Ah, first jobs. We never really forget them, do we? Although I had several minor jobs, my first “real” job after college was working as an assistant manager at Parisian Department Store, which I see closed its doors for the final time in 2013.
I got an internship with Parisian the summer between my junior and senior years of college at IU. This was in Birmingham, Alabama — quite a move for a girl from Indiana. I remember heading down there for the summer, hoping for the best. One of the buyers at Parisian owned a house that they were willing to rent to six of us girls who were interning there for the summer, so we moved in. It was my first time to live communally with a group of girls, and I can’t say I enjoyed it a whole lot.
Four of the girls were in sororities at IU and were the typical sorority girls. They were girly and into the latest fashions. They weren’t into anything too “deep,” and in short, although there was nothing really wrong with them, they just weren’t my crowd. The other girl was pretty nasty. She continually accused one or the other of us of eating food she had purchased. I remember her accusing one of us of “smelling up” a piece of her Tupperware by putting something in it, which she couldn’t get the smell out of. It worked out that I had to ride to and from work with this girl, since she had a car and I did not. She was always very negative during these commutes, and I remember her telling me to fasten my seatbelt (back then, we didn’t always wear seatbelts 100% of the time). I was momentarily touched, thinking that she was concerned about me. But then she added, “If I have a wreck and you get hurt, I don’t want to be held responsible.” Okay then.
One night she got off work a different time than I did, and she left without me. So, I began walking home — about 5 miles along a Birmingham highway, in the heat and humidity you might imagine during an Alabama summer, in my nice dress and heels. I’d gone a mile or so when a car pulled over. I was terrified, but thankfully it turned out to be Howard the DM (can’t even remember now what that stood for, but he was a 50-ish guy from our buying office who was nice and had pity on me, seeing me walking). He took me back home.
I ended up spending many evenings in the living room of our house, working on a counted cross stitch Precious Moments nativity scene while my housemates were off somewhere. Despite the sheet we hung over the front window (no curtains), I thought that house was beautiful overall. I was enthralled with the blue and peach color scheme in the bathroom, and used it in apartments of my own later. Ah, the 1980s …
After I graduated, Parisian offered me a full-time job. So, I moved to Birmingham in January, 1987, and into my own apartment.
Parisian — Vestavia Hill
First, I was assigned to the lingerie department at their Vestavia store (Vestavia is a Birmingham suburb). This is the photo you see at the top — that’s me in navy, and my department manager Sandra behind me. Sandra was sweet and helpful, a real southern belle. But I recall even during my three months at this store, feeling a bit disillusioned as my afternoon task was to “reorganize the panty table.” Was this really why I had earned a college degree? In the photo, I love our ’80s perms. And the lady at the back right looks like she stepped out of “The Golden Girls”!
Parisian — Five Points West
After three months, I was transferred to Parisian’s “Five Points West” store, in the juniors department. There, I worked with Shelia (yes, spelling is correct — she told me with rolled eyes that her mom had not known how to spell it). She was just a few years older than me, and became more like a friend than a boss. She wasn’t real happy with her job and was always looking for something else she might do.
The Five Points store was in a strip mall, and I remember on my breaks often walking out to the Krispy Kreme in the parking lot and treating myself to a doughnut. It felt so good to be on my own, with my own money to spend — even on little things. This store wasn’t in the greatest part of town, but in my youthful enthusiasm I never really worried for my safety (here’s a neat site with a photo of the shopping center. I even see the Krispy Kreme in the parking lot!)
Parisian — Eastwood
My final three months at Parisian were spent at the Eastwood store at Eastwood Mall, which I read was one of the South’s first and largest malls when it was built (it was demolished in 2006 — replaced with a WalMart). The Parisian store at Eastwood was actually in 2 locations in the mall.
My 3 months at Eastwood were interesting to say the least. I worked in the girls’ department, and my boss was Delores. Unlike my prior bosses, Delores was not easy to get along with. I am a pretty “chill” person and can usually get along (at least outwardly) with pretty much anyone. But Delores for some reason did not like me. It seemed she was always on my case about something.
Delores spent increasing amounts of her day in the other part of the store, visiting with employees who she was friends with, and most of the daily running of the department fell to me. I thought this would result in at least a good review for me. But, when review time came, Delores showed me her report. She had scored me poorly in almost every category! I remember taking the report home and writing rebuttals to her comments one by one that night — and then I realized that it didn’t really matter anyway. She was my boss, and it was her word against mine. She had been there forever and was popular among the higher-ups. It was a horrible, “stuck” feeling. But it also confirmed what I’d felt many times during the past nine months — that perhaps retail wasn’t my true calling anyway.
After that review by Delores, I gave my 2-week notice at Parisian and said goodbye to retail’s punishing nights, weekends, and holidays schedule. I went to work at a local preschool and began work at UAB toward an elementary education degree. At Parisian, my salary had been $17,000. When I got a teaching job 2 years later, my pay was $19,000 — and that included no nights, weekends, holidays, or summers. You can probably see why I never saw a reason to complain about a teacher’s “low” pay!
How about you? What memories do you have of your first “real” job?