Friday, April 10, 2009

My First Job - Lessons Learned

I saw this on Lola's Diner, and I thought it sounded like so much fun! The topic for this week is My First Job, and my first job was a doozy!

One good thing about growing up with frugal parents is that you are inspired to work to earn your own money. I was born in 1968, and money was very tight for our family throughout the 70's and early 80's. Anytime there was an opportunity for me to earn money, I was there.

I did a lot of babysitting and pet care for other families, but my first REAL job was at a local cafeteria style restaurant. I was almost 14 when I started, and my parents had to drop me off and pick me up. I had to have a signed work permit, and my hours were restricted because of my age.

This was a restaurant that our family had eaten at very often. It was operated by a Mormon family (you don't see too many Mormons in Indiana) that had several daughters. The father always served the meat. Every time we would go through the line he was very friendly and talkative.

When I asked my parents if I could work there, they agreed and we asked the owner if I could have a part-time job. I filled out an application and I was hired. My starting wage was only $2.50 an hour. It was under the minimum wage, but because it was food service he could get away with paying less (even though very few people tip in cafeterias). I didn't mind. I was excited about the prospect of earning $20 to $30 a week of my own money.

Up to this point in my life, I had been quite sheltered. The only adults I had been around outside of my family were were from school, church, or my friends' parents. It was at this job that I learned not all adults are kind and caring.

The owner, who was so gregarious and friendly to customers, was often angry and unpredictable to his family and employees. I'll never forget my first day on the job. I was in the back of the restaurant and I saw him walking toward me. Smiling happily, I looked up at him and said hello. He gave me a dirty look and walked away without saying a word. When the restaurant was closed, he would yell if he thought someone wasn't doing their job. Once, I was carefully wiping out the water left from the ice in the salad area. He looked over at me and yelled, "Put it in second!" I had no idea what that meant, and I must have given him a deer-in-the-headlights look. He just shook his head and walked away.

The rest of the family was very nice. There were at least seven daughters and one of them was my age. She was a lot of fun and we became good friends. The mother was from Germany and had a very heavy accent. Looking back, I realize now that she was nervous and stressed when her husband was around. Sometimes they would be in the office with the door closed, and we could hear shouting.

About a year and half after I started, the owner was admitted to the hospital and he was gone for several months. The rumor from the other employees was that he had a nervous breakdown and had been admitted for psychiatric treatment. Work was much more pleasant with him not there!

When the owner was released, he came back to work. He seemed calmer (maybe from medication), but I was never comfortable around him. One day after I finished working on a Sunday afternoon, I was waiting outside behind the restaurant for one of my parents to pick me up. I was now almost 16, and I had my dress on from Church that morning. The owner walked outside and approached me from behind. He placed his hand on my shoulder with a slight caress. "My, you have really developed into a nice-looking young lady," he said. I froze, and I distinctly remember the disgusting, creepy feeling that I felt from head to toe. "Thanks," I muttered, and thankfully, he walked away and never said anything like that to me again.

When I turned 16, I was able to drive to work. One day I drove to the restaurant and a sign was posted on the back door. It said that the restaurant was closed and we could pick up our last check at the owner's home. Business had been much slower over the last few months, and I don't think they were able to afford to stay in business.

I really don't know why I stayed there as long as I did. I don't think Mom and Dad realized how bad the working conditions were, and I really liked having a paycheck. I also think I still had the mindset that all adults are good and are to be respected no matter what. I would never work in conditions like that now, and I stress to my kids to trust their instincts and get out of uncomfortable situations immediately.

Do you have a good first job story? Please comment or go to Lola's Diner to learn how you can Blog Back Time.


  1. Glad to see you jumped in. I posted on Lola's my first job. It was in Nursing. Interesting post you have. Memories are so important we learn a lot to pass on. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I think everyone should be required to work in food service or retail for a few months. It would give them all an appreciation of what those workers go through. My first job was working in the kitchen at a Boy Scout camp, which sounds like more fun than working in a cafeteria : )

  3. Like you, I did a lot of babysitting when I was younger, but my first real job was in a cafeteria. I was 13 1/2 and attending boarding school - the only job I was allowed to work was in the cafeteria due to my age. My main duty was washing the large pots and pans - the meals I hated the most were when we had lasagna - scrubbing those industrial size lasagna pans was torture. My favorite duty was when I got to make the deviled eggs. :) I only worked there for one semester because I ended up leaving the school during Christmas break, but I think that is probably where I learned to detest washing dishes from, which is why I will not go without a dishwasher now. :)

  4. Auntie E - Thanks, it's fun to go back in time and remember!

    Quadmama - Definitely, food service and retail is some of the hardest and lowest paid work! Working at the boy scout camp sounds fun!

    laneerg - Ugh, yes washing large, industrial sized dishes with burned on food is torture!