Those were Banner days indeed

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‘An ode to my first job that did not involve cleaning up. At least not cleaning up after other people’s children’

Again, apologies for being a slacker. I seem to be getting later and later with my Tuesday posts. And I don’t even have the turkey to blame this week.

‘Curses, foiled again!’ said Mr. Turkey upon spying this clever foil

Hey, at least we didn’t use a slingshot, an idea suggested by a relative at that Fab Family Reunion I recently attended.

But I wasn’t always a slacker. I was a hard worker, even at a very early age. For one thing, my parents were firm believers in Kids Doing Chores. (I remember we got docked a nickel each day we didn’t make our beds; since our weekly allowance was only 25 cents, there were weeks when my brothers owed my Mom). I won’t go into a whole long list of these chores, but suffice it to say that I got my fill of ironing. And my brothers don’t often volunteer to clean out basements or dog pens.

Me, helping out with the laundry. At least they kept me away from the ironing board

To supplement our allowances, we kids were always on the lookout for money-making opportunities. My brothers had paper routes; I did tons of babysitting. (As you already know from stories like ‘Alice’s Adventures in Babysitting’.)

Me again, practicing up for my babysitting years. That’s Oldest Younger Brother Scott suffering (literally) a photo op in my arms

I was a pretty good babysitter. But, at least in those days, it paid very little money (50 cents an hour) for a whole lot of work (at least two kids per gig, sometimes up to six — and, trust me, you didn’t get more money for more kids). 

Well. One summer, like magic, I got this job at our local hometown newspaper, the Carlyle Union Banner. Which still exists, I’m happy to say. They even have a Facebook page. Now Carlyle was (and is) a small town. One where everybody knows everybody. And I am sure that my Dad pulled some strings to get me this job. He was a Rotary Club Buddy with the owner, for one thing. And it didn’t hurt that his engineering partner’s wife worked there and wanted to take summers off to be with her kids. (A fact of which I was blissfully unaware until I started writing this blog. Here’s a shoutout to you, Ruth!)

So my Dad helped me out. Which means I actually have something in common with Ivanka. But at the time all I knew was I got to go to work in a Real Office, like a Real Grownup. And make me some Real Money. I even had to get a social security card (!) My first paycheck was, I recall, $32.50. For a week. Plus a half day on Saturday. And a late night on Wednesday, which was Press Night.

Would you hire this girl? I mean for a Real Job that did not involve changing diapers?

So there I was, barely fifteen years old, and thinking I’m Brenda Starr. (Yes, no doubt you will have to click on that name to find out who the heck she was.) See, in addition to having ‘connections’, my dad knew that my dream was to work at a newspaper. I had even started a newspaper when I was in sixth grade. I typed it in the principal’s office after school and ran it off on the mimeograph machine. Which, if you remember those, gave off an aroma kind of like baking bread.

Well, wakeup call, Miss Brenda. The Banner may have been a small-town weekly, but it sure as heck wasn’t going to give writing assignments to a fifteen-year-old. At least not right away. I spent most of my time — dressed in my dress (one wore dresses and skirts to work in those days) — running errands, pasting things into or looking things up in The Morgue, and stamping the addresses on the papers to be mailed to out-of-town subscribers each week. (Which was a very messy, very inky job; I learned fast to devote one Special Already-Sort-of-Stained Dress to Wednesday nights.)

I also answered the phone and collected money for people’s ‘light bills’. Yes, in those days, folks would pay their electricity bills at the newspaper office. I’m not sure why, but I remember that the money was kept in a cigar box under the front desk.

Yes, this was a while ago. So long ago that when I started there, the Banner used a linotype machine. This was a big scary machine that melted bars of lead and formed them into metal ‘lines’ of ‘type’. You can read more about them here. Orie, its operator, was a skilled-though-idosyncratic guy who was even scarier. He rode his bike to work and (justifiably) didn’t like kids like me who ‘helped out’ at the paper very much. I kept out of his way — and brought him snacks.

