came over to look. They were like, “Hmmmm,” and then they finally let me go to the bathroom. I held my wrist under the water for 15 minutes. Then I put a Band-Aid on and it was bleeding through the Band-Aid. But they made me go back to work.
Q: How long did they let you stop? Like 15 minutes?
A: It was no longer than 15 minutes. It was probably 10.
But I hurt myself close to the end of the day, and it was a Sunday, so I had a whole week before I had to do it again. It might have even been the last day that I did it. I can’t quite remember.
Q: Did you ever take one of the centerpieces home? Like for your mother?
A: I don’t think we got one. I didn’t want to see them anymore by the time it was over.
Q: Do you ever buy wreaths now?
A: No, I am sort of turned off on them for the rest of my life.