My first job: The local grocer

A woman shops apples in the fruits produce section of a supermarket.

We've been asking the past week or so for stories of first jobs.

Today, a first job from a different time. Carla Erdmann from Green Bay, Wis.,  just retired from a career in the health insurance industry, but her first job was at age 16 in 1959. It was in a small neighborhood grocery store on the east side of Milwaukee.

"The new job gave me a sense of accomplishment," she said. But then, one day, her boss came to her house and told her mother why Carla couldn't work at the store anymore. 

Listen to the audio above for the full story, and click here to hear about others' first jobs.

What was your first job? What did you learn? Comment below, on our Facebook page or tweet us @MarketplaceAPM with #MyFirstJob.

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This topic inspired me to create a website where people can share their inspiring job stories, the ones which made a difference in their lives. In today's times where so many people are looking for jobs these stories, I feel, will help motivate these people as well as the ones who are making a career change. This site will help your story become a case study for everyone to get inspired or motivated.

Please do share your stories at www.yourjobstory.com. Thanks

In 1972, I graduated from UC Davis with a degree in English. By July I had not been able to find a job so I signed up with an employment agency in San Francisco. That afternoon, a Thursday, they sent me out to interview for a job as a receptionist in an office on Montgomery Street. The office manager listened to my voice over the telephone to see if I was fit for the job. I passed the test and was told that the job was mine if I would agree to pay the finder’s fee. The agency would take it out of my check for the next six months.

The offices were on the 25th floor of the Equitable Building, which at the time was a pretty toney address. The Bank of America building has just been built and they were putting the finishing touches on the TransAmerica Pyramid. The neighborhood was bursting with energy and importance.

On Saturday my mother and I found a room at a boarding house on Stockton Street. There was a little sink in the corner and a bathroom down the hall. They served breakfast and dinner in a dining room in the basement. I went deeper into debt and borrowed money from my parents for the first month’s rent.

Bright and early Monday morning I reported to Charles Schwab, or Chuck as we called him, for my first day of work. At the time, there were less than 10 people in the office in San Francisco. There was another office in San Rafael, which had even fewer people. And that was it, the entire global operation.

We had “Investment Indicators” a monthly newsletter for subscribers and a mutual fund, First Commander, which had been frozen by the SEC. My first task every morning was to stop and buy the trader’s breakfast. This really frosted me because I was a college graduate and the trader had not finished high school. After that I had to open the mail and deposit the checks for newsletter subscriptions in the bank. The rest of the day was spent typing form letters to people who had invested in the mutual fund and answering the telephone. The form letters were a challenge because computers didn’t exist and Chuck did not allow any corrections. I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out how to hide my corrections, which was difficult since I also had to make carbon paper copies of every letter.

At Christmas time I received a generous bonus – a month’s salary or $525. I had never heard of bonuses so I was thrilled. I went right out and spent every dime on clothes at Joseph Magnin’s. I got a stunning chocker with red velvet ribbons and cherries.

In January, I was laid off. The business was barely making it and they had to cut back. But of course, as everyone knows, things really took off after I left. And I have gotten a kick out of telling people about my brush with fame and fortune.

I disagree with Carla Erdmann's charitable view of the grocer's grounds for firing her.
The man did not make a "business decision," as she claims.
He made a moral decision; I only hope he lived to regret it.

I agree with Lucasta that her boss was not making a "business decision"; he was part of the racial discrimination problem in America. I doubt i would have been as passive as Carla was when i was 16 -- i would have thanked the grocer for speaking to my mom face-to-face and then i would have asked him why his customers didn't have the nerve to speak to him in person instead of hiding behind a telephone line -- were they a little bit ashamed of what they were saying? Then i would have put Hank Williams' "Mind Your Own Business" on the record player and played it for him and asked him to ask his customers what difference does it make to them who my sister dates? And then i'd ask them if they'd feel the same way if her boyfriend were Jewish and remind them that we had just fought a war against a political party that discriminated against Jewish people.

If the grocer doesn't make a stand against racism then who will? How will anything change if everybody keeps going along with something that everybody knows is wrong? I probably would still have lost that job, but i would have felt better about trying to change his mind to set a good example for his customers to follow. Maybe my response is just the difference between boys and girls, or the difference between assertive and passive personalities. Everybody conformed to the norm back in the 1950's.

I just hope inter-racial couples have some empathy for same-sex couples who are experiencing the same discrimination from haters in America today.

