I have worked since I was 14 years old. I began as an entrepreneur by running errands for the local merchants in my neighborhood. My parents got me my first client, Miss Higgins, owner of the Green Derby Pub. She had an assignment for me everyday after school. I'd go to the drugstore or the post office or maybe deliver packages somewhere. The best part of working for myself was getting paid that .50 - $1.00 each trip (plus bus fare) depending on the job. That was big money for a kid in the mid 50's. Summertime brought me new customers and my blue jeans held more change than a cash register. My folks made sure I saved most of my earnings which were held in the family bank in mom and dad's bedroom. Every night after supper I'd shake the bank that was getting heavier and heavier. I was one of the few kids in the neighborhood who could afford to pay her own way to the Saturday matinee at the Varsity Theater. Fourteen cents would buy me admission to a Technicolor double feature, World News, three cartoons, popcorn and Milk Duds. I saw a lot of movies that summer.

My parents were very proud of my accomplishments. By their example, I learned that work equaled money; you want money - you work! My folks survived the great depression and World War II. Dad worked for the Teamsters and mom was the head cook in a downtown supper club where there was singing and a big band. As hard as my parents worked, they never bought a home or ventured from the Mid-West. However, we always had food, a place to live, a car and a two-week vacation every year.

Shortly after my 16th birthday I grew tired of working for myself. I wanted a job where someone would pay me with a check; it seemed so sophisticated. The manager at the local drugstore gave me a chance to join them as they entered the world of technology. He emphasized that I was too inexperienced to be a waitress, but I would be ideal as the part-time dishwasher operator. Yup, the successful entrepreneur was now entering the professional work force as an assistant to a dishwasher machine! Those were the days when drugstores had a soda and ice cream fountain and booths where people sat and ate full course meals three times a day - and in between too! I followed the manager into a small room with cement floors and high up windows. A huge metal dome sat on the sink belching out clouds of hot steam. On its front, two pressure gauges the size of plates bulged out over a long horizontal, wooden handle - like a toothless smile. Well, barrel down the hatches, I'm in charge now! As chief operator of this machine, it was my job to clear the dishes, stack them properly in the slots until the tray was filled and then roll it into the machine. I would pull down the huge bubble cover, turn on the dial and stand back against the wall as it rumbled and spat out soap water. Once the machine started, nothing could stop it. It would take quite a few cycles before it released clean dishes. The cook would yell for "more clean dishes" three or four times before the machine would stop. Meanwhile the other side of the sink was piling up with dirty dishes. I wasn't very fast and several dishes got broken during my first week. I quit that job after a month. I figured between the free meal and broken dishes, I was saving them money. The manager said he was sorry to see me go. The cook shook his fist at me and swore under his breath as I left the store. When I told mom and dad, they just shrugged their shoulders. My experience at the drugstore taught me that working for someone else wasn't going to be easy.

I recall several times in my lifetime when I've been out of work. In most cases, I chose to leave the job; however, one boss did fire me on-the-spot. I was 17 and working after school as a stock girl in a fancy women's clothing store in downtown Milwaukee. I made up one too many excuses as to why I couldn't work on Saturdays. I soon realized the consequences of my actions. Everything I needed to know about commitment and reliability came to me in a nanno second - it was all there in my Dad's eyes. On the day I was fired, we were sitting at the supper table and Dad asked me, "How was work today, Barb?" When I answered, "Great, Dad," he looked at me and slowly turned his head away. I know I saw tears in his eyes. The manager had called my Dad that morning and told him why she had fired me. Sure he was disappointed that his daughter was so unreliable that she got canned from a part-time job, but to keep it from him and then lie - it was just too much! It's a good thing my dad never saw me wrestling with the dishwasher machine. My folks lived by a handshake and their word was as good as gold. They never missed work, paid the rent a day ahead, and were always there to help out a neighbor. Though Dad forgave me a long time before he died, I have never forgotten how deeply my lie had hurt him.

My folks adjusted to their daughter's enthusiasm of wanting to be and do all things at once, if possible. They lived through my concert pianist period (we had no piano), my ballerina craze, I was 18 and 110-lbs, too old and heavy according to the school. They held their breath when I wanted to open the "Little Red House On the Hill" restaurant with two friends. The idea was quickly abandoned for various reasons. I once sent my picture to a Hollywood producer who was looking for an unknown to play Saint Joan of Arc. I believe he discovered the late Jean Seberg during his search. I never heard from him, but I was sure I would be a great Hollywood discovery. Not!

I was 20 years old, out of high school and a dream of college was out of the question. We were poor by university and college standards and there was no Affirmative Action only achievement scholarships - I was a C- student. Besides, I wanted to get out on my own, see the world and make something of myself. How stunned my parents looked when I announced, "I want to join the Marines!" Huh?! Well, it happened, and Mom and Dad were so proud of me they could have popped. When I came home from boot camp, they insisted on having this huge party for me. I met everyone they'd ever known and most of them gave me money!

After three years in the Marines, I was honorably discharged in San Francisco and soon after got a job with a television station typing scripts for the Public Relations Director. (The sisters of St. Joseph's Grade School had taught me to type without watching the keys, but it was the Marines who insisted I not make mistakes while doing so. Eventually, I was promoted to Continuity Coordinator and my TV career was on its way. Before this job would finish the Cuban Missile Crisis would end, President Kennedy would be assassinated and Vietnam would be a household word.

In 1971, four months after Dad died, I graduated from San Francisco State University with a Bachelor's Degree. The only one in the whole family to graduate from college; how proud dad would have been to see this. The following day, two Marine Officers accompanied me back to the campus where I was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. Back in the Corps - but then, that's another story. Looking back at the different jobs I've held in my life, I can see how each has effected my growth as a person. Running errands, washing dishes, waiting on tables, working in the stock room , working as a Public Affairs Officer in the Marine Corps, producing television programs or buying and selling collectibles are all building blocks of my character.

As I grow older I realize that each workplace I've entered has been a micro-community where I've learned how to relate and accept. A place where I've accomplished tasks and attained goals. The work I've done throughout my life has taught me respect for others and the work they do. I may have moved on but the imprint of the dishwasher operator is still with me as a constant reminder that we're all a team at work. Work, a four-letter word that make's the world go round.


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