Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day: a recollection

To commemorate Labor Day, yesterday's Sunday paper featured a story about "worst jobs" people had experienced.

As diverse as my work history is, I can't match some of their stories of detasseling corn, working in canning factories, or cleaning fish. I guess my worst, or at least most challenging, would be the summer I did daycare for six: three teenagers and three toddlers. I prayed at frequent intervals throughout the day to get me through.

But as I recounted my various jobs, a funny memory came to mind the summer I was 16.

With a December birthday, most of my friends turned 16 long before I did. Mary Kay had started working in the dietary department at St. Joseph’s Hospital. Rosie worked at St. Luke’s Hospital (now United), also in the dietary department.

So the summer I was 16, I joined Rosie in the kitchen of the old brick St. Luke’s. And it was old. But not long after I started working there, we moved to a brand new part of the newly-built hospital in a much larger updated kitchen with new trays, new dishes, the works.

There we worked side by side, Rosie and I, on the dinner assembly line where we would add the salt, pepper and napkin to the tray as soon as it started its journey down the conveyor belt. Later, we'd advance to the position of “starter.” The starter's job was to prepare the tray for the line, making sure the proper pace was maintained: not too fast, not too slow.

When the patients were finished eating, and the carts were returned from the nursing stations, we’d take the dirty trays off the carts and ready them for the dishwasher.

Once we had even more experience under our belts, we graduated to “nourishments” - the snacks patients requested between meals.

At this time, Rosie and I were also double-dating, frequently going to the drive-in movies. We figured we had quite an advantage working with patient nourishments, as we could prepare food to take along to the drive-in while we prepared the patients’ snacks. Not that this was allowed, mind you. Somehow our consciences didn't stop us.

One evening, we made up bags of chicken salad sandwiches, grapes, chips and cookies. We carefully put them aside to take along when our shift was over. We'd punch the time clock, change clothes, and our dates would pick us up at the hospital.

Our mouths were watering for the great food we’d prepared.

But when we got to the drive-in and opened our bags, we discovered the goodies we had prepared for ourselves got mixed up with a patient’s.

Some very lucky patients got our windfall while we got the meager and uninteresting offerings that were meant for them.

Perhaps our consciences got the better of us, after all.