80s were the best.

What can I say, it was the beginning of the 80s? Michael Jackson, George Michael, and Olivia Newton-John domineered at the top of the pop charts. Dallas and Magnum P.I. hit the screen and MTV gave us the coolest music clips. Technology blew us away with the first PC and mobile phones were like talking into a brick. The phones alone were to change all our lives in the future. As for fashion, it was big and bold. Perms and big hair, high-cut jeans, and the famous mullet made it big. In world news they shot John Lennon we gained lady Di, they identified HIV and took down the Berlin wall. That and so much more made this an iconic decade and food was part of all that. In this multi-cultural country in Australia, we looked worldwide for variety to meet the demands of our customers. New and inventive ideas to display and sell food raged through the food industry. Displays linked to the 80s were also big, bold, colourful and in line with all fashion trends of that era.
It was also a time when wages for males and females were worlds apart when in managerial positions. Not that we could speak about wages. (It was a sackable offence) but we all talked about it, anyway.

Deli Bell.

It was 1980, and I was staring off into thin air, remembered how easy it was when I first started in Lavington deli. Sometimes it was hours before a customer would come to the deli to purchase a product. But it wasn’t long before I changed all that because I couldn’t leave well enough alone. I spent hours displaying and making each product sing. It enticed customers, and we got way too busy for that small size deli. The constant flow of customers all day left little time to have the case looking the way I liked. And now I had gone and done the same thing here. What is it with me? Why can’t I be content with how it was?

I blink and jerked from my thoughts, picked up my cup and took a sip of my tea. It had been a hard morning setting up while dealing with the constant flow of customers. But had done the best I could, glad to get off my feet and have a break. The girls around me were chatting non-stop, and although I nodded and smiled occasionally, nothing was sinking in. My mind was on what suppliers still hadn’t rung and who I still needed to contact. It was busy out there, could hear the shuffle of feet, squeaky trolleys and muffled voices through the closed tearoom door. I stood, and in a dais, put my cup in the sink and washed it, leaving it on the drainer to dry for the next person to use.

“You still have eight minutes,” my friend Katie from the dairy called to me as my hand went for the door handle. “You’ll make us look bad if you go out there just yet.”

I turned and grinned, “just have to make a call and add to an order I forgot earlier.” I lied. Reality was, those minutes were all the time I needed to add garnishes to the displays before the staff member helping to serve went on her break.

“You’re back early.” I pull my head out of the case, and Garth was standing there watching. Yes, he had been transferred to our store and as always. Out on the floor, never missing a trick.

Katie walked past and gave me a sour look. She was right; the boss had noticed, and I looked like I was trying to score a point. Yet that never crossed my mind. I just wanted the deli to look nice. I was proud of it. I smiled at Garth. “just putting on some pretties.”

He stared at me, “I would be happier if you put on a hat.” He gave me a grin and left.

The company had made the paper hats part of our uniform in the deli and we had to wear them. I guess laundering the old princess style material ones got too expensive. Garth was a stickler for the rules and knowing he would only come back in moments and say it again. I grabbing mine and pinned it to my head. “Stupid hat.” I grumbled. It was the only thing I detested about this job was that hat.

During lunch I got the cold shoulder from two girls for being a suck and not having my full 15 minutes for my tea break. Yes, it was a thing back then. The staff were split into three breaks and every one had to be in and out on time ready for the next group. They would literally tell you it was time to go and there were no ifs and buts.

It worked well, but for me, once I had finished my tea I got restless and fidgety. It was a bit to long for me to sit still when I had so much to do. And sitting chatting about “stuff” wasn’t something I did as my head was to full of work. But today I had an issue and looked for an idea to help. It was unusual for me to speak, usually I was the listener and only added to the conversation with a positive thought. I felt shy when everyone went quiet to hear what I had to say. It was a defining moment for me opening up about anything. Feeling awkward, I told them I was struggling and asked for advice. There was a lot of experience in that room and looked to them for help. After sharing my deli woes, one of the women asked what would make my job easier.

