Sunday, September 1, 2013

Happy Labor Day: Time to Rest

That's me right now, dog tired and ready for bed. I think I'll write this post and play the rest of the weekend. It's Labor Day weekend after all. But first, let me digress a bit, and recall some of my working days.

My first job (aside from babysitting) was picking raspberries on a large farm in Puyallup (WA). I was a city girl (Tacoma), so waiting on the corner for the hay truck to arrive and then riding in the back with others my age was fun. I was 14. But it didn't last long. My girlfriend and I had a bit too much fun one day and got kicked off the farm for a berry fight.

My second job was sales clerking and modeling for a Tacoma department store. I was on the store's fashion board for my high school and one of my duties was to write a fashion article for the local newspaper. Looking back, I was pretty proud of that piece. I was 16 and worked on and off for three more years. 

My third job was in college working for the school's food service. I worked in the back filling the dishwasher and cleaning tables. Not a pretty job, now that I think of it, but it provided the spending money my blue collar parents could ill afford. I was their only child of three to attend a 4-year college.

My fourth job was in Tacoma with Pacific Northwest Bell Telephone as a telephone operator. It was the scariest job I had ever attempted. Training was quite intense for the next month. One other girl training with me actually gave up and quit. Our office covered a large lata of cities, and calls to the state capitol, Olympia, were not uncommon. Person to person calls to the governor or a congressman's office were the scariest. All operators had to be trained in proper protocol. Emergency calls required special training as well. It was also during the Vietnam War. I learned how to patch calls to soldiers in the field and their wives at two nearby bases, Fort Lewis and McChord. I was 19 and also engaged to be married.   

My fifth job was to occur in Biloxi, Mississippi, where my new husband (Vince) was stationed in the Air Force. The job never happened. The plan was to transfer to Southern Bell Telephone, but the weekend of my arrival Hurricane Camille hit. The storm struck with a fury and destroyed much of the gulf coast. Over 100 people died in Biloxi alone. Telephone lines were down, electricity was out, and water had to be trucked in when it was over. The area was devastated for months to come. The telephone company gave me a leave of absence for the next six months.  

My fifth job finally materialized with Southwestern Bell in Clovis, New Mexico where Vince was stationed next. It was an old fashion office, compared to the modern Tacoma office. The switchboard cords were twice the diameter, and numbers were actually dialed on rotary dials, instead of key pads. We had pencils with big fat balls that we used to dial the numbers. "One ringey-dingey, two ringey-dingey...." Does anyone remember that line in comedian Lily Tomlin's operator skit? That was me in Clovis! How funny that office was, as I think back. It is also where I got sent home for wearing culottes. Dress codes were so strict then (another story....).

My sixth job was back in Tacoma with Pacific NW Bell again. Vince had been sent to a remote base in Turkey for a year. The only good thing about that year was meeting Vince in Germany for R&R. We had three wonderful weeks together.

My seventh job was in Macon, Georgia with Southern Bell. Vince was stationed about 30 miles away in Warner Robbins. Still an operator, I felt I had found the perfect position for transferring in the telephone company. Bell operators had the same training all over the country. But I had another unexpected learning curve while there. In the 1970s racial tension in the south was still pretty high. On the job discrimination was illegal but practiced nonetheless. I struggled too with the southern dialect, which often sounded like a different language. My ear never adapted. I was there about a year, until our daughter was born.

 My eighth job was in Olympia, WA with Pacific NW Bell again.. Vince was out the service and had decided to go to school. Jobs were in short supply for ex-military, but the phone company again came through for me. I hated working with a three month old baby at home, but one of us had to work. The job lasted about a year. I was pregnant with my son and morning sickness was hard. I quit and we decided to live cheaply so I could stay home. 

My ninth job was with General Telephone in Moscow, Idaho three  years later (eventually in Pullman, WA across the border). Finances were tight and I returned to work with a heavy heart. My son was three, and daughter five. I started as a telephone operator, but worked several other positions over the next 15 years. Eventually, the office was shut down, as many other phone company offices began doing across the nation. The industry was changing rapidly as new telephone technology advanced. As I sit playing with apps on my new Android smart phone, I think what a different world it is today. 

My Tenth and most recent job (outside the home) was with Washington State University, where I edited food science articles and books for a food engineering professor and his team. It lasted ten years, and I was ready to leave when the time came. Writing fiction and reading food science manuscripts is really a conflict of interest.

And so, my eleventh job is here, with this blog, and the writing I am doing on my novel. It is perhaps the job I have wanted to do most. Here is some food for thought: "Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else." (James M. Barrie)

How about you? Do you have a long roll call of jobs, too, or are you just starting out? You might be surprised at just how hard you have already worked!    

Copyright 2013 © Sharon Himsl


  1. I have known you for many years, but I still learned so much about you from this post. You've lived a very interesting life, and even this doesn't includ all of the places you've lived or visited, but only where you've worked. Interesting!

  2. Thanks, Cathy! I find that writing about my life really cements my experience. It is online scrapbooking so to speak. Very therapeutic! I have learned so much about you too at your site, and other bloggers. It is one of the sweet surprises and BEST benefit of blogging. Hope the campout is going well (are you are still there?).

  3. Wow, that's a lot of jobs. I'm such a slacker ;).

  4. Hi Liz. It all adds up over time. You don't sound like a slacker to me -:)

  5. You have been busy! Whilst reading your post I was thinking how many jobs I've had...nowhere near as many as you.

    I left school and went to work in a cigarette factory, then in the parts department of the local garage, followed by van driver, then sales, and after that I had five years off having babies and raising them. Hardest job I ever did! I also worked behind the bar of the local pub three nights a week.

    When they went to school I went back into sales, and I've been there for the last 16 years! How time flies...

    1. Oh, I bet the cigarette factory was interesting. Smoking used to be acceptable before we learned how unhealthy it is. Oh so right about raising children. Not easy at all, but somehow it all worked out and still does.

  6. I was most interested in the leap from the telephone companies to editing. I've had heaps of jobs but the major ones have been taxi driver, used syringe collector and now English language teacher. When I go from part time writer to full time writer, I will have "made it" all the way. :)

    1. Oh, a taxi driver...neat. What a great source of ideas that must be in your writing.

  7. Cool jobs, they sound very story-worthy:)

    1. It was fun making a list. (I did not expect to see so many!)

  8. That's quite a job history! Automation helps in a lot of ways, but I'm sad at the demise of telephone operators. Now you have to jump through so many hoops and wait so long to talk to real people and who knows where they are when you get them.

    Someday I'll have to go back and do a job rundown like you suggest. Just bringing the thought to mind makes me realize I've worked in a lot of different places.

    Wrote By Rote

  9. Thanks for reading, Arlee. Haven't heard from you in awhile! In the beginning telephone operating was an interesting job, but so boring (and frustrating as you point out) when equipment took over. One of my favorite operator stories was giving directions to a young man on how to cook roast beef and helping an elderly woman who had accidentally sprayed hair spray in her eyes get help.


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