‘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.
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.
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’.)
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.
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