Remember that First Job?

My in-house college student works two mini part-time jobs, and is looking for a third.  The hours are sporadic and sparse.  Barely enough to cover his required expenses, he has yet to experience the freedom of cash in the pocket.  He’s not had enough left over at the end of the week to enjoy a dinner out with friends that doesn’t involve a drive-through window.

I started my first job at 15, just months shy of my 16th birthday.  A brand new store in a brand new mall, just a mile from my house.  I rode the bus to work ‘til I was able to drive, enjoying the after school escape from babysitting younger siblings.  Destination:  Just Pants, a midwest chain of, you guessed it, just pants! 

Stacked on shelves all the way to the ceiling, the upper shelves reachable by rolling library ladders.   A ubiquitous den of denim - flared, faded, dark or army drab.  I was thrilled to be allowed to hang out in this teenage gathering spot - until I realized I was actually expected to work while I was there.  Folding, refolding, picking up off the floor, folding, taking them out of dressing rooms, refolding.  I could fold perfectly with my eyes closed, bopping to the disco music playing overhead.

But the best, the very best part of all this was earning my own paycheck.  Blue jeans at a discount, enough money for gas and Big Boy’s and some left over to go into my first savings account. 

It sure seems like my part-time job back in the early 70’s provided much bigger dividends than my college student is now reaping.   He gets it though - the connection between earning, spending, saving and the inherent adultness of it all.   And really, all the fun therein!  The no one can tell me what to do with my money pose.  The satisfaction of paying his way, wobbling his way to independence.  Don’t you just remember how good that felt!

Giant Sweetarts

I’ve mentioned here before (and on the Read our Story page and actually to anyone who will listen) my longing for Candy Raisins, discontinued since 2008 and actually the catalyst for Hometown Favorites.  Like a child waiting for Santa, I am still awaiting their return, but in the meantime, there’s another candy that’s lodged its way into my brain - Giant Sweetarts.

There are memories all over the internet about the 3” hard discs of sour/tangy sweetness, a sugar overload that’s not been duplicated in recent memory.  It would literally take days to consume this bar soap size concoction, which I think back then sold for maybe three for a dollar?  I tried to obtain a picture of one of these, because you really can’t image kids walking around with one of these giant bars, but I can’t find one!  No old ads, no faded snapshots of groups of girls chewing on these, no empty wrappers to be found.  

I think this was a girl candy, dainty pastel colors, each disc in its own cello package.  You could wrap it up each night and have at it again the next day.  After several days of afternoon Sweetart exposure, your mouth was literally raw and needed a vacation - perfect time to switch it up with some soft Candy Raisins. 

I must have consumed Giant Sweetarts in pre-boy days; I can’t imagine chomping on one of these and flirting with the neighborhood rabble rousers at the same time.   And maybe that’s why they were discontinued.  As addicting as they were, a candy that you can’t share with your buddies is kind of doomed. 

Sweetarts of course are still available, nowadays in a Chewy, smaller version, easily edible and just as tangy/sweet as I remember.  Yet not the same.  So if any of you have pictures or an old wrapper from the Giant 3” Sweetart, can you share with the rest of us?  I want to see if my teeth ache just looking at it!

Game Addiction

Someone in my household is addicted to Words with Friends. I wonder if the Friends people thanked Alex Baldwin for all the publicity he generated - I don’t think my husband (oops, I mean “one of us”) had heard of it prior to the airplane episode.

At any rate, as I watch these games go back and forth, I’m reminded of the Scrabble games we played for nights on end, circa 1990. Although we’ve played on and off most of our married life, for some reason we were stuck in a battle to the death during this time period. We had lots of teenagers then, and I think it kept us awake late into the night (OK, after 10 pm) awaiting someone’s return home.

We’d set up at the breakfast table, TV on in the background. Close enough to the kitchen to grab a late snack, but in opposing chairs, the better to eyeball the competition. We could tell by body language whether the others’ seven tiles had the potential for annihalation or were a harmless collection of E’s.

