Pinky Pie

Groovin’ on my first job & Me

Posted on: February 13, 2011

Susannah York earlier in her career. You can see the resemblance. She wore hair covering and I did, too, in the Michigan State University cafeteria.

You probably didn’t realize what a groovy person I once was in high school (or arguably still am). The origins of my grooviness goes back to my first job selling shoes in The Way In department at Famous-Barr department store in suburban St. Louis.

The Way In – designed by adults – was meant to appeal to young groovers like myself, which I write with my tongue firmly planted in cheek. It was kind of like the Teen Tent at Oktoberfest 1974 in La Crosse. I was supposed to cover it as  a reporter, but nary a teenager was in it.

Selling shoes in a department store like Famous-Barr was a great job because I received commission for everything I sold – no matter what it was. Other sales clerks did not have that commission. So there was a real incentive for me to sell clothes in addition to shoes.

I will never forget the response of another salesperson walking by me when I said something like, “Now this is a tasteful coat.”

“She’s not going to eat it,” my colleague said just loud enough for me to hear.

Two other important notes about Famous-Barr, which was formed in 1911 by the merger of the William Barr Dry Goods Co. and the Famous Clothing Store,  already owned by the May Co.:

  • The downtown store was the first department store in the country to have air conditioning. I’m sure it was because my mother worked at the downtown store in the “Complaint Department.” That’s where she was introduced to my dad.
  • I went back to the storeroom for shoes one night, slipped and dislocated both of my kneecaps at once. One went back in right away, but the other did not. And let me tell you that really hurt.  My Uncle Bart came to the store to fix me up. A surgeon, he gave me a shot of morphine and a muscle relaxer, which allowed him to get my knee back in joint.  I actually received Worker’s Compensation for that one – the only time I ever had it. Uncle Bart had twice earlier treated me for dislocated kneecaps and numerous other family emergencies.

The big  early job of my career was in the Case Hall cafeteria at Michigan State University, where I first was a garburator, meaning I was one of the students who swiped food – often disgusting – off of plates that arrived at my station via a conveyor built. And we didn’t wear gloves. Yuck!

It’s no wonder that I was eager for a promotion to the first dish machine loader. Also on a conveyer belt, it required me to smoothly load dishes and racks of glasses as the conveyor moved forward. I loved it. There is great satisfaction in loading dishes without missing a slot. I was the dish machine.

We joked that there would be a movie of my life based on that great accomplishment. I suggested Susannah York, then a big actress, to play my role.

To date, however, no movie has been made.

Maybe it was because I gave up that lucrative dish machine loading career and moved into journalism and personal history.

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