First Job : Memoir by Ruth Anne (Smyth) Reagan


Author’s Note: This story takes place on Market Street, Corning, New York, around 1947.

During Easter vacation I decided to check out the possibility of a summer job. Although I had never worked at anything but babysitting, I knew college expenses would be demanding in September, and I wanted to pull at least some of my own weight. I had led a sheltered life, protected from most of life’s hardships. Now I wanted more than anything to be a responsible person. I could see myself in one of the ladies’ dress shops on Market Street, helping people pick out clothes, attaching price tags to new merchandise and hanging up new arrivals. I would stop first at Cain’s, where I had been a customer. Then I would try Goodman’s down the street, or maybe Rockwell’s, the department store where I had spent many a boring hour in my childhood while my mother and grandmother picked out clothes and bells rang and little cash boxes whizzed overhead.

At Cain’s their lack of interest in hiring summer help was firm. It was a small, family run store without need for extra employees. Pondering this brush-off and wondering if I would find the same result at Goodman’s, I crossed the street to the Jimmerson/Ford Drug Store in the Baron Steuben Hotel. It might not hurt to inquire there. To my amazement, I was immediately offered a job.

What a plum! Was this the jackpot or what! Instead of a sales lady, I would be a soda jerk in the drugstore luncheonette, just like in the movies, making sodas, whipping up sundaes. Wow! This was a prestige place where I had eaten many a gooey treat after dancing class, after piano recitals, or even during the intermission of proms held in the ballroom upstairs.

My hours would be rather cut up. I would act as a fill-in for the vacationing waitresses, and would be an extra hand at busy times. I would start the Wednesday after graduation at fifty cents an hour, no higher than babysitting, but it would be good “experience.”

That’s what I told myself all that long, hot, miserable summer. It was good “experience.” The word thrummed in my brain, even as a nasty little inner voice chanted back, “Experience for what?”


To read this entire story, pick up Issue Six of Bluff & Vine at Longs’ Cards and Books in Penn Yan, or by visiting

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