We’d yell and scream and accuse each other of cheating, keeping a running score for an entire year. The kids and their friends would walk by, rolling their eyes at our antics. Apparently, no one else’s parents played board games in plain view. Often, I think we played just for the kids’ benefit, a secret window into what married people do in real life.

I’ve threatened to get the board out again, if someone doesn’t put the smart phone down and give his wife some attention. I am quickly reminded that the 1990 Chapin Scrabble Series ended poorly for me - do I really want to stroll down that path again?

Childhood Names

When I was ten years old, my family moved from the north side of Milwaukee (buh-bye 6th Street) to the cozy suburbs, part of the mass exodus of the 60’s. We bought a house with a gigantic yard whose rear boundary abutted a similar home with another gigantic yard. The five of us kids had never moved before and during the chaos of moving day we tumbled about, dashing in and out, curious about our new neighbors.

Our parents, anxious to offload us somewhere other than in their hair, walked us quickly through the adjacent yards, intent on finding some kids for us to play with. Imagine their surprise when the kitchen door opened to a familiar face. Our backyard neighbor turns out to be one on our parents’ best childhood friends, someone who had grown up on the same street, sharing evening games of Kick the Can and Dodgeball. What are the odds of that?

But the best part of all, they had FIVE girls, very closely synchronized with the ages of my four siblings and myself. Five kids was the norm back then, but we thought we had really hit the jackpot with this gaggle of girls.

Our baby brother was on his own and soon found any number of neighboring boys to get in trouble with, but for my sisters and I, there were new best friends for all.

This all comes to mind today because of the names of these sweet girls. Here you go - Judy, Mary, Pam, Diane and Sandy. Just like that. Sandy was the baby and went by the name of Boopie, as long as I can remember. Maybe still does. But don’t those 60’s names just roll off your tongue, like the everyday little girls in our “See Dick Run” school primers?

My daughter is in the throes of naming her first child, first grandchild all around. She will remain nameless lest she kill me, but the names she is considering literally hurt my ears. Suffice to say, they are not the names of heroes or CEO’s or bible stories. We’re not veering into “Apple” territory, but I will be hard pressed to say these names roll trippingly off the tongue.

I love the simplicity of a Mary or a Pam, as perfect on the playground or in the US Senate. General Electric wants to hire a Nick or a Max, not a Sayer or Tobiah. I’m sure we will adore this little package no matter what name is bestowed, but I think we’re going to be doing a lot of “Come on in, Sport” and “What do you want for breakfast, Sweetie” as we adjust. “A Rose by any other name…?”

Valentine’s Day, mid 1960’s

I was going to wax nostalgic about how sweet our 1960’s valentine’s were, but after a bit of digital shopping, they really haven’t changed all that much in forty years!

School valentine’s cards were basically just a way for us elementary kids to break up a long winter week and sneak in a bit of extra sugar from some mom’s homemade cupcakes. Our poor teacher blithely received a desk full of pint size trinkets and treasures, although in retrospect she would probably have preferred a few bucks in a gift card.

One sided, bulk-packed Valentine cards represent what’s current and hot for the pre-teen set, and watching TV was certainly high on our list in 1964. This “Time out for a Commercial” card is spot on, since there was no fast forwarding through the commercials and the commercials were just as fun as the shows anyway. The TV looks just like our old Philco, gold dials and all. One per household, no watching anything if Dad was spending the afternoon on the couch!

I don’t remember hoping for a special valentine card from a certain someone during those years and actually I think giving out any valentine’s was way more of girl thing back then. We all got up to walk around the room, putting one properly addressed valentine in each carefully decorated shoebox recepticle. We waited ‘til we got home to empty them out on the bed, looking more for any stray candies than who sent which valentine.

Twenty years later, I was buying valentine’s for my children to hand out, checking each child’s handwritten envelopes with the class provided list. The parties were a bit more elaborate and they now almost all were accompanied by candy, but the sweetness of that day was pretty much as I remembered. To top it off, Mom and Dad actually got cards back! Those hand drawn cards, trimmed in lace doilies and hand tracings are stashed safely away, lest we forget how sweet those days were.