Editor’s Note: This blog appeared on Dec. 14, 2012. John is taking the day off in anticipation of the Memorial Day weekend. His regular video blog will be available for downloading Saturday morning.
Pots and pans, lots of pots and pans.
That is how I remember my first job. Those darned pans and a workplace that was hot in the summer and cold in the winter, unless, in the winter, the nearby kettle was being was fired to cook apples, cherries or, my holiday favorite, brandied mince meat. In the summer, that darned kettle just heated up the joint.
I grew up in a retail bakery in Tyler, Texas, a beautiful little city about 110 miles east of Dallas. It was an upscale community populated by wealthy oil and gas executives, physicians, lawyers, engineers, educators and the like. It was a great place for a retail bakery and my parents made a nice living.
My Dad and Mom were depression era survivors who worked hard to help their families get through those dismal times in American economic history. They probably had to walk three miles to school through the snow, but that is another story. They thought nothing of conscripting two of their sons to help in the bakery every summer and during the holidays.
My older brother had considerable artistic talent, so he decorated cakes. I was known more for my people skills, so I was assigned to wash the pots and pans and clean the production area at the end of the day. This was a very busy but very small bakery and there was no automatic pot washing machine except me.
Don’t get me wrong; while it was hot, hard, dare I say back-breaking work, I loved making money. I liked to be able to buy my own clothes, buy gas for the car that my parents provided, and to have money for the movies. During the holidays, there was a side benefit: the smells of pumpkin pie, the aforementioned brandied mince meat and everything else that came out of the Village Bakery ovens. There is something really special about the holiday smells in a bakery.
It was just those darned pots and pans that frustrated me. On a busy day, I bet I had to wash — wrestle – each of them at least seven or eight times. My least favorite among the pots was a very large, 20-gallon copper bowl that fit on the kettle. I hated that pot. I could start the day with a fresh face, clean apron and a smile, but by the third time the pot came to the sink I would be covered with soot from the bottom of the pot from the open flame kettle. That pot had to be scrubbed clean and the look on my smeared face was not a smile. Large counter pans loaded with very sticky cherry, apple or pecan pie filling that boiled over in the oven had to be hand scraped and washed. There were usually 75 to 100 of these on a busy day. Then there were the dozens upon dozens of cake pans, cookie sheets and what seemed liked hundreds of measuring bowls, cups and utensils. Would it ever end?
You are probably waiting for the morally redeeming lesson from this servitude. OK, here it is: when your Dad asks you to help, you have few; no, you have no options so you might as well make the best of it. I learned that life is full of those types of situations – few or no options, so I have tried to make the best of each one.
So what lessons did I try to teach my kids?
Flash forward: running a search firm is a different deal so my sons worked as waiters and hosts in the restaurant business while in high school and college. There were things about their jobs they hated as much as I disliked that monster copper bowl and, like me, they were not shy about venting their frustrations. But they always worked and, for the most part, did not complain about the reality. My stepdaughters did the same. They had interesting internships working for PR and marketing agencies, USA Network, ABC News and CNN.
Finding a job for college students today is a very challenging wall to climb. But for those graduates with good grades, a useable degree, a solid work history, and the grit and perseverance to do the best work possible at a job no matter how menial, then the wall may be just a bit lower.
Personal Note: My parents purchased the Village Bakery in 1953, five years after it opened. They sold it to the current owners in 1983. My dad was a very talented man, a hard worker — a master baker in the southern tradition. He was highly regarded in the community for his integrity and commitment to excellence and my mother was at his side all the way. They were together in love, friendship and business.
My incredible stepdaughters and sons are now settling in with their own wonderful lives – marriage, jobs and families. They, too, seem to have mastered their own lessons of life, sans the pots and pans.
© 2021 John Gregory Self