Mind Over Miller: Jobs Americans won't do?

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Jun 01, 2006

In the May issue, I briefly told my mother's life story and related that my grandparents were immigrants. There is more to this story: My grandfather left his 28-year-old wife and children and immigrated to the United States alone. For 12 years, he worked, sent money to his family, and saved pennies in order to bring them here. When the family finally came, my grandmother was 40. Together again in America, my grandparents had three more children, including my mother.

The United States has been a land of immigrants since before it became a nation. Now, however, many people enter the country illegally. While I am enormously sympathetic to these people, I worry our country cannot survive this deluge.

One argument that I keep hearing in support of illegal immigrants is that they do jobs Americans won't do. This idea outrages me, and I want to explain why: At 12 years old, during the Great Depression, I delivered groceries for 10¢ an hour. There were no supermarkets then, only mom-and-pop stores. During this same time, my father worked two jobs for 25¢ an hour.

When I was 14, I worked at a pet shop, mostly bathing dogs. During the summer of my 15th year, I worked for a dairy farm, hand milking cows, driving a draft team, walking behind a horse-drawn cultivator, and snaking logs out of the forest with workhorses. The next summer I worked 14-to-16-hour days for a larger cattle farm, earning $1 a day. Haying was hard work; there were no balers.

When I was 17, I cleaned cages and runs after school for a boarding kennel. On the weekends, I drove a horse-drawn wagon, collecting paper, rubber, and junk with my Boy Scout troop to help the war effort.

I enlisted in the Army at 18, and my duties as an infantryman included washing dishes, waiting tables in the Officers' Mess, and cleaning the latrine. After the war ended, I found myself in military government in occupied Germany as an unqualified, untrained 19-year-old Special Branch criminal and war crimes investigator. I even served as prosecutor for several court cases.


Sitting on the stoop of a bunkhouse that was my home during one of my cowboying summers. A sheep wagon is parked next to it.
Home again at 20, I spent the summer of 1947 wrangling horses on the then-sprawling Irvine Ranch in southern California. I earned $80 a month. That fall I started classes at the University of Arizona College of Agriculture with a major in animal husbandry. I washed dishes in the school cafeteria between classes for four years. After school and on weekends, I drove an ice cream truck, cut brush for a surveyor, worked in the starting gate and assisted the veterinarian at Rillito Park Racetrack, delivered furniture, and was a kennel boy for Dr. Jay Shannon. In addition, I picked cotton, asparagus, and fruit; dug post holes; shoveled manure; unloaded bricks—a semi load for $10—and gardened for early subdivider John Sundt. What a relief it was when summer came and I could go cowboying, first in Arizona and later in the Rocky Mountains, for which I earned $100 a month!

At 25, I had a bachelor's degree but still could not get into veterinary school. The competition from the thousands of veterans was fierce, and I was an average student. So I moved to Colorado, established residence, spent another summer cowboying, and then went to work for the Denver Public Health Veterinarian, Dr. Robert Anderson, for $195 a month. For 11 months, I was a rabies control officer—that's a dogcatcher. I learned a lot!

In 1952, I was finally admitted to the veterinary school at Colorado A&M (now Colorado State University). I started drawing cartoons for livestock and horse publications, earning $3 to $5 a cartoon—a windfall to a student on the GI Bill with a living allowance of $75 a month. I spent my summers as a veterinary student on Colorado ranches cowboying and starting colts for $5 a day. Those summers kept me sane.

Finally, at age 29, I graduated from veterinary school, got married, and started practice—first as an associate veterinarian and eventually in my own practice. In 1961, for the first time, I earned a net income exceeding $400 a month. I was 34 years old.

So what kind of work is it that Americans won't do?


Dr. Robert M. Miller
Robert M. Miller, DVM, is an author and a cartoonist, speaker, and Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board member from Thousand Oaks, Calif. His thoughts in "Mind Over Miller" are drawn from 32 years as a mixed-animal practitioner. Visit his Web site at http://www.robertmmiller.com/