I started working when I was 16 years old, and except for brief periods when I was in school or laid off in recent years, I’ve worked ever since. Some jobs have been short-lived but interesting – like working security in a bar. Some jobs have been far less interesting but lasted a lot longer – like the three years I was a collections paralegal.
No matter what the job was, I’ve always been thankful just to have a job.
What I think about sometimes when I hear Michael complaining about something at work is: you need to be thankful to have ANY job.
Why do people in my son’s generation think the world owes them a fabulous job, when they haven’t earned it through hard work and/or education? Are we raising generations who cannot understand delayed gratification because everything is so instant now?
There’s a photo that goes around Facebook pretty often that shows an old-fashioned library and someone looking through the card catalog and the caption is along the lines of “This was the equivalent of Google, back in the day.”
I recall spending hours and hours in the library, researching papers for school, going home exhausted and having to manually type the paper on a typewriter, after painstakingly writing it out in longhand.
Michael’s generation (most of them) will never know that feeling of working your butt off in the library for a good grade, while also working, and also living on a very tight budget.
My father was a fine example of a great work ethic. He grew up during the Depression and had to work his way through college and work his butt off for everything in life. Nothing was ever handed to him. He went to work when it snowed, or when he was sick, and he usually worked 9-12 hours a day, almost never just 8 hours. He brought work home. He got calls from customers night and day, even when he was on vacation.
My mother started working at 15 and worked all through high school and college, and in the early years of her marriage. Nothing was ever just handed to her either. She didn’t stop working until she was pregnant with my brother and the school forced her to resign because she was visibly pregnant. She then worked her butt off at home, taking care of her family for the next 40+ years - while also doing a lot of room mothering and charity work. [ She deserves a great deal of respect for the 24/7 work she did, which I don’t take for granted.]
Dad helped me and my brother find jobs when we were young but he always told our bosses, “If Dee/Bruce doesn’t do a good job, fire her/him. I won’t hold it against you.” We always felt obligated to work harder than anyone else because we didn't want to incur Dad's wrath.
The first paying “job” I had was to go down to the bank with my dad and file stuff in the vault in the trust department. I was about ten years old. That bank, Valley Fidelity in Knoxville, had their own large vault and hundreds of trust department files, and a big stack of filing. I knew my ABC’s and I wasn’t afraid to get on the big ladder and haul down heavy, dusty old files. Dad paid me $1 an hour. I was bored silly but I liked having the money.
My favorite thing to do with my money – besides buy candy – was to go to the White Store and buy 3 records, 45 rpm records [2 songs, 1 on each side]. I could get 3 for $1. I amassed a huge collection of 45’s that way.
My next job was babysitting around the neighborhood, when I was 11. I looked about 15 and I was pretty mature. My parents were always close by and sometimes they stepped in to help me. One time some little boys [neighbors] tied me in a chair and then ran amok throughout the house. Another time the baby I was sitting for wouldn’t hush crying and I was at my wit’s end. I called Dad and he came and held the baby and walked him and he quieted right down.
[In hindsight I realize that however much I like babies, I’m not sure I possess the patience one needs to be a good parent to a baby or toddler. It was probably best that I skipped that and adopted older kids.]
I did a lot of babysitting, and 95% of the time I handled things well and had no issues. Babysitting is a great “first” job for any kid. You have to be patient with the kids and you have to be responsible and level-headed. You certainly learn project management.
My worst babysitting experience was when I was alone with a rambunctious toddler whose single mother liked to date a lot and hadn't bothered to potty train him. He was not happy with me and took off his diaper and pooped on the floor, then laughed hysterically at my horrified face. I cleaned it up and thought I won't be back here ever again. Yikes. (As I recall, the mom wasn't a regular customer of mine; I just took the job because my friend Kristy had something else to do that night and I was doing her a favor.)
I didn’t get my first “real” job until I was 16, but it was a terrific job. Dad knew the editor of the Knoxville Journal, and he let me work in the summer as a Copy Clerk. I didn’t feel guilty for getting the job through the “old boy” network because I was actually over-qualified, and I had Dad’s warning in my head at all times, to wit: work hard and don’t embarrass me.
The clerk position was easy. I just did a lot of small jobs nobody else wanted to do, like putting gas in the company cars, or running errands for the reporters, or going to the courthouse and copying down the names of everyone getting marriage licenses. The Journal had a popular “I See By” column. Everyone in Knoxville read the I See Bys. We published marriages, divorces, and real estate transfers.
I worked from 12:30 until 8:30 because it was a morning paper. I learned how to walk around downtown Knoxville with confidence, and it was great experience. I had to learn not to be shy around people I didn’t know. I also had to parallel park on the Church Street bridge every day, which was a trial by fire in my enormous old Plymouth.
I occasionally got to write feature stories, if I came up with an idea the editor liked. I still have a scrapbook of yellowed clippings of all my stories.
I had been writing for my school newspapers for three years when they hired me as a Copy Clerk at the Journal. I had been the Features Editor for two of those years. When I turned in my first story for the Journal, the editor said “You can’t use so many big words, Dee. We write on a 5th grade level. Re-write it and make it simpler.” I was then 17 years old.
The newsroom was filled with fascinating characters. One of the male reporters looked like a model and had multiple girlfriends. He used to call me up, hungover, and tell me to go clock him in, but not when the boss was looking. "I'm chasing down a lead/heading to an interview/etc." he would say.
