I was so nervous I had a hard time remembering my own name when a guest asked while serving them. The people were so kind to me and patiently waited for coffee re-fills. It seemed to me that it didn’t save any catsup or mustard to leave them off the tables, waiting for the guests to ask. I about wore the leather off my boots running back and forth for the condiments; but, what did I know, it was my first evening, after all. I hadn’t even unpacked my suitcase yet. I wasn’t sure when we ate supper ourselves but figured it’d be after the guests finished.
“Sojourner, come in the kitchen while the guests finish up their pie. I want to show you how to wash the dishes.” Funnily enough, at 14, I really thought I knew how to do that, except for those thick rubber gloves to keep from scalding my hands in that steaming water. Turns out I didn’t. It mattered not what my mother said, the Department of Public Health said the glasses were first, followed by the silverware used by the guests.
“Just remember it like this: Anything that touches the lips of the guest will be washed first. Next, anything that the guest will touch like plates, saucers, bowls, etc. Lastly, all the things used in preparation, finishing with pots and pans.” Seemed easy to remember but I worried just a bit that there didn’t seem to be anyone else learning these tips with me. Sadly, there was a good reason for that and it wasn’t because the others already knew what to do.
“Do we wait for the guests to leave and then eat our supper or do we do the dishes first and just leave the dish water for our things?” The guests had teased me about my growling stomach so my hunger was apparent to everyone but the boss.
“The guests like to linger over their coffee so you can get started on the dishes now. Check to see if there are cups you can take before you begin the silverware. This group doesn’t stay long on the days they are out riding horses. You can eat after the dishes are done, tables wiped, floor mopped and tables set up for breakfast. That way you can relax. My family has already eaten so I’ll leave a plate for you on the kitchen table before I get Lorie ready for bed.” The thing is, there were plates with half-eaten steaks and leftover potatoes right on the kitchen counter. Yes, she had shown me how to slide the grub off into the bucket for the pigs, but, well, what can I say… I was so hungry! While the huge sink was filling with hot, soapy water for the glasses and cups, I slowly, oh-so-slowly, scraped the remnants into the slop bucket. Every so often a few roasted potatoes jumped into my own mouth to keep those teensy bits of steak scraps company. As it turned out, this minor infraction would serve as my only meal; Peggy Sue forgot me. I had cleaned up as best I knew how and waited for her to come back. When she failed to return by 10:30, I left the main lodge and went to my cabin. I would unpack my pajamas – no more energy left for anything else. I should be able to work it in sometime tomorrow.
Early the following morning I learned the right way to chop onions and beat eggs. The uncertainty just when the guests might mosey in for breakfast, made it possible for us to eat together before preparing their meal. While I was very happy to breakfast early; and, I really didn’t mind repeatedly being asked to get coffee re-fills for Wade, Peggy Sue’s husband and director of the ranch, I was concerned to see no other cabingirl, waitress or overall general do-everything person at our breakfast table. The couple and their 5-year-old bundle of joy were the only people eating with me. Was I really it?
The answer? Yes, profoundly, exactly, ridiculously, yes; I was it! I learned to do it all and not just to sub in case someone might get ill. From early morning to well after dark on a summer’s evening, I worked at whatever needed doing. I was the waitress, dish washer and food prep person. I cleaned cabins, including grabbing the frames of windows outside the bunkhouses and cabins so that I would not fall off the ledge while I washed windows. Between meals, if I finished the cabins before it was time to set up for lunch or supper, I mopped the floor and cleaned the large lobby and living area of the beautiful main lodge, including the wide wooden steps with that lovely smooth banister that needed polishing daily. At least, I was now eating all of my meals with the family so no longer stealing from the pigs.
It was not long before more space was needed for an overbooked weekend and Lorie was moved into the other cot in my cabin. Twenty-four hours with this little chatterbox would make a sane teenager shut down but, alas, I was too tired to care. Well, it might have had just a tiny effect on my reflexes and spatial relationship efficiency to have this little girl waking me up to tell me the nightmare she had just had. One morning I missed the cup and poured that re-fill right into Wade’s lap, ouch! Not sure if it was the same day or another such “Murphy’s Law” day but Wade’s cowboy shirt left the ironing board with its own pointed-tip brand, seared into the tailored yoke… oops, sorry Boss!
I was exhausted, figured I was earning less than a nickel an hour, if the meals were taken into account, but I was finally getting used to it all. I would make it. It would be okay and I would use this job as a reference for next year somewhere else. Things couldn’t get any worse, right? Oh, so wrong!
*All names have been changed
****Adolescent Milestones: First Real Job, Scene 3… Coming Tomorrow