Like any child growing up in a working class family, I couldn’t wait to get my first job, my first real money. We were never granted the privilege of an allowance; there was not much to spare in a family of eight . The work ethic was alive and well and not really preached; it was a given; something we all understood and acted upon at an early age.
Aside from babysitting and odd chores that would arise in the neighborhood, my first regular income came from here:
At about age 14, I took on a scheduled babysitting gig for the owners, who lived with their young family in the apartment above the drug store. The pharmacist and his wife had 2 young preschool sons. It was a pretty easy job since both parents were just a few steps away if needed, and the boys were really sweet and very well disciplined. When I was old enough, I was promoted to work in the store’s soda fountain for 85 cents an hour. It was the 60’s, and I was a proud “soda jerk”, serving up ice cream and fountain Coke’s, light sandwich fare, coffee, and “mountain creams” (a delicious concoction of milk, vanilla and cherry syrup, iced) to a counter that accommodated 12 people; many of whom became the closest friends of my teen years. It was a West End “hangout” that provided a great social outlet; but it was never profitable and sadly was removed some years later.
Upon graduating high school, I moved on to a more lucrative summer job at a garment factory, where my position as “call girl” was paid in cash in a small brown envelope. The factory made beautiful children’s clothing, and my job was to respond to the call of any of the 30 or 40 sewing machine operators who needed fabric bundles, thread, lace, etc, delivered to their seated station. One of these seamstresses was my family’s next-door neighbor, who provided my transportation. The factory burned down and was re-built, at least twice.
The following summer, I had to get more serious; college expenses were high, my older sister was still in nursing school, and there were still 4 younger siblings at home. Off to Penguin Industries, whose front lawn was decorated with white ceramic birds of the same name, set in the green rolling hills of Parkesburg, Pa. It was the first real paycheck I ever had; I was paid by what is known as “piecework”, the better you did, the more money you could make. I did very well. I had two jobs there, I alternated between assembling hand grenade fuses and loading mortar shells with gunpowder. It was the era of Vietnam, and while I spent a good deal of time on campus protesting the war, I was not ashamed to admit that I had paid for my textbooks with money garnered from a small weapons manufacturer in rural Pa.
For the next 3 summers, I was fortunate to work for Pepperidge Farms, one of the highest paying employers in our area. My hourly wage tripled. I took the earliest shift in the assembly line bakery, (think: Lucy in the candy factory) starting at 6 a.m. and often staying till 3 or 4 pm, to sub for the regulars, who opted to go home early, take vacations, etc. Not much of a social life then, in bed by 8 p.m., but it was so worth it.( I never needed that part time job during classes. ) It was hot as hell, physically demanding, but the smells were wonderful. I am still proudly buying their products today.
If I had it to do over again, I would change nothing.