When I was a sophomore in high school circa 1968, my friend and fellow cornet (or was it French horn player?), Cathy Wait, mentioned one day in band practice that she was working at McKnight’s Drug Store in the pharmacy department. “I love working there,” Cathy said, “and they have an opening at the soda fountain now.” We agreed by the end of that conversation that I should apply, which I did that very day right after school. My mother’s response when I told her the happy news that I had just been hired for my first job, “You do realize, Len, a daughter of ours doesn’t have to work.” My response, “Mama, I know I don’t have to work, I want to work.” Thus began my adventure into the realm of the soda jerk.
I worked part-time, a few days after school and every Saturday from then until I graduated from high school. I had a bright pink waitress uniform I wore, plus tennis shoes. There were about 6 or 7 booths in the soda fountain area, plus the seats at the counter. I had two older women who were my co-workers, both who had been employed there for at least 20 years each. They made up the tuna salad and pimento cheese for the sandwiches we made on Wonderbread and served with potato chips and a dill pickle. They also supervised my making of milk shakes, malts, lime freezes and banana splits.
I loved my time working at McKnight’s. All my friends soon learned that I was there on Saturdays for sure and started dropping by. Soon, many of my closer ones stopped by on the weekdays, as well.
I have never eaten better pimento cheese or tuna fish sandwiches anywhere else and I still can taste the freshness of a lime freeze.
My mom and dad even dropped by on occasion to see how I was doing. My mother told me several years later how proud she was of me for taking the initiative to go to work all on my own. “You have always been a good worker,” she said.
I still consider that to be one of the highest compliments I can get or give. People who jump up to help and believe in the value of a good day’s work are high on my list of “Most Respected.”
I also loved my little hot pink uniform, which is like the one on the right. However, you know you’re getting a little older when they refer to a uniform from the 1960’s as “vintage.” Alas…