Alfred Duryee Guion – The Beginning (13) – First Job And The First Subway

Grandpa’s story continues with some advice and the opening of the first subway in New York City.

I had no one with whom I felt I could discuss so personal a matter (at such times as these a boy misses not having a father to advise him), so I finally put up to my mother the idea of quitting high school and going to work. I wish now that she had firmly said, “No, finish high school first”  but instead she told me to do what I thought best.

One is sometimes asked: “What would you do differently if you had your life to do over again?” And as I look back now this decision to quit school, an idea halfheartedly opposed by my school principal (or maybe I was so convinced this was the right choice that I paid no heed to his advice), was mistake number one, and a decision I was afterwards to regret.

So I quit school in my second year and through a friend in the church started work as an office boy at four dollars a week in a small insurance company in New York. After paying for my railway commuting ticket, car fare from Grand Central to the Nassau Street offices and lunches, I don’t imagine my contribution was of material financial aid to the family but at least my conscience was satisfied and I WAS self supporting.

Alfred Duryee Guion at the Dell Avenue house

Alfred Duryee Guion at the Dell Avenue house

How eager I was to do my job right! How earnestly I strove to please my boss and carry out his orders better than anyone else. I took great pride in my work and resolved to overlook no opportunity to get ahead. Overtime was cheerfully given although we received no pay for it – only $.50 supper money. It bothered me because the clerks ahead of me knew more than I did. I began to suspect that their education was broader than mine. I attempted to compensate for this by getting my bosses Secretary, who was friendly toward me, to teach me shorthand. Mistake # 2. I would have been much better off if I had paid for proper instruction at a shorthand school, as eventually I did that anyway and it was doubly hard to unlearn what had been taught wrongly, although with the best intentions in the world. I learned from this that the cheapest is not always the best and realized the truth of my father’s frequent admonition: “What’s worth doing at all is worth doing well.” However I labored away faithfully at it until one day the boss consented to try me out. I was slow but he was patient and not long afterwards he told me his friend in the big Mutual Life Insurance Company across Nassau Street, needed a private Secretary and he had recommended me. Mr. Farley was quick-tempered and impatient with my shortcomings, but I gradually improved. At that time, the big insurance companies, of which mine was one, were undergoing a severe investigation, in the prosecution of which Charles Evans Hughes made a name for himself. Mr. Farley died and my next job was with American Smelting and Refining Company, Purchasing Department, as a full-fledged stenographer.

Just about this time with much ado, the first subway in New York was opened  ( http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/27/oct-27-1904-new-york-city-subway-system-opens/?_r=0 )and on opening day I wrote it from Grand Central Depot to City Hall, the entire length (http://www.nycsubway.org/perl/caption.pl?/img/articles/souvenir-mapprofile.jpg). I was unaware that I was going through my teenage problem stage. As I look back I realize that while I was not a “goody-goody” person, I secretly aspired to lead a noble life. I had a deep respect for womanhood. I clipped out, and put in a scrapbook, inspirational articles resolving each day to acquire some new item of knowledge. How much my early church training had to do with all of this I don’t know, but as I grew older I became more occupied in church activities, first as a choir boy, then a Crucifier, Director of the boys Association called the Brotherhood of St. Andrew, then Superintendent of the Church School and finally as assistant to the Minister at the Sunday morning church service as a Lay Reader.

Tomorrow I’ll continue Grandpa’s story with the first mention of his future wife, my Grandma Arla, and how he earned his College Diploma.

On Monday, I’ll be posting letters written in the spring of 1945. We’ll read more about Dan and Paulette.

Judy Guion

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2 thoughts on “Alfred Duryee Guion – The Beginning (13) – First Job And The First Subway

  1. Mrs. P says:

    Love the images with the story.

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