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In a Recession, It Helps to Remember the Sweet Jobs
In worrisome times memories bring joy and comfort, but even though the world as we’ve known it has come to an end, it isn’t the end of the world.

When I was a little girl, perhaps about seven, my ultimate dream career was to work at Woolworths. The attraction wasn’t so much sparked by the glamour of a job in retail as by the glamour of a single woman who worked among the donuts.

Childhood mysteries have a way of fading away…

Woolworth’s was a definitely a destination shopping Mecca in my seven-year-old mind. In the town where I grew up, coming of age meant you were old enough to walk downtown with your friends and slide into a cracked vinyl booth at Woolworths for a Saturday lunch of French fries and gravy. (We didn’t care that the fries were previously frozen and the gravy came out of a can).

Dessert, though, was the best part of the adventure -- a sugar-glazed donut, purchased from the glass-fronted cabinets at the front of the store, where birthday cakes and chocolate éclairs resided in unattainable splendor. Donuts were a nickel and affordable, unlike the éclairs which were well-beyond our budget and reserved for special occasions.

But I didn’t want a job behind the donut counter. Nor did I want to be a waitress. I wasn’t drawn to Woolworths by the idea of stocking shelves or serving customers at the cash registers, although some years later when I earned my teenage rites of passage by working up the street at Eaton’s, I discovered I liked both of these tasks. 

No, Woolworths beckoned me because Becky worked there and I wanted to be just like her, a somewhat mysterious single lady who seemed to belong in my parents category but wasn’t anything like them. She was their age but she wasn’t married and didn’t have kids. She didn’t stay at home during the day; she went to work wearing a suit and high heels, her short, brown hair always perfectly coiffed.

Becky worked upstairs at Woolworths, a place accessible by an elevator but off limits to customers. The elevator was located at the back of the store, just down the aisle from the pet supplies and the fish tanks where the gold fish were kept. It was an obvious place for seven year olds to hang out, which is why I must have been in that part of the store the first time I witnessed the miraculous site of a six-level tray of donuts emerging from the elevator’s sliding doors.

At Woolworths, the donuts were baked in an upstairs kitchen but I never thought about the fact that they had to be made at all or that bakers and dishwashers were part of getting the task done. In my childish mind, the donuts simply descended magically in an elevator from the second floor -- the second floor where Becky was lucky enough to work.

I wanted her job. I wanted to work surrounded by the sweet smell of donuts, believing that I could probably eat them all day long (the idea of which makes me slightly nauseous now that I’m an adult).

Childhood mysteries have a way of fading away and eventually the idea of working among the donuts vanished from my mind. Becky moved to another province and Woolworths closed its store in my town.

Reality, I’ve been thinking lately, hasn’t much room for donuts that magically descend from an elevator shaft. I suspect if I asked Becky today about her career at Woolworths in the 1960s, her memories would shatter my own. I don’t think I want to know.

Woolworths has been gone from the Canadian retail landscape for many years but I still felt a pang of regret when the December newscasts informed the world that the retailer’s British empire was on the verge of collapsing.

It hasn’t shut its doors yet – other companies are considering buying the assets – but the end of 2008 was marked by closing out sales in Woolworth’s stores across the United Kingdom. It’s a sad state of affairs because this year Woolworth’s would have celebrated its 100th birthday. I think the bakeries disappeared years ago, so there wouldn’t have been a special cake in the glass-fronted cabinet, anyway.

Woolworths, like so many companies in world these days, is deeply in debt. The 30,000 people who work in the chain’s 815 stores don’t know what their working future will be. They are not alone, for day after day the media brings reports of companies teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, imperilling not only their employees, but suppliers, customers and stockowners, too.

These are worrisome times we live in and it takes me a few minutes every morning to shake off the bad news of the day and choose to get up with a hopeful attitude. I tell myself that while we might be at the end of the world as we’ve known it – this is not the end of the world.

I keep reminding myself that in my own 25 years of working life I’ve endured two recessions and have managed somehow to enjoy a rewarding working life (not a rich life in monetary terms, but definitely a rewarding one). I’ve never worked among the donuts but I’ve had some sweet experiences. And bad economic news or not, I’m sure there’s more of those to come.

Lynda MacGibbon is a writer based in Riverview New Brunswick and the NB/PEI Director for Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. She can be reached at lmacgibbon@ivcf.ca.

Originally published in Moncton Times & Transcipt, Moncton, NB, January 16, 2009, and simultaneously on www.canadaeast.com.

 

 
 
 
 

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