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Labor Day–What was your first job?

LABOR DAY—WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB? Yesterday, our co-op celebrated Labor Day with an indoor picnic as it was oppressively hot outside. The eight people at our table discussed our first jobs. One was a bagger for a Piggly-Wiggly grocery store; his second job was delivering telegrams for Western Union. There was a waitress; a guy who did janitorial work for a commercial bakery (very hot job!); a transcriber; a “yard bird” for a construction company who also helped build scaffolding despite his fear of heights; a retail worker; a babysitter; and a guy who loaded up a clay pigeon machine, answered the command of “pull!” and later had to collect the clay pigeons that were still intact when the shooting ended. Almost all of us had those jobs as teenagers. We enjoyed hearing each other’s stories and had a good laugh!

I began working at the Broadway Kresge’s in Cleveland when I was seventeen, the summer before my senior year of high school. For those of you who haven’t heard of Kresge’s, it was a five-and-dime store similar to Woolworth’s.

I walked a mile to work and a mile home. If I was working split shifts, I doubled the mileage. I walked even in the winter, unless my high school boyfriend gave me a lift in his 1963 Chevy Impala—he was a peach of a guy.

During orientation, I was shown upstairs where the employees kept their belongings and was advised to shake out my coat before leaving so as not to bring home cockroaches. I was passionate about shaking out my coat and checking my boots! I also had to learn to say, “Nie umien mόwic՛ po polsku,” which means, “I don’t know how to speak Polish.”

My manager was an older woman (Isn’t everyone old when you are seventeen?) who hummed constantly. She had a good sense of humor though which became evident to me when the staff hummed her Happy Birthday, and she smiled.

I stocked shelves; worked the cash register; used a net to capture that one fish, way in the back of the tank, to plop it into a plastic bag full of water; hid when I knew a customer wanted a parakeet (There was no way I was going to grab the desired bird and put it in the little cardboard carrier); and worked in the snack section near the lunch counter making popcorn and cotton candy and selling sub sandwiches. At times, I had to detangle all the jewelry that was thrown in the sales bin.

I learned to placate customers who were sure they were in line before the blue-light special went dark, but failed miserably with the customer who threw a can opener at me (I ducked) when he discovered that he would HAVE to pay sales tax.  I felt sorry for the customers who only wanted one sub sandwich at 35 cents but decided to get the special of three subs for $1.05.  Sometimes, I cheated and told them that they weren’t saving any money by buying three.

I learned a lot about the retail business, about people, about  how to make myself go to work even if I didn’t feel like it, and about my own resilience. It was a good first job!

Here’s a 2017 photo and description of the repurposed Kresge building from the website:

Kresge Building – Broadway Avenue Historic District
5700 to 5704 Broadway Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio, in the United States. The building is a contributing property to the Broadway Avenue Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

3 Comments on “Labor Day–What was your first job?

  1. Wonderful!!! You would be a mere fraction of yourself without experiences like those…

  2. Wonderful!!! You would be a mere fraction of yourself without experiences such as those…

  3. Fun article! Great question. Yes first jobs can teach us a lot! Timeliness, first impressions, attitude, gratefulness and the importance of doing small tasks well!

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