“More staff to help me serve,’ I shrugged. “But I apparently can’t afford any.” I looked into caring faces. “I know little to nothing about budgeting. I do stock takes, sure. But just the counts. I’ve discovered I have very little to spend on expenses and understand that everything I sell needs to have 33% or more mark up. But have no clue how wages works in with all that. Just know we have got busier, and I don’t like to see a potential customer walked away.” Heat prickled my neck exposing my weaknesses. The expressions of concern and understanding nods, not ridicule made me feel better.
“You have a bell on top of the case for the customer, ring it twice and if any of us have staff available, we will send them to help serve.” The front end controller said kindly. The others agreed it was a good idea. I was chuffed with the commitment to that bell. I never held back ringing that gold lovely for help and that day, learned how nice it was to be part of a team. Loved them gal’s.

So, that bell got a lot of use until I was finally given an extra staff member full time. The bell was confiscated. 🤭😃

As for learning more about the paperwork side of the Delicatessen. I was lacking in confidence in that area. Didn’t feel it was my field of expertise. Even when it was explained to me, I was so in awe of others being so much smarter than me; I didn’t take it in and would walk away none the wiser.

My anxiety, when someone talked maths or budgets, was so debilitating, my mind would go back to those first years at school. Years that I never got back that had me hide in the back row of the class room, not participating. Felling like the dumbest dummy in the class.

I have always kept this secret from my work, so no dobbing on me. 😉🤣🤣 

Let me take you for a squiz down memory lane for just a moment.

I got double pneumonia with the measles in grade-1 and almost died. That brought on my asthma and I spent weeks in a plastic tent in the hospital. It would not be until grade six would I attend my first full year.

My chronic asthma had me stay with my grandparents in the big smoke for a long, long time, then once home, I was in and out of the hospital, or suffering in bed. I can still remember saying to mum many times as she had me slung over an upturned chair patting my back to help me breathe, “I’m so sick of trying to inhale.” That was the hardest. It was like having a plastic bag ever my head and someone pricking it with a tiny pin and saying, now breathe. Man, 24 hours a day, weeks on end, I give you the tip, it wore me out mentally and physically. It made me envy anyone around me that took breathing for granted. These days asthma is controllable, but back then, I would have done anything for a puff of Ventolin or some steroid tablets.

My friend, who was a chronic asthmatic used a ventilator during playtime at school.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s only new, it helps me breathe.” She had another puff and ran off. Her wheeze was gone.

I couldn’t wait to get home and tell mum. Her reaction was not what I expected. “The reason she has one is she is the doctor’s daughter. If he wants to give her one, that’s his business. I don’t trust them. No one has any proof they work.”

Not long after I was packed off to Granny and Pa in Melbourne, 400 miles away from home. I had never met them before so it was a big change. And it was here, during my many visits to the children’s hospital with granny, did I go through months of tests and various trials to help me reduce the allergic reactions that bought on my asthma. In the end, they decided to  pump me full of what I was allergic to which I was told would allow me to build up an immunity to my pollen and some food allergies. It was administered in a needle over the next three years: weekly, fortnightly, then monthly. Finally, just needing needles I could return home.

I had missed almost a year of school and some of the year prior due to all the time off between grannies and being sick at home. It was tough coming back as I wasn’t up to everyone’s level, and couldn’t read very well. The only reason I didn’t fail and have to repeat the year was because of my teacher. She said if I stayed back and learned to read the book she held. (It was John and Betty. How could I forget?) She would give me a pass. So each afternoon I stayed after school was out, until I was able to read it. Well, I guess I must have learned it as I made it into year three.

Although, I did still missed many days of schooling as it wasn’t a magical cure. Friday’s I had permission not to attend any classes. No sick stays in bed or was I rushed to the hospital that day. Those days I rode the bus with mum to get my needle in Wodonga. Not just one needle but two. One to deaden the arm and then the big one.