Speaking of snacks, and kids like me who worked at the paper, there was another guy — Kenny — who worked there in the summers. He and I would help with ‘job work’, which is how the Banner made most of its money. ‘Job work’ was printing stuff like flyers and announcements and invitations. But the biggest ‘job’ of all was the program for the Clinton County Fair. This kid and I bonded over Dr. Peppers and Cheez Doodles purchased at the Scoreboard Tavern to tide us over long hours of collating and stapling while gazing at the cover photo of the Fair Queen — like two thousand times. I remember that Kenny turned me on to Aretha Franklin. (He brought a transistor radio to work.) But, being a naive high school girl, I was really embarrassed by the ‘sock it to me’ lyric in ‘Respect’.

Well, eventually, after trying my hand at dozens of newspaper-related tasks, including nearly shocking myself silly in the darkroom (I put my left hand into the developing bath while simultaneously — and stupidly — switching on the light table) I got to try a bit of writing.

They started me out easy, with weddings (which, as you know, I love). Weddings were a snap because each family filled out a ‘wedding form’, listing what the bride wore, who was in the wedding party, etc. All you had to do to write the story was, basically, vary the lead. So you’d write “Mary Smith, attired in antique lace and escorted by her father, was wed on Saturday to James Jones at the First United Methodist Church.” Or “Escorted by her father, Mary Smith was wed Saturday to James Jones at the First United Methodist Church. She was attired in antique lace.” (Carlyle being in Southern Illinois, “Smith” and “Jones” were not anywhere close to the real names in those weddings. I once memorably wrote the story for “Onken-Pigg Nuptials Held Saturday”.)

I graduated, eventually, to Real Reporting, like covering the meetings of the Clinton County Board of Supervisors. Which were about as exciting as you might imagine. (Hard wooden benches, no AC at the Courthouse.) But I loved this job, and returned to it all through high school. I even came back to work there every college break. (Including the year I got engaged. That’s my official engagement photo — for my first wedding, which you can, if so inclined, read about here — at the top of this post, taken against the fake-wood wall of the Carlyle Union Banner itself, where I was, yes, working at the time.)

I could go on and on with Banner reminiscences. Like, I once had a co-worker who sang Carpenters’ songs at her desk. (“Close to You” was her favorite, having been featured at her wedding; on the whole I think “sock it to me” was less embarrassing.) But now I think it’s time for another cup of coffee. And to check to see if the turkey fence has been breached.

See you next week. When I might tell the story about how I got into advertising instead of staying in ‘news’. Or not. I just remembered I still haven’t told the one about how Everything in Australia Can Kill You.

Amagansett, New York. August 2017

 

“I’m watchin’ him!”

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‘The “Playdate”, back in Midcentury Modern Times.’

Last week I wrote about the Midcentury Modern custom of sending a high-school social studies class on a field trip to a maximum-security prison. I say “custom” because, frankly, I was astonished to find that many of you readers out there had done the very same thing. (And that’s not counting those of you who went to the very same high school as me.)

This week I’m curious to see how many of you grew up experiencing the Midcentury Modern version of the “playdate”.

“Playdates”, for those of you who don’t have, haven’t had, or don’t know anyone with children, are when parents or caregivers (what we used to call “babysitters”) set up specific times and places (“dates”) for kids to get together to “play”.

I just love that there is an actual Wikipedia entry for “playdate”. If you don’t feel like clicking, here’s what it goes on to say: Playdates have become common because the work schedules for busy parents, along with media warnings about leaving children unattended, prevent the kind of play that children of other generations participated in.

Hmmm. Just what “kind of play” was this? Continue reading

Alice’s Adventures in Babysitting

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‘Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t love this job’

Okay. Enough already with the Holidays. Everyone’s back at work. Even those of us who are, shall we say, ‘underemployed’, are working. See my riff ‘I love the smell of Soft Scrub in the morning’ for what I’m up to when I’m not writing brochures for Botox.