The reporters working the crime beats always had these big bulky police scanners on their desks and they listened in on all the police calls. Occasionally they would hear something and jump up, excitedly, and run out of the newsroom. “There’s a fire at a warehouse and two people are presumed dead!” for example.
I always kind of wished I could “ride along” with them when they went to those crime scenes.
One of my duties was to monitor the wire machines and make sure they had enough paper. Seeing the AP stories coming over the wire was thrilling, in those pre-internet days. I sometimes quietly called home and told Mom things like “Iraq just started a war with Iran!” because my mom was/is a news junkie and those were the days before we had cable and could watch CNN 24 hours a day.
One lady reporter was in her 40’s and often showed up looking really unkempt, like she’d slept in her clothes. She’d douse herself with a perfume called Jungle Gardenia, and between that and her cigarettes, she reeked. I avoided her desk and the immediate area. Looking back, now I realize she was likely an alcoholic.
She was not a nice person, but I felt a bit sorry for her because some of the male reporters made fun of her behind her back, and she could write as well as they could.
Probably the most fascinating episode during that job was when a gunman took hostages in a building right across the street from the Journal, and the police were involved and it was quite thrilling. (I found an old clipping about it here.) There was a huge bank of windows and we had to get on the floor in case the crazy guy tried to shoot across the street at us.
The last few months I worked there I had to relinquish my copy clerk position to a journalism student and work in the “morgue” while also going to high school my senior year. (I only went to school in the mornings.) Newspapers kept their past stories in hard copy in a big room called the morgue, filed by subject. There were clippings from the 1920’s up to then  and often there were glass plates with old photos on them. It was fascinating. Mostly I just filed, but sometimes I’d read the files, just out of curiosity.
I didn’t take the money I earned at the Journal ($3.35/hour) and blow it on partying. Every cent went into a bank account and paid for my first semester of college tuition.
My next paying job was actually singing in the chorus of our local dinner theater – doing Hello Dolly, 6 nights a week and 2 matinees. I made $35/week – half what everyone else made, since I was only a senior in high school. (The owner was a really cheap guy.) He had made an old barn into a dinner theater, and the stage was in the middle, so it was theater in-the-round. To go from one place to another “backstage” you actually had to go outside, or through the kitchen, which was kind of a scary place at night after they cleaned up and shut it down.
My “dressing room” was the waiter station. I learned how to dress and undress without anyone seeing anything. I wore a voluminous period costume, which helped.
My favorite story about that job was the time just before singing the finale when I was rushing around outside and a bug flew up my nose. I was so horrified, I was blowing my nose and trying not to vomit, and really not happy. Everyone else thought it was funny. The director said later to all of us “I LOVED the energy in the finale! Keep that up!” Someone said “there was a bug up Dee’s nose!” Needless to say, the energy was never as high any other night..
One of my fellow cast members was a 19 year old UT freshman named Dale Dickey. Dale now has a thriving career in Los Angeles, and appears in lots of movies and TV shows. Every time I see her I am taken aback, but also thrilled, for her.
I loved Hello Dolly and I never got sick of the show. Everyone else got tired of it pretty quickly but I never did. I was always just thrilled to be there and thrilled someone was paying me to sing. [I had a really powerful 3+ octave voice.]
That experience – and being in other plays over the years – made me completely unafraid of speaking to a group.
In the summer of 1980 I was in college and I didn’t work. I took a full load of classes and worked my fanny off academically.
In the summer of 1981 I had two jobs. One was a temporary job that last just a few weeks. The city of Knoxville had paid for a photographer to take aerial photos of all the houses in Knoxville to show how much heat was being lost due to poor insulation. I was assigned to be in different libraries around town with the photos, and I helped people find their home and look at it on the photo. Then we gave them information on how to make their home more energy efficient.
When that job ended, I was unemployed for a few weeks. One day the chairman of the board of the bank was at the house and I asked him if there were any open jobs at the bank. I spent a couple of months riding back and forth to work with Dad, who wasn’t happy about me working at the bank but not under his supervision. I was in a different department, helping to file checks and count checks and get check statements ready to mail. It was tedious. However, I heard a lot of gossip – which is likely Dad wasn’t keen on me working there. A bank in a small town is a hotbed of gossip.
The next summer  I went to summer school at UGA, thrilled to be able to live in my own tiny efficiency apartment just off campus. I didn’t work.
The summer of 1983, between my junior and senior years, I worked at the Children’s Museum in Oak Ridge. I taught sewing and art, to kids whose parents were just trying to avoid paying a babysitter. They thought saying “my child is in arts camp at the museum” sounded better, I suppose, although the quality of instruction was pretty awful. The kids didn’t want to be there. I did NOT enjoy it. I was basically just there trying to keep the kids from climbing the walls.
The next summer, after graduation, I got my first post-college job, selling books at the Gateway bookstore in Oak Ridge. I will write an entire blog about that one day. It was a great learning experience.
Every job I’ve ever had has given me skills I needed – life skills as well as job skills. I’ve never expected any job to be easy, or any employer to take it easy on me because I was Tony Thompson’s daughter, or a female, or because I had a master’s degree. Kids today need to understand that the world owes them nothing. They need to raise themselves up to the level of the employer’s expectations, not expect any employer to just kiss their feet because they put down their phones for 5 minutes and work.
When I was 19, if someone had told me my 19 year old son would one day be able to carry a tiny computer in his pocket that would function as a phone/radio/tape recorder/calculator/movie screen/flashlight, etc. I would have laughed.
Imagine what Michael’s 19 year old son will be able to do one day. It's boggles my mind. I just hope my grandson will understand how important it is to work hard.