And if I cried, which the needle hurt like a bitch, I got ice cream. Yet later I wondered why? Dairy was one of the foods I  was allergic to. 🍧🍦🍨🥰

One nurse boohooed the doctor’s instructions and just gave me the big needle once and I went into a coma, so I guess it was made of potent stuff. After each jab, my arm swelled up like a football for a couple of days. If it got knocked or hit by siblings running past me it was very painful. If I yelled at them or, if hard, I’d cry and chase them, they would dob me into mum. Tell her I swore at them. Now I cannot deny or agree I did, as I can’t remember, but knowing some gutter talk my girlfriend taught me, I’d say I swore like truckie’s wife. #@$%😇😉

My siblings were not understanding, and why would they? Instead of mum having sympathy and explaining it to them how much pain it caused me, she would say, “you know what your sister is like after her needles, just stay away from her.” She’d turn to me, “And as for you young lady, play on your own if you’re going to be so bad-tempered.” Good one, mum. It was a pattern that shaped our future relationships. In saying that, mum was my saviour and could never have had a better nurse. She worked tirelessly to get me better the only way she knew how and in the end. Her way was the right way. I did get better and it was only Spring time that saw the wheezes become teasers. 

So, looking back at what felt like endless jabs and living on asthma medicine (that later I found had 5% alcohol in it,) I understood why I couldn’t concentrate in class. I was pissed. 🍾🥂

I had pondered, as work gave me more self-esteem that maybe I wasn’t so dim-witted after all, and possibly had a real shot at making my life better.

On the home front.

Since moving into our new home, I stopped making my daughter’s clothes and started buying them. Not because I worked longer hours, but with the growing market trend, it turned out cheaper to purchase them. As for the sewing machine, l put it to work elsewhere. In our new home it didn’t come with curtains and I was not earning enough to buy pre-made or get them professionally made, so on weekends I searched for materials on special and made my own. I still cringe at this choice, but it was the eighties, and orange and brown were the trendy colours. So of course, for the kitchen and dining area, it was chocolate brown curtains. Big ringed drapes for the dining windows and café-style curtains for the kitchen window to match the brown kitchen bench and cupboards. I found orange nick-knacks like a set of canisters, a tablecloth, and different size pots, where grew an array of tropical indoor plants. 😃🪴🌴🌾

Mr. Unpredictable was acting like a normal person. Yes, he had been a bad boy at our wedding and was trying to suck me in by being Mr. Perfect. He surprised me when he went crazy over tropical fish and before long; we had a four and a six-foot tropical tank, and his hobby was purchasing new and exotic fish. He would spend hours cleaning out the tanks and displaying newly purchased rocks and plants in them to make it look super cool. Everyone commented on how great it looked, which at least kept him out of the pub some weekends. As a trade-off at the cost, I could get some furniture. We purchased our very first lounge suit and stereo and not forgetting the BETA player so we could hire movies to watch. (No Netflix back then).

We even installed an air-conditioner and after, he got motivated, and wallpapered the aircon wall in woodgrain. I searched for material and made curtains to match, and it looked amazing to me. I can remember getting up the next morning and feeling proud of that room. I think it was the only really nice thing he ever did for me. Or maybe it was to impress our new friends, but whatever the reason. I was stoked.

Sadly, I got news my nanna and pop passed away. All the grandkids were left $1000.00. (See picture above; I have written a children’s book with my loving grandparents in mind but is yet to be published. They were special to me and will always keep the memory of my time with them in my heart.) The inheritance was enough to get an automatic washing machine, a new fridge, and a mower. Items that lasted well over ten years before needing to be replaced. “Thanks granny and Pa!”

And again, it was a shock when the purchase of a victor mower motivated Mr. Unpredictable to sprinkle seeds on the mud outside and great a thick green lawn he could now mow. Keeping up with the Jones’s kept him busy and if they mowed, he would get off the couch and mow ours, too.

