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Sifoddling Along

By Marilyn Carnell

Working Girl

      Don’t be fooled by the title. It is a story of jobs I had in my youth.

      In my family, you were expected to work at more than your school lessons. I first picked strawberries when I was 6 years old. Strawberries were a big cash crop when I was growing up and we got out of school in mid-May so that children could help with the harvest. Child labor was not an issue in the Ozarks in the late 1940’s. I think I got 4 cents a quart and the most I ever picked was a crate in a day. That was 24 quarts or 36 cents. It seemed like a lot to me as an ice cream cone was 5 cents and a ticket to the movie matinee was a dime. Besides I spent time with my friends who were also picking and must admit that I ate many luscious berries which might account for my low productivity. Mom packed me a lunch and it was wonderful. A boloney (bologna) sandwich on white bread with Miracle Whip and a piece of lettuce. Tomatoes didn’t come on until later in the summer. I could hardly wait for the lunch break. You can work up quite an appetite doing stoop labor. I picked berries every spring until I was about 12. No more paid work until I was 15.

      I was first hired to sit with a very old, ill woman who was from a family that my parents knew. It didn’t last very long to my great relief. It was very boring when my only job was to check and see if she was still breathing. Then I got a job at one of the two local drug stores. Hall Drugs was a real drug store. Mr. Hall concocted medicines in the back room. I don’t know what they were as I didn’t take any. Bonnie Belle had sodas and ice cream but also sold BEER in the rear of her store. Many children were not allowed to go there.

      But back to Hall’s Drug. There was a long soda counter and four or five small round wooden tables with matching chairs make of wood and bent wire. You may have never seen furniture like that, but it was common in ice cream parlors at the time. I made Coca Colas from simple syrup (made by Mrs. Hall) and Coke syrup – both poured from glass gallon jugs into the containers with hand pumps to dispense the ounce or so of each of the syrups and then ice and carbonated water added. A quick stir and Shazam! a Coke. I could also make flavored Cokes. Lemon, cherry, strawberry, even chocolate syrups could be added for variety and individual tastes. I tried them all.

      Ice cream cones were very popular and there were about 6 flavors from which to choose. Vanilla, chocolate and strawberry were the basics but there were other more exotic kinds like butter brickle, spumoni, lemon or black walnut. The latter is still made by Braum’s Ice Cream company in Oklahoma and sold in the region. I try to buy a cone when I go back to visit the area. I ate a lot of ice cream that summer and the only thing that kept me from gaining weight was walking to and from work and swimming at least an hour a day in the creek. In addition to Cokes, I made milkshakes and malts, ice cream floats and sundaes. Other merchandise included comic books (I got to take home any that were out of date and had the cover torn off – a perk.)

      The Hall’s were wonderful to me and taught me how to work with the public. My summer there was not without mishaps. A woman I knew asked me to help her find a product. I loudly said, I don’t think we have any ____. My Aunt Etta was in the store at the time and quickly took me aside and told me that it was a personal product and I should be quiet. I had never heard of birth control at the time, much less a product for it.

      The next spring I got a job at The Cove cafe in Lanagan about 3 miles from Pineville. The Brune family had built an amazing business around the best fried chicken in the area. My friend, Barbara also worked there and she taught me the ropes. She carefully explained that the vinegar and oil “crooks” (cruets) and salt, pepper and sugar containers at the center of each table was to be kept scrupulously clean, to serve from the left and clear from the right and other waitress skills.

      I learned to like a grilled cheese and ham sandwich, a glass of buttermilk and pecan pie a la mode for lunch or dinner; whichever meal I worked. I got to eat other things as well, but that was a favorite. Most of the owner’s family was nice, but Mrs. Brune was a terror. One of the waitresses chose a passive-aggressive way to fight back. She would lick the spoon before setting the place for Mrs. Brune. I was shocked (and impressed) by her actions.

      The summer of 1958 I got a waitress job at Ginger Blue a popular resort also in Lanagan, but about a mile further away from Pineville. We had two cars, but Mom sacrificed hers for the summer so that I could drive to work. My waitressing job could not exist today, but in 1958 there seems to have been no problem. My hours were from 7 am to 2 pm. Up at six and dressed in my white nylon uniform and a black apron, I served breakfast and lunch to the guests. I was off from 2 pm until 5 pm. (During that time I swam in the resort pool for about an hour and then took a nap in a cottage they provided for the help. I changed into the dinner uniform: dark gray nylon and a sparkling white apron. I served dinner from 5 pm until 10 pm. The resort could not serve liquor by the drink, but we sold a lot of set ups for the BYOB crowd. Sometimes from 2 to 5 there were bridge club meetings. My take was that when I was old, I hoped I could avoid having purple hair, red fingernails and only bridge to occupy my mind. I think I have done fairly well with that resolve.

      The food at Ginger Blue was excellent. All cooked from scratch and local foods were emphasized. I remember that country ham with black eye gravy, fried catfish, trout (that I boned at the table) and prime rib au jus were the most popular items. I could carry 7 salads in wood bowls balanced on my arm and serve them properly from the left. The waitresses (there were four of us. Three middle aged women who worked every summer and collected unemployment in the winter and me.)

      Ginger Blue was charming and similar to the old hotels in the east like the Catskills or Poconos. The same people came for one to two weeks every year. It was furnished with authentic antiques, had live organ music every night and customers loved to sip their bourbon and branch water sitting on the long porch overlooking Elk River. There were many amenities for the guests – swimming pool, tennis courts, a riding stable and canoes. The nearby small towns offered movie theaters, dancing and “bucket of blood” bars. Something for all tastes.

      I worked at Ginger Blue for four summers and earned enough money to buy clothes, books and an occasional treat during each following college year. I was paid 50 cents an hour plus tips, worked 7 days a week with the hours listed above. It wasn’t a hardship, I didn’t mind working hard and being busy. During the school years I worked at college jobs. At Stephens I was a waitress in the dining room. At the University of Missouri, I worked for a while in the Meat Lab measuring the size of boar meat pork chops. After being groped by a male staff member, I quit and got a job at the MU Med center as a food service supervisor. One year I ran a little short. I wrote my parents that I needed $10. The next week I got a check for $10 from my Daddy. The note said, “Enclosed check. Love, Pater” as he signed the few notes he wrote to me over the years.

      The next year I graduated from the University of Missouri with a B.S. in Home Economics with an emphasis on nutrition. Ginger Blue became a distant memory as I embarked on a career as a dietitian and food scientist. Those years were also filled with work, but much more conventional than my early jobs.

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