My first job was on Wall Street in 1965. That’s not an opening sentence that you should expect from a Black Latina. My friend Angelina is probably the only other contemporary who can honestly make that claim.
I was a junior at St Francis Xavier Academy for Young Ladies in Brooklyn, NY. I think that one of the nuns had a well-placed relative that worked for DeCoppet & Doremus. DeCoppet was an odd lot house in an era where only round lots (100 shares) were traded on the exchange. Decoppet traded round lots and resold odd lots at a markup. DeCoppet was looking for half dozen or so girls who were really responsible and really good at math to train after school in the spring and cover for vacationing workers in the summer.
I was a range table girl. You know those “numbers” that you do every day on Marketplace and those instant quotes that you can get from so many sources over the Internet, I did the manual equivalent. The stocks on the exchange were grouped into posts. I had to memorize the ticker symbol and post for every stock. Each day I was assigned a post or a subset of very active stock symbols. I had to write the exact time, sales price, and quantity for each transaction for my assigned stocks on a large paper grid as the ticker tape rolled by. I also had to record highs and lows, and I think averages. I guess that’s where the math part came in. Clerks (all male), would call and request stock quotes and ranges for the day or for a portion of the day. I had to learn stock jargon like puts or calls and long and short. I would answer questions like, “Did AT&T sell short between 10 and 11?” "What was the high on Hooker Chemical?" I would scroll through the pages of figures and read the information to the caller. Sometimes the clerk would request that I call when the stock price or volume reached a certain threshold. As you might imagine, accuracy was essential.
I learned a lot on my first job. I met the academic and character credentials but not the visual image that the human resource folks expected. I remember them huddling almost out of earshot. “Well, let’s see how she does on the test,” I heard one of them say. Surprise! I aced it. They went back into an even longer huddle. In between puffs on cigarettes one or the other of them would glance up at me. Then one lady, the one who would later conduct the training, came over and said, “You can stay.” My classmates were very supportive. None of us had expected that I would be treated differently from everyone else. We worked the spring, summer, and continued after school senior year and another summer. Then we went to college. The following spring I called to see if I could get my old job back. I was welcomed back at an hourly rate rather than the salary we had received in the past. Even though the rate was higher, it was a significant pay cut. Full time work was about 30 hours; “banker’s hours” they called it back then. I accepted and worked two weeks before my former colleagues joined me – at a salary. We hadn’t learned the workplace taboo of never talking about our pay. I quit.
The things I recall when I think about my first job experience are largely race and gender-disparity. I know that I learned much, much more. I was exposed at an early age to the corporate world. That experience has defined my career and my life. It gave me options that I would not have had otherwise. I earned money that helped finance my education. I had an impressive resume by the time I finished grad school. That first job started me on the path of data processing skills that are still quite marketable.
As I cruise into retirement, I long for those times when people of good will recognized workplace disparity and were willing to give me a chance. I regret that young Blacks and Latinos don’t have the same opportunity today.
That I would still need to work when my early colleagues are surely retired is not so surprising; a lesson from my first job. If someone had told me that I would work nearly fifty years with an ever-shrinking percentage of Blacks and Latinos, I would not have believed it. The Civil Rights Amendment was signed the year before I started work at DeCoppet. I hear that there are people who say that Equal Opportunity laws are no longer needed. I disagree.

When I was 14 years old, I managed to talk a local all-night pancake house manager into hiring me (illegal by Texas labor laws) as a busboy and dishwasher. With a wage of $1.25/hour, I was making about $20 a week working from 5pm-5am on Saturdays and Sundays. This shift, of course, was a bad time to be wearing a funny looking paper hat and white apron because many of my friends would stop by on weekend nights and make fun of my outfit. One fall evening after a football game, a group of my buddies filled a booth, eating toast and making obnoxiously bad jokes about my attire. As I was cleaning an adjacent table, an older gentleman tapped me on the shoulder, whispered me I was doing a fantastic job, and suggested I just ignore the goofballs across the way. He shook my hand and,as he pulled away, he quietly winked and left a $20 bill in my hand. A week's wages! That was 45 years ago and I still feel every bit of the emotion I felt as I carried my dishes to the back.

Look around and recognize those who are trying hard at their jobs...it may well be the story of their lifetime!