We had a little money left over and put it towards a loan for a large aboveground pool. I figured time at home with not much to do, it would give our daughter many hours of fun when she had friends over. I mean, it wasn’t like we were ever taken anywhere. Never guessed the adults would enjoy it too and one night we counted 18 adults in it. In fact, our pool was magical, getting a certain couple together that ended up a match made in heaven. But that’s for later.

It was then I realised he wasn’t a totally lazy swine. He must have enjoyed doing boy things only. Fixing the car, outside lawns and edges, and his fish tanks. Cleaning toilets, Ha!

He could also tell when he had pushed me too far, and his entire attitude changed. And he was like a different man. The person others saw, but not me, not that often. On a good day, he seemed like he had changed, and it would get my hopes up, only to dash me with cold hard truth days later. So, I took the good with the bad. The good one would take trips with me to a plant farm in the country. Their plants and decorative indoor furnishings were so enticing we never went home empty-handed. Our home, inside and out, became full of tropical lushness. The good one also took us to the weir a few times to meet up with his family who had a boat. His family liked to ski, except for me. I was uncoordinated and couldn’t stand up, so didn’t bother. I was just happy to be out somewhere but preferred to keep watch. It was dangerous waters and there had been drownings, so I didn’t take my eyes far from where my daughter played.

Our social life was busy with my work friends popping over for drinks or a chat which was truly special. Only Mr. Unpredictable would have to spoil it and after everyone had left, would accuse me of conspiring against him or, if males, I was sleeping with one of them. Oh yes, now I was the bad one. I was the one who cheated not him. Really! What a way to deflect. I was never looked at in that way by anyone I knew. He thought every man I talked to now was in my pants. We would fight and he would go to bed shitty. I couldn’t believe how this had turned around, and everything was now my fault. As if I would strip off and let someone from work see me naked. What! so they could say, yuk you have veins or your tits are so small, and you’re so skinny. OMG the shame, I thought as I got ready for bed. He couldn’t stand to be with me and he was a jerk, as if any of the really nice men at work would want me. I was a bit thrown by this recent attack.

But I never ran myself down to him, as that would have given him pleasure. Instead, I’d most likely have said, “if I had someone, I certainly wouldn’t be living here with you.” What I most likely thought, but didn’t say, was; And if I was attractive enough to entice, I’d pick a big burly bloke who had a green beret who could kick your arse if you ever came around drunk and punchy. And I’m taking your kid! Ha!😉🤪

Sometimes he even got shitty now when there were people around. Grog was making him forget his manners. Not just to me. He would look across a crowded room and if I dared look his way he’d say, “what are you looking at bitch. Keep staring at me like that and I’ll fucking kill you.” Oh yes, there was real hate starting to show. Raw and scary. He wasn’t liking me have so many friends and maybe he thought he could scare me into giving them up, but I wasn’t as frightened of him anymore. I think this was the moment the penny dropped, and he realised he was losing his grip on me because his scare tactics weren’t reducing me to a blubbering mess any longer. Now I just shrugged and walked away. The next morning, when I’d ask him why he was in such a foul mood, as usual, he didn’t remember a thing.

Going out with Mr. Unpredictable. Never again!

I tried to patch things up for my daughter’s sake. I know how hard it is growing up without a father around. And although we were not getting on great, as I wasn’t bowing down to him anymore, he was always good to our daughter. So, I dressed up and went with him on an outing. One he most likely went on alone.

It was an hour’s drive out of town and when we got there; I didn’t know anyone. During the night, he just up and disappeared. The hall closed, and there I stood outside in the cold, stranded. I walked around the small town, trying to spot his car. How was I to get home, and it was freezing? Around three in the morning, I heard his car start up and hurried to the spot. I waved him down and bet he hated I hadn’t found someone to take me home. So, he had no choice but to stop and pick me up.