Like practically everyone where and when I grew up, I started working young. We were expected to do ‘chores’. Back in those days, these were sexually segregated. Boys did things like mow the lawn and wash the dog (harder than it sounds). Girls did things like peel potatoes and watch the little kids (much harder than it sounds).

Helping out at a very early age. I don't think I got an allowance then though

Helping out with the laundry. I don’t think I got an allowance then though

Of course boys and girls alike did things like wash and dry the dishes, there being no dishwashers (except children) till I was, oh, a teenager. Actually, I kind of enjoyed the old pre-labor-saving-device method. For one thing, it was companionable, since two of us teamed up, one to wash, and one to dry. (If the ‘dryer’ caught up with the ‘washer’, the dryer got to quit.) Continue reading

They didn’t do this for fun, you know

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‘Summer jobs I did not have. But I swear I did not make them up, either’

When I was a kid, a summer job was babysitting. Or working at the 5-and-10. Pumping gas. My best friend Norma had the coolest job of anyone I knew. She worked at the Dairy Queen. One of the perks was you could eat as much DQ as you wanted, which sounded pretty sweet until she told me she had a hard time even looking at a banana boat after the first couple of days.

But these jobs absolutely pale in comparison to the gigs scored by my personal family members in their respective college years. The Child spent one summer working with computers. ‘Yawn’, you say. Well, these computers were located here:

The Child's workplace one summer. She had her own apartment above the stables. Very Thomas Hardy-esque

The Child’s workplace one summer. She had her own apartment above the stables. Very Thomas Hardy-esque

That’s Wadhurst Park, a 900-acre estate in East Sussex. Which is in England, folks. It’s owned by the second-richest guy in Sweden. (Makes you wonder where the richest guy in Sweden lives.) Oh, and here he is, Hans. The Child said she was invited to tea with him and his wife once while she was there. The conversation was less than lively. Not sure if she met the dog.

Hans Rausing, The Child's Boss and the second-richest man in Sweden.

Hans Rausing, The Child’s Boss and the second-richest man in Sweden.

Incidentally, Hans’ dad made the family fortune by inventing the milk carton. Honest. Oh, besides owning that dog in his lap, Hans owned pigs. That’s one of them pictured at the top of this post making friends with The Child. (In addition to working with the estate computers, she performed various livestock-related duties. Including, sometimes, a bit of pig wrangling. And mucking.) Continue reading

That’s my Bob

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‘Your family is who you think your family is’

My favorite second brother Roger is many things: filmmaker, banjo player, wind miller, and maker of the best chili on the planet. Who knew he was also a trailblazer? Yes, Roger was a member of a ‘blended family’ way before ‘blended’ was a term stuck on the front of ‘family’.

See, back when Roger was just a tyke, my dad was transferred to Memphis for his job and our young family landed (somehow, I’m not sure how or why, I was only seven at the time) in a very large house near a university. To help pay the rent, my parents took in boarders — a couple of college guys, one named Bill Something-or-Other and another named Bob Sipowich. They lived upstairs, kept to themselves. Everything worked out fine. Except for the time we kids (there were three of us at this point) all came down with the measles over Christmas at my Gramma Peterson’s so we had to stay there till we got well and the boarders didn’t feed or water our parakeet Petey while we were away and he (gasp) died.

Anyway. That was traumatic. Just had to get it out.

Back to the story. Continue reading

Gone Baby Gone

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Mom Vase

‘The Nest. Is it half-empty? Or half-full?’

I think I can trace my rather non-involved mommy style back to a certain babysitting gig where I had to keep track of the kids’ poops on a chart. There were two of them (kids, that is), and a correspondingly healthy number of poops.

That, and a few other instances of dealing with what we now call ‘helicopter parenting’ put me off hovering. But I have to admit in all honesty that I was never destined to be one of those let’s-bake-a-zillion-cookies-and-then-whip-up-some-papier-mache-heads kind of moms.

The Dude (thank you!) was happy to handle Playground Duty. When the Child would say ‘Run, Mommy, run!’, I was apt to reply ‘Mommies don’t run; babysitters run’. And when well-meaning adults would exclaim Continue reading