Odd Jobs

This strange spring of rain and illness has thrown me off my rhythm. Or maybe I’m ready for a new rhythm as a big birthday looms.

Next week I’ll consider the new era I’m entering. Reflecting on the past, I realized I’ve had some odd and interesting jobs.

My first real job after a short baby-sitting career (I wasn’t very good) was my teenage dream job, a soda jerk in an old-fashioned pharmacy with a marble-topped soda fountain counter. We used to go downtown on Friday nights, when Dad got paid and the bank and stores on Main Street were open. We’d cash Dad’s check, shop, then have a treat at Harter’s Pharmacy, where we knew the owner. When I turned 16 I asked him for a fountain job, which paid 65 cents an hour. Dream job it was not: on my feet, serving cokes and sodas and “phosphates” (soda water mixed with flavored syrups), and sometimes waiting on people in the drugstore itself. It was embarrassing when a guy came in and shyly asked for the pharmacist–we knew he wanted condoms. It was funny when the boss wasn’t there and the sub was a woman.

The view of the Huron County Courthouse diagonally across from Harter's--my view from behind the marble counter.

The view of the Huron County Courthouse diagonally across from Harter’s–my view from behind the marble counter. (photo commons.wikimedia.org)

I didn’t last long because the Saturday hours conflicted with extracurricular activities, and Mr. B. gently suggested I should focus on school, so I quit.

In my senior year, the owner of a lumber company asked my bookkeeping teacher to recommend a student to work part-time, and he suggested me. I loved that job! The owners, Bill and Fran Dreyer, were extremely nice, and Mrs. D. taught me a lot. My job was accounts receivable, long before computers, but I had a machine that printed out invoices. I also did some spreadsheet work, purchasing and working with stock. Except for Mrs. D. and me, the other employees and most of the customers were men, and as a young, fairly cute teen, I enjoyed the camaraderie. As Dreyers trusted me more and more I got to do errands in their huge station wagon, going to the bank or making an out-of-town delivery. I worked through the summer after graduation and over the Christmas holiday from my freshman year of college. (Please do not tell anyone I have bookkeeping and accounting experience.)

When I dropped out of college at the end of my freshman year, my geology prof recommended me for a job at the U.S. Geological Survey in Washington. At that time, the division where I worked as a secretary was in the Natural History Building of the Smithsonian, so I visited the giant elephant or the Hope Diamond on my lunch hour. My office overlooked the Justice Department building and I sometimes saw Bobby Kennedy’s limo drop him off at work. Geologists are great fun. I worked in the Paleontology and Stratigraphy Division, which basically means rocks and fossils. One of the geologists had worked on the Mohole Project in the 1950s, and I loved working with him. Not only did the job increase my love of science and geology, I got to perform in the annual “Pick and Hammer Show,” U.S.G.S.’s version of a gridiron show. That year’s show was called “The Weaning of the West,” and it was about John Wesley Powell, one of the great unsung heroes of the exploration of the West–and he had only one arm!

Smithsonian Natural History Museum. My office was on the sixth floor of the East wing, to the right.

Smithsonian Natural History Museum. My office was in the East wing, to the right.

Lobby

Lunchtime visits took me here.

Lunchtime visits often took me here. (photos Smithsonian web site)

When I moved to Connecticut for my new husband’s job, my geology connections led me to another secretarial job, this time in the geology department at Wesleyan University. The head of the department was also lead teacher for a science-for-non-science-majors course, and I was the course secretary. Again I had the great pleasure of working with scientists–this time not just geologists, but astronomers, physicists, chemists and biologists. Once again I learned a lot. But what was weird was my husband, a writer for Wesleyan University Press, was considered “faculty,” so when we went to faculty events I was about the same age as the student bartenders–a bit awkward.

Beautiful campus in Middletown, Connecticut

Beautiful campus in Middletown, Connecticut  (photo sightlines.com)

The Viet Nam war was heating up and my husband joined the Naval Reserve, which took us to Coronado, California. I worked at the North Island Naval Air Station, while he was assigned to the Coronado Amphibious Base as a photographer for UDTs and Seals. My unit processed orders for civilian tech reps being sent out to the Pacific Fleet, so again I worked with some very interesting people, both military and civilians, and I got to watch the big Pacific Fleet carriers come and go (e.g. the Bonne Homme Richard, affectionately called the “Bonnie Dick.”) We lived two blocks from the beach in Coronado. Not bad.

Our tiny garage apartment was a short walk from the beach and Hotel del Coronado. But the bridge wasn't there then. (photo sandiego.com

Our tiny garage apartment was a short walk from the beach and Hotel del Coronado. But it was before the bridge was built. (photo sandiego.com)

North Island Naval Air Station.

North Island Naval Air Station (photo defencetalk.com)

After he left the Navy, my husband got a newspaper job in Ohio and we started our family. When we moved back to the D.C. area I attended Northern Virginia Community College for graphic design training. After we moved to Texas and the kids were older, I got a part-time job as art director for a weekly newspaper, which was never a dull moment. After a divorce I needed more income so I went back to school for a degree while still working at the paper, which eventually folded. Next I had two secretarial jobs, one as office manager at an organization that provided GED and job training for dropouts, the other as executive secretary to the CEO of the Texas Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber connections helped me get into my field, a communications position at the Texas Department of Agriculture, during which time I wrote the occasional speech for then-Commissioner Rick Perry (yes, that one). Next was the job from which I retired, Public Information director for the Texas Medical Board. It tapped into my communications and design strengths in an environment of dedicated people doing valuable work. I loved the 12 years I spent there.

Retirement is still the best gig ever, and my current occupation is writer/artist/poet/grandma.

Doing my favorite thing with two of my favorite people.

Doing my favorite thing with two of my favorite people.

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3 responses to “Odd Jobs”

  1. Lindy Le Coq says :

    Such resilience and continual learning. Keep writing about it — this is insightful.

  2. wigginswordsandimages says :

    Thank you, Lindy. I seem to be writing a memoir blog-by-blog, but if I develop it into a full memoir I’d go into more detail about some of the insights and characters I’ve encountered along the way. I follow your blog and love your photos.

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