Leadership: And Other Traits I Hope Are Hereditary August 20 2012

          My younger brother turned seventeen in Alaska this summer. He and I – both barely of eligible age for the task – were hired to work sixteen-hour shifts in a seafood processing plant for the month-long salmon season. Though he worked in the Egg House, grading roe and hauling baskets, while I ran a line in the Cannery, a break in our shifts overlapped once a day and breakfast in the Galley became a family affair. It was over a hurried plate of hash browns one morning mid-season that he told me this incredible story:

        He’d been industriously dozing on the Egg House line, classifying roe and wistfully calculating the probability of frostbite when supervisor from the Freezer surged into the room, thrust a chimney of plastic baskets into his hands and forcefully demanded to be followed. My brother had been inside the Freezer before, but as he hastily elbowed through the doors after his supervisor, he all but dropped his stack for shock. Head and Guts (affectionately referred to as H and G by those who operate it) consists of several belts on which salmon are split from their less comestible parts; the heads, collars, and major viscera are all pushed onto a lower belt for disposal and it was this lower belt that had crashed and flung the entire Freezer into DEFCON 1. The Freezer floor was a pond of blood and the unstoppable Gutter was flinging intestines like party streamers and fountaining fish heads that clapped clumsily against the groaning machinery. I’d have vomited –but my brother didn’t hesitate before plunging both arms elbow deep in entrails and scooping stray collars into baskets.  He slogged assiduously slipping once on the bloody floor and nearly losing both hands to the damaged machinery before the Freezer had regained its composure and he was allowed to return to the Egg House.  

            He recounted the crisis as if it were a lark  –described the substance of nightmare with a laugh, so I laughed along with him, missing the significance of the story and taking him at his word that “it was no big deal”.

            His supervisor later approached me and asked if I’d heard what happened in the Freezer. I must have hesitated because she launched into a story very similar to my brother’s, but one that incontestably amplified his heroism. According to her, He’s assumed control of the situation – distributing baskets, brooms and orders with spirited confidence. His expediency and leadership saved the day, she said. His coworkers reported that the broken belt would have been one of the most traumatic, disgusting, terrifying events they’d ever undergone if not for my brother’s encouragement of the team.

            “Your brother was handing out back-pats and thumps-up left and right, like, he obviously grasped the urgency of the situation… but it didn’t stop him from cheering us all on.”

            It was later estimated that he probably handled ten thousand pounds of wayward fish guts, but for his attitude, it could have been ten thousand pounds of puffy cloud. 

            On the question of whether leaders are born or made, science claims that nature is responsible for a third of leadership, while nurture is responsible for the rest.  I’d like to think leaders are born; genetic factors would mean that I have a chance of becoming the exemplar that my brother already is, but then again, if leaders are made - they’re made in Alaska.

Happy Birthday, Cameron.


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