We never forget our first jobs

Bette Burgess
Bette Burgess

What was your first job? Was it babysitting, a paper delivery route after school as you pedaled your bicycle through the neighborhood? Was it a job at McDonalds, Hardees or Burger King? I will venture that you learned a lot, whatever the job.

My first job after high school was as a waitress at Bogaches Restaurant in Myrtle Beach. The restaurant was located down the street from the Pavilion where you could play games of skill such as the shooting gallery and win a stuffed animal. My brother, as a 12-year-old, could outshoot the soldiers from the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base. You could buy cokes, hot dogs and popcorn. It was a huge place to meet other teens in 1958. Now it does not exist.

The Bogaches were from Lebanon and their oldest daughter had been Miss Myrtle Beach the summer before, so she was a celebrity, and lots of young men came in to eat just to try and get a date with her. She and her mother were the cashiers. Mr. Bogache sat in a booth next to the kitchen and mainly shouted orders to the kitchen staff and smoked stinky cigars. When he was really irritated, he cussed in his native tongue, flailed his hands and puffed like mad on his cigar.

All the young waitresses lived on the second floor of the old house that the Bogaches owned and the Bogaches lived on the first floor. On our scheduled mornings off, the youngest daughter was our charge. Our schedule alternated days and nights so we enjoyed days on the beach every other day and at night enjoyed shagging at the dance clubs. I was 17 and turning 18 at the end of the summer. I met lots of college boys from N.C. State, Clemson, Chapel Hill and military recruits. That was one great summer.

During college summers, I worked for the Department of Parks and Recreation in Scotland County from 9-12 and from 2-5. I prayed for rain every day. I begged for rain. It rained one day between 12:30 and 1:30 and I was back in the steaming park slapping gnats and mosquitoes. The other times it rained was after 6 p.m. and that did not help me because by 6, I had showered and changed into my white waitress uniform and white nurses shoes and began taking orders and serving food at The Pine Acres Lodge and Restaurant in Laurinburg. On the weekends, I worked breakfast and lunch.

Frances was our well-seasoned head waitress and she taught us to make Roquefort dressing, tomato flowers, radish roses and how to dress a plate so it looked fancy and appetizing. The chefs came and went, so Frances could cook anything on the menu plus her own specialties on a moment’s notice.

She taught us to be accommodating to the customers and to make being a waitress a grand job. She taught us to smile in all situations and be a gracious Southern lady, while wanting to stab the customers with their own fork.

There was one family that even Frances had trouble being nice to and that was the owner’s daughter and her family. They had just returned from an Army post somewhere and the daughter, Laurette, thought she was Queen of Sheba. In the mornings, the Queen, her husband and three children, all under the age of 10, descended on the dining room.

The Queen would wave her hand and say “Bette” or whoever was near, “Come over and take our order.” She would be swelled up like a peacock. “I will have a pink grapefruit, sectioned of course, two soft boiled eggs, crisp bacon, a blueberry muffin and coffee. The children will have an egg over easy, bacon, buttered toast with strawberry jam, freshly squeezed orange juice and milk.” Her husband ordered the entire menu.

One morning, Mary Jane was on the Queen’s morning detail. When the Queen asked for a fourth refill of coffee, Mary Jane hurled the coffee pot against the wall and told the Queen of Sheba she was a waitress and not her servant. “Get up off your lazy behind and get your own coffee. I quit!” Mary Jane got her purse from the kitchen closet and walked out the door. The dining room erupted with laughter. The Queen looked stunned.

After the air cleared and the coffee was mopped up, Frances, unafraid of losing her job, walked up to the Queen of Sheba and said, “Laurette honey, you grew up in the restaurant. You know where everything is. Go squeeze your own orange juice, section your grapefruit, take care of your own family and for heaven’s sake pour your own coffee. We are trying to make a living. I don’t want to tell you this again.” The Queen was red as a beet and she never asked us to serve her again. I learned more about how to assert myself by two fine examples.

After graduating from Appalachian State, I took a bus from Boone to Asheville for a job as a waitress at the impressive Grove Park Inn. The taxi drivers called it the rock pile.

I wore a pink and white uniform with a frilled white thing on my head.

I worked in the Francis Marion Room, where the regular patrons ate their meals. The conventions were held in the main ballroom for several hundred people each night. Some nights the convention storytelling and jokes went on until 1 a.m. when at last we could finally strip the tables and reset everything for breakfast. Three of us had to be back in the Francis Marion Room at 7 a.m.

We made $100 dollars in tips at the end of each weekly convention and tips from the Francis Marion Room. We also received a small weekly salary. We lived in dormitories down a pathway from the hotel.

I learned patience and perseverance and a few weeks later I would start my first teaching job in Charlotte with a new wardrobe bought with money from my summer job. I also made a down payment on my first car. Life was good.

Email comments to bettecarnesburgess999@yahoo.com.

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