As a child, my evening hours were often spent at the family print shop. My brother and I imagined skids were islands and rolled chairs across the concrete floor. We played hide-and-seek between towering rows of inventory or used the light table to trace clip-art masterpieces.

If there was homework to be done, I usually sat at my grandma’s desk in her small, carpeted office at the end of a short hall across from the darkroom. It had a sliding window that opened onto the production floor. My grandma was the company’s bookkeeper. Her office was always neat, clear of clutter, and she had an electric pencil sharpener.

Maybe I was easily impressed as a child, or perhaps it speaks to a “simpler time,” but…is there anything cooler than an electric pencil sharpener? I thought one must be very important to have a device of such luxury. I mean, you’ve really made it, when you have an office of your own with a clean desk and electric pencil sharpener.

Since it was a small print shop, Grandma wasn’t only a bookkeeper. She also set linotype. (No spell check in those day, kids!) Linotype was before my time; however, I do recall watching her hands and feet work in motion as she set 9-part forms into the tipper. Of course, she also did whatever else that may have been required to get the jobs right, ready, and delivered, as well.

All of her children worked in and out, then maybe in again, the print industry over the years. One uncle began his own print shop several states away. Both of my aunts contributed important skills and years to the business; one then retired to a warmer climate, while the other is still willing (lucky for me) to proofread and edit any catalog or project we throw her way. Another uncle worked in accounting, prepress, and IT capacities before flying into a new career as an airline pilot. And my dad, he continues to be the driving force of our plant.

Since my brother and I spent so much time at the shop, all of the employees were accustomed to our wandering the pressroom. They gave us quarters for snacks or maybe a treat they had at their desk. I felt like each person, from production to prepress to the front office, was like another aunt or uncle, watching us grow up and encouraging us.

While other people’s memories are sparked by the smell of mom’s apple pie or dad’s fresh cut lawn, I smile at the smell of ink, the scent of home.

Over the holidays, the family table boomed with conversations of football, the grandkids and school, and, of course, print. My cousins and I were taught by example to work hard and be passionate, to never let something like a weekend get in the way of a good idea or deadline, and, most of all, to be thankful for the work and for each other.

And I am.

Grandma Wright with my son, Marcus, meeting him for the first time. 1990, at the shop, of course.

I am thankful to have the blurred lines of family and work because that makes everyone I work with…family.

I’m grateful for the people who join our “family dynamic” and add their own talents, quirks, and ambitions into the mix.

I’m grateful for relationships that start with small talk, an estimate, or a rush order and evolve into lasting friendships, relationships across the country, across time.

When I walk into my office, with a door that opens to the production floor, and see an electric pencil sharpener of my very own, I think of my grandmother, her years of building a business and building a family, and I am thankful.

– Mardra Sikora

(c) 2017 Originally Published in NPOA News and Updates