In my long young life, I am only 80! Will turn 81 in a few weeks. I have fond memories of many positions and of the bosses.
My first job was picking potatoes. I was only allowed to pick on Saturday and Sunday as Mom wanted one of her kids to graduate from High School; she picked me. The reason always escaped me, because she believed that education for women was a waste. After all, they would just get married and have babies. That was okay with me; I would have fought to attend school. I loved reading and learning. My two brothers were way too smart to go to school.
The Potato field was huge, and the sections were measured casually off by units that would fill a barrel if picked properly. The barrels were set after the potatoes were plowed to the surface. Each picker had a heavy-duty bushel basket with a sturdy handle. The pay was peanuts: $.20 a barrel, which holds about 3 bushels. A “section” was about long enough to fill the one-bushel basket with potatoes. By the way, the fastest way to pick was to bend at the waist and pick them one by one using both hands, tossing them in the basket. To say it was back-breaking work is an understatement.
In my hey-day, I could pick about 20 or 30 barrels a day. My Mother put me to shame by picking 100 barrels a day. She was an amazing woman!
One of the pickers had obviously had drunk his lunch and wasn’t too bright because he put his arm around my Mother to get a little kiss. That was his second mistake! She brought her fist up from her waist and smacked him on the jaw; laid him out, cold! No one ever bothered her again.
We didn’t know we were poor. There was no time to bake bread in the middle of picking season, and we often ate canned Franco-American Spaghetti cold from the can for lunch.
We also picked beans, and it was harder than potatoes; no more money, and it takes a lot more beans to fill a bushel basket than potatoes. I couldn’t pick any more beans than potatoes.
My first real paying job was waitressing in a small diner! I was green and naive, and the owner had a cracked sense of humor but was a really nice guy. He told me that the Crullers (long round donuts) were called “Male Donuts.” I called them that until someone took pity on me and explained it to me. I got many tips because even though I was not a great waitress, I could laugh at myself along with them.
Another fun job was selling shoes at a new Shoe Store in town. My boss told me all about this new shoe that was called “a pound a pair.” I was fascinated with them and soaked up all the best-selling points. One day a guy walked in, and I started telling him about them. I had a pair on his feet before he introduced himself as the owner of the store. My boss was laughing so hard she nearly wet her pants. He was impressed, though; unfortunately, I didn’t get a raise.
I once worked as a waitress at Howard Johnson’s in South Carolina. We were supposed to carry everything on a tray, even if it was a pat of butter! Illogical! One day everyone was all in a twitter because the big guy himself was coming in for lunch. Nobody wanted the honors of waiting on him. I volunteered, and everyone said empathically NO! I was told to hide in the storeroom and not to come out under any circumstances! That job didn’t last long as I was responsible for more broken dishes than the money I earned. Oh well! I wasn’t thrilled with the job or the uniforms!
Now the uniform of the next job was right up my alley! A t-shirt and a pair of little red shorts (I was a lot smaller then) and a pair of roller skates! I was a Car Hop at a drive-in. Girls my age (18) weren’t supposed to serve alcohol, so when beer was ordered, it was served in milk-shake containers. I got tons of tips! A couple of “good old boys” that just happened to be Cops offered to take me out on their boat for an ocean cruise. I was naïve, but not stupid! Out on a boat on the ocean, miles from land with a couple guys, and no way to walk home? I let them tip me real big, but no cruises.
I dated one guy for a couple of weeks. He seemed really nice until two Men in Black Suits with guns under their jackets and nice gold badges asked me many questions about the guy. I spilled my guts! And the next week, I packed up and left town. My Mother didn’t raise no fools! Well, I did have two brothers.
I moved to Hartford, Conn, and went to work at Hartford Fire Insurance as a Keypunch Operator. What a fun job, setting all day punching holes in cards that the guys across the file cabinets destroyed. These huge sorting machines were the beginning of computers. When I was assigned to re-punch the mangled cards that often happened, my boss told me, “A change is as good as a rest,” as she pushed another box of mangled cards on my desk. This great piece of advice was from a woman that drank her lunch every day.
We were all up for a raise and were admonished not to say a word to the “big boss” when we were interviewed. Evidently, my mouth is bigger than my brain because I spoke up, telling him I had several perfect batches and deserved the raise. If you guessed that none of us got a raise then or ever, you would be right. An exercise in futility!
I lived with two roommates, and one of them was such a ditz that the other girl and I helped and encouraged her to get married as fast we could. The other girl was nice, but evidently, Mom took such good care of her that she could not take care of herself! I slaved every Saturday, washing all my clothes by hand and hanging them out to dry on the attached clothesline on our porch. Her clothes always were neatly starched and clean for work. I made the mistake of borrowing one of her blouses and discovered that they were never washed. When most of her clothes were dirty, she mailed them to her mamma, who washed, starched, ironed them, and mailed them back. She also failed to get up and get ready for work so many times, and we had to pay for a taxi that I left her to pay it by herself.
Working in the Shoe Shop in Dexter, Maine, was an experience that everyone should have! My job was to zig-zag the backs of Ice Skates, Bowling Shoes, and Golf shoes on an industrial sewing machine. I did 30 pairs at a time and cut them apart. I was and am still very fast with my hands, and I am ambidextrous. I asked for a raise from 1 cent a pair to 2 or 3 cents a pair. The boss (not the sharpest tool in the shed) came by with his stopwatch (supposedly without me noticing). I did a lot of movements and not much work until he left. I never got the raise! As a matter of fact, I was escorted to the door and told that they didn’t need me anymore.
There were three very good reasons. 1. I talked up Unions. 2. One of the supervisors yelled at me, “get back to work!” I told him never to call me out of the bathroom again as I picked him up by the front of his shirt and put him up against the wall with his feet dangling 3. A Supervisor thought we should date and dogged my tracks every weekend. I dodged him on the weekend, but when he started getting too friendly at work. The last straw was when seeing him put his arms around the girl next to me and fondle her boobs. I told him never to touch me! He didn’t listen, and I attempted to give him a vasectomy without an anesthetic. If he had been a little was slower with his hand, I might have accomplished the deed. By the way, I still have the guilty scissors! I was an angry young woman.
When I explained why I was fired to the interviewer from the unemployment department, I was granted full unemployment benefits. That wasn’t the last job I had, and it was a different world than it is now. There was no lifeline for women in the workplace in the ’50s. Your only alternative was; take the abuse or leave.