I got my first real job when I was 16 when I was a dishwasher at a Chinese restaurant called Henry's China Inn. It was a great job - $5 an hour, under the table, 9 hours a week, all the chinese food you could ever want. All you had to do is work in a sweltering kitchen and man the Hobart machine to wash dishes. Everyone spoke Mandarin or Cantonese (I did not know which it was), except for the manager, who knew me because her daughter was close friend with an older cousin of mine. In the early spring, I simply walked up to the restaurant, which was located a few blocks from my house, asked if they were looking for help, and promptly got the job.
As dishwasher, I was actually the helper to the actual dishwasher, a terrible old man that grunted directions to me, thought I was doing everything wrong, and was never satisfied with my level of scrubbing of the pots and pans. To top it off, he skipped town on Mother's Day, leaving me with dishes until near midnight. But I still liked the job. For those who have not worked in food retail, each night starts off slow, then builds to an amazing crescendo, then slowly comes back down to normal. As the tempo increases, everything starts working like magic. There is simply no time to do anything else except focus on the task at hand. In a good kitchen, everything is in sync. Order gets sent, prepped food is thrown on the wok, and plates and pans are ready for both server and cook. I did enjoy my spare moments before or after the rush. I could sit on the railing of the rear stairway to the bottom floor and look into the woods behind the restaurant. Sometimes a family of deer would be grazing nearby, their expressions frozen as they watch me watch them. Then I would hear the familiar grunt commanding me back to my station.
I liked the head cook. He was a polite, gregarious guy who always fed me whatever I wanted on the menu. I could never tell if he was related to, friends with, or married to, the manager. I also could never really tell who owned the restaurant. In family establishments, which I imagined this restaurant was, family members work in all parts of the business, and sometimes it is hard to tell who has which job.
I worked at this job for about a year, spending my Saturdays and Sundays at Henry's China Inn. As the only non Chinese person there, I obviously did not fit in, but it didn't bother me. I was young, in high school, and I enjoyed my food and money more than becoming part of the gang. Like many youthful jobs, I started becoming less reliable the next summer and stopped working altogether after I got a regular gig working in a lab. I never said goodbye to the folks at the restaurant, and I'm sure they found someone else to take my place.
I will never forget this job. It was one of the first few tasks that I undertake completely on my own. I was a kid. I got a job. I rode my bike to the job. I took my $45. I used it to buy things on South Street and play pool in Manayunk. Even though it involved cleaning up half eaten food, it was perfect for me at the time.

My 1st job was as a sophomore in high school at Baskin Robbins Ice Cream. To this day, I LOVE ICE CREAM!!! (not like my younger sister who worked at a Mexican food place and couldn't stand the smell of tortillas for a LONG time after that).
I remember that a single dip of ice cream was 17cents...and there were LOTS of customers who came in to say "why I remember when a dip of ice cream was a nickel!" And today that same "dip of ice cream" is more like $3.75!!! I started out makeing $1.35 an hour and after two weeks got a raise to $1.65 an hour. With my 1st pay check of $99.00 (take home) I bought an FM clock radio...you know the kind where the numbers flipped as the time changed. I spent a lot of hard working days with friends dipping ice cream. And we had a lot of FUN, in spite (or maybe because of) the hard work. There was so much excitement in the faces of customers: little children getting a special treat, ladies getting a sugar fix on the sly, gentlemen trying to impress their dates! One of the best days was when a customer gave me a $10.00 tip!!!...for dipping up 2 cones! I WAS IMPRESSED!!!
I also remember that the movie theater, next door, was the only place in Dallas that showed the movie the "Excorcist" when it 1st came out...a BIG deal! We had a light green Pistachio Almond ice cream that people would take one look at and just go EEEWWWWWWWWW!!! "But it tastes so good" we would say! To each his own....my fave was Chocolate Mint!!!

In this story, the elephant in the room is racism. The 50th anniversary of MLK's March on Washington has been an opportunity to talk about racism in America; both how far we have come and how much work there is yet to do. True, this story happened in 1959, but I find it sad that no mention is made of the underlying racism at the root of this woman's story. It happened in the north and was told by a white woman. It is we white people who have a lot of work to do to eliminate racism from our culture and truly embrace the dream articulated so movingly by Dr Martin Luther King Jr 50 years ago.

When I was a junior in high school I got a job as a stock boy at a large supermarket. Being at the bottom of the pay scale meant I was given the work no one else wanted, e.g. washing out the milk cooler (a horribly smelly and sticky enterprise) or cleaning up aisle spills with mop and bucket. The only part of the job that kept me there was bagging groceries. I was (and still am) somewhat obsessive-compulsive, and I liked fitting everything exactly into the fewest bags possible. My boss, however, disapproved --customers didn't want full bags to carry, they were too heavy. The last straw came when he started sending me out into the parking lot to gather carts. It was winter in upstate New York; the lot was a wilderness of snowdrifts and icy ruts. I took to stopping at the pizza shop around the corner for a slice every time I went out. It was kind of a relief when the boss caught me outside with a piece of pizza in my hand and canned me.


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