Monday, May 19, 2014

A Wrinkel in Time (Wrinkled by Time)...The World of Work

As a child I had very limited access to cash, other than an occasional nickel from the tooth fairy or 15 cents profit from a neighborhood lemonade stand or the dime I could wheedle from my dad for an Uncle Scrooge comic book. And why did a child need money anyway? There was no Target. The only shopping I was involved in was the weekly grocery trip to Luckys. There, while my mom shopped, I sat on the mechanical horse reading comic books from their rack. This was the first in-store free child care. 


When I was about 11, the neighbors across the street started asking me to babysit. (I think today you’re not supposed to leave a child alone at home until their 12!) But I had a younger sister (Val, age 6) so must be qualified, right? I would stay with their two little girls, who were already in bed when I arrived. I think their parents gave them Benadryl or something to make sure they stayed asleep. I usually did the dishes and then sat on the couch reading my latest Nancy Drew mystery until the couple returned. I made the magnificent sum of 25 cents/hour so I might make as much as a dollar for the night! 

Babysitting was pretty much my only income for several years, although in high school I raised my rates to 35 cents/hour. What did I spend my riches on? When I was 13 or 14 I used to go to the fabric store in the new Valley Fair mall, a short five block bike ride from my house, and buy a yard (60” wide) of plaid mohair wool for $2.99. From this I could sew a “straight skirt”.
 And there was a new kind of restaurant about three blocks away called McDonalds where you could buy hamburgers for 15 cents! 


Another job I remember was one summer when I was about 15 one of my girlfriends and I decided to make “big money” picking strawberries. We got up about 6am and went down and got on the bus with
all the migrant workers and rode for an hour to Gilroy where the big strawberry fields were. (My dad probably suggested this job!) 

There we worked our way down long rows of berry plants, bent over our buckets, looking for the juicy jewels hidden under the dark leaves. Talk about back breaking labor! The first day I got a terrible wedge shaped sunburn on my back where my shirt had ridden up. We emptied our buckets into “flats” at the end of our row. It took me about an hour to fill a flat...for which I made $1. At the end of the day, I might make $7 or $8. The little Chinese grandmas could pick 20-25 flats in a day! The best part of the day was waiting for the bus to pick us up to go back to San Jose...while waiting we could pick “all the berries we wanted” to eat or take home. Of course the only container I had was my big straw sunhat, so I filled it with berries! Perhaps, given more practice, I would have improved my berry picking technique, but I think we only lasted about a week. 

After graduating and going to BYU, I always had a “summer job” when I got home. My dad got me my first one...working the swing shift at the Del Monte pickle factory on 7th and Jackson in San Jose. Gee, dad, you didn’t have high expectations, did you? At least I didn’t have to ride a bus to get to work. (But I did have to drive and park in a very scuzzy part of town!)

I would start at 3pm and work until 11. I stood over a conveyer belt with 10 or 11 other women spaced out every few feet. The fork lift drivers would dump big field crates of cucumbers onto the belt. As they moved down the belt, we “ladies” were to make some highly technical decisions: throw obvious garbage vines, rotten cucumbers- into the bucket on the floor beside us, overly large or misshaped curly cucumbers were tossed onto a small conveyer belt at eyelevel which ran to the “relish” room, tiny cucumbers suitable for “midget” pickles were thrown onto another narrow belt running the opposite
direction just behind our main belt. You can see this was a highly skilled operation; sometime the fore-ladies would come along to show us the error of our ways...if too much junk was getting to the end of the line or the wrong size cucumber got through. The drudgery of the job was sort of mesmerizing developed a bit of a rhythm...until, in an effort to quell their boredom, the fork lift drivers would let a dead rat or snake get on the belt...then you would hear a small series of shrieks coming down the line of women. I never have been overly fond of pickles. 

Another summer, dad paid for me to attend Heald Business School and learn to type. In high school I was always in college prep classes and never had time to take any practical classes (but I took four years of French?) Then he got me a job through a temp agency to work in an office for a few weeks. Are you noticing a trend here? Father REALLY wants his daughter to be employed!!! 

At the end of summer, did I get to revel in all the money I made? (Minimum wage was $1.25) My dad, who was putting me through college, paying that big $140 tuition each semester, always believed in letting me apply all MY earnings before he started contributing. 

That led to a number of on campus jobs while at BYU. 
My first was working at the BYU library...typing library cards for the card catalog! I rather enjoyed typing, the challenge of speeding through pages, trying to avoid errors in the days before being able to delete them with a bit of a backspace...but typing library remember those? All the numbers and special symbols, etc. We had big Electric typewriters, but if we made a mistake we had to use electric erasers to “buzz” off the error, then type in the correction. I worked 20 hours a week...and made $1/hour. 

Later I got a job in one of the small cafeterias in the Joseph Smith Center as a that was an easy job. I just sat on my stool and took money and made change...but I only worked a couple of hours a day so had to look for other employment too. Cold calling the citizens of Provo trying to set up appointment for home alarm salesmen was my most terrifying, considering my persistent phone phobia. But I was pretty desperate, due to the difficulty of getting money out of my dad! 

My last summer job before I got married was as a cashier at a Payless Drug Store. 

This was definitely a step up...I think I even had to wear a white “uniform.” I started out at the new store over on Capital Avenue in East San Jose, but later transferred to the Payless just up the street at Valley Fair. I usually worked from 1 to 9, standing at the register all day, or, during slow times being sent to “straighten” various areas of the store. The most dreaded of these was the “panty” aisle! Payless used to sell underwear, displayed in slanted small bins. They were usually in a jumble as customers searched for the right size, color, fabric, etc. All the years of having to clean my bedroom came in handy. This is where I developed awesome categorizing skills! 

As I look back on the jobs I had I’m shocked at the places my father(and I assume my mom) sent me to work! But I am grateful for the attitudes and training about work he instilled in me. I grew up knowing I had to pay my own way and that no job was beneath me...this was probably good practice for being a mom! No squeamishness is allowed through years of diaper changing and cleaning up kid vomit.