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In 2019 I’m writing stories in response to weekly prompts from Storyworth, a gift from our daughter Sarah. All of these stories will be made into a book in January 2020. We all have stories, I hope these will help you remember yours. This week’s prompt was:

What was your first job?

Encouraged by my parents’ post-depression work ethic and my small weekly allowance, I had a number of jobs before I graduated high school. I was inside, I was outside, I was climbing the stairs, I was carrying dishes, typing, talking. I liked new challenges. Here are eight different jobs I had in high school and college.

My first “real” job–where I got dressed up and worked in an office–was also one of my hardest.  When I was 16, I got dressed up, and took the 59 bus North on Castor Ave., then switched with a paper transfer when I got to Bells Corner to the 59B bus, which I took north on Bustleton Ave.

I arrived at the answering service company, which was in a relatively new medical services building, and went in for the interview.  I had applied for this job all on my own, maybe a friend worked there too, I don’t remember why I decided to try this job, but I was excited to try something new. Did the switchboard seem like a big toy to me?  Lite-Brite hadn’t been invented yet…


But I remember the look of the room down in the basement, windowless, covered with, not toys, but real telephone operator switchboards. Yes, I was about to become like Lily Tomlin on Rowan and Martin.   I was about to become Debbie the telephone operator… “one ringy-dingy…two ringy-dingy…”

I was only 16, and this was a job that required poise, quickness, and attention. Maybe it was good that I had started with some easier jobs in younger teen years.

When I was 15, I was a counselor in training (CIT) at Camp Cherokee in Philadelphia where I had also gone to camp, and was paid about $25 for the summer for that.

Although the camp is no longer there, having sadly closed, I can see it so clearly in my mind: the small pool with its cement deck where the pictures below were taken, the baseball diamond, the swings, the boat dock where we crawled into rowboats and watched brave boys jump off the rocks and splash loudly into the water, the ponies that walked obediently in a circle in a small coral.

Here you can see what counselors looked like at Cherokee in 1962 and 1963, and can see me as a 6 and 7 year old camper.

I’m the one with the Band-Aid on her chest (I bumped into something while biking or running probably) and with the untucked t-shirt. No pictures of myself as a CIT there at Camp Cherokee.

At 15, I remember laying in the sun wearing my dad’s old white button-down work shirts over my bikini, but I’m sure I ran around and chased kids a lot.

As a teen, I babysat occasionally, though I can’t remember for who. This was, for me, mainly an opportunity to eat junk food that my mom didn’t buy, like chips in Charles Chips cans.

I can remember that I was paid 50 cents an hour, a sum so low that it’s even difficult to find the symbol for cents on a standard apple keyboard.

After high school I took a test, passed, and was awarded with a job that gave me some of the money that my dad and mom paid in taxes. I worked for the federal government, at the Phila Navy Yard.

In college at the University of Delaware I worked in the school library, shelving books and getting returns from people at the counter. I loved that job.

During the summer I was a camp counselor at an overnight camp.

To make a little more money, I delivered newspapers in our high rise dorm at the University of Delaware. My employer was a high school boy who had advertised for someone to take the Sunday route…was he going to church or just wanted a day off? My task was to load up my shoulder bag with the papers he dropped off for me, then to the elevator up to the 14th floor, and walk down, dropping off papers as I went. I prayed with newspaper smudged hands that I would have the correct number left (zero papers) when I got to the last door on my list. Otherwise, that meant I missed a door.

And thus began my love affair with the New York Times.

One summer during college I worked as a waitress at Gingham House in Phila on Castor Ave., where I was fired soon after I was hired for not cutting lemons correctly. It didn’t sour me on waitress jobs though, I had two of those after I was married and had an MSW, at more upscale restaurants in Ann Arbor.

We also had winters off during the month of January at the University of Delaware, so once I landed one-month job in a factory in Philadelphia. It was a film factory on Roosevelt Blvd., and my job was to take the rolls of film out of one envelope and put them in a bin to get developed. I stood on my feet for hours, trying to stay interested in doing the same thing over and over. That was very motivating for getting an education.

Although that job was difficult, it wasn’t as difficult as my first “real” job—where I wasn’t wearing a bathing suit to work— where I worked for an answering service running a switchboard.

My job was to take a message, write it down on a slip of paper, and put it in a pile that someone else would sort and distribute. This was a really hard job, because when a light lit up, you had to pull the peg, stick it in the hole to connect, say hello and ask them to hold on, and then remember where you were (which peg) and flip a switch to go back to that one, complete that message with a calm, pleasant voice and nice neat handwriting, and then go on to the second one.

I’m not sure how long I lasted. One week? A month? I was only 16. Have you seen the women in the telephone pool in Mad Men? It looked just like that!

This was a REALLY hard job. I worked for the answering service that my Uncle Herman Rudnick and also a top boxer used— Joe Frazier. When Frazier called in to get his messages, the whole room was abuzz!

I’m not sure how long I lasted. But you may not be surprised, and neither was I, when I was fired from that job after about a month. I think I was relieved. Did I mention, it was REALLY HARD!

Don’t be afraid to try new things!  By 21 years old I had worked (with varying degrees of success) as a:

  • Babysitter
  • Camp Counselor
  • Newspaper Delivery girl
  • Waitress
  • Library clerk
  • Office clerk
  • Factory Worker
  • Switchboard operator

What were your early jobs?





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