I’ll let you in on a little secret why there were very rarely any arguments. He just didn’t remember and once we got home, it was like nothing happened. This was normal. He would be all cuddly and lovey-dovey, whispering sweet nothings and tell me he loved me, like a broken record. True! And as usual, he acted like the best husband ever for the next few weeks. Not a foot out of place and so doting. It was a relationship that had me up on cloud nine and yet had me crashing down when I got too comfortable. That was why it confused me so much, I mean, it wasn’t as if he needed to go out and get extra on the side; he had always got plenty of Hanky Panky at home. He cuddled me every night and then, without warning, he just didn’t turn up after work and it was on again. It was a good day if he turned up the next day as at least I knew he was okay. Not in jail or worse, lying dead somewhere. Sometimes he’d be black and blue from fighting other times I think he might have got dumped by his new love interest, so the poor behavior didn’t last as long. . His Heckle and Jeckle act drove me to the brink of frustration and my patience for him to settle down was running out.

Where was Google back then? Maybe below may have helped me see, maybe not?

Visitor for two weeks

His younger brother had just moved in. His home life was volatile. (And, it wouldn’t be living with us?) But I guess he knew his brother, and so be it. If I remember correctly, he was 16 but they never came to take him home. It was only to be for two weeks while he found somewhere else, but that didn’t happen. So, now I had an extra person to cook for, clean up after, do their washing, and feel responsible for. Money was tight, as we still paid off loans for the furniture splurge and the car I had purchased. My other one died and if I was to get to work and have any sort of life, I needed a car. So, with an extra mouth to feed it was a struggle but did it without thinking back then. Felt empathy for his brother as I had been in a similar situation when I was younger.
He was a nice kid and Mr. Unpredictable had become quite normal. Giving his brother a false illusion all was well and I think this encouraged him to stay. Well, I thought all was normal. Little did I know Mr. Unpredictable was having another affair and this time with a close relatives on-again, off-again girlfriend. Anyway, she came around one night begging him to leave me for her. Yep, I found out through the grape vine who couldn’t wait to share with me. I woke when she came knocking that night in question and when he came back to bed wouldn’t tell me what it was about, so guessed he was right. But without proof, what can I say.
Juggling work on top of the antics of a ‘now jealous husband,’ and two adults and a child to look after, it got tough. I envied those who knocked off and could take it easy. After five-thirty, my work was only just beginning. 

The Deli girl feels a failure coming on.

You have never seen someone as happy as I was when they transferred Garth to our Wodonga store. Although he was my boss, I looked at him like a friend. I think it was because his mannerisms were so much like my brothers. (Those who know them both agree with me they even sounded similar.) He was helpful, kind, and yet had a temper if you crossed him. He took no crap from anyone and I liked that about him. Strangely enough, I felt safe around him. Like, I was sure if Mr. Unpredictable came into the store trying to cause trouble with his jealous accusations, Garth would kick his arse out the store without raising a sweat. He was straight up honest with me right from the first day we met and I always knew where I stood. So, refreshing.

In 1981, Coles purchased the supermarket side of the Target stores. Garth was to be the new store manager and many of us from High street Wodonga supermarket were sent to the new Wodonga Coles (ex-Target) supermarket to present the shop floor as a Coles store. Some of the High street staff were transferred others sent just to help relay the store. We all pitched in and got busy implementing our layouts and training the ex. Target staff.

I wasn’t to be the Deli manager and would miss those who were transferred across. But I had my hands full in High Street, and at first glance knew this was far too big for me. I liked my displays to look perfect and I’d have to work hours overtime to achieve the same standard here. I stood there thinking what a nightmare to run. Figured with what was on show they were lucky to be doing $800.00 a week. How they paid for two staff was beyond me. Had to grin at that, maybe I should be working with Target. No pressure about wages anymore at least.

It was mean I know, but secretly I was so glad I wasn’t transferring to this deli. It was ugly and wondered what the hell I was going to do to fix it. For starters, my layout would have fit into it three times. There was a huge chicken Bain-marie with only a few old wrinkled-up chickens in it and the layout was flat and without flair. The olive section I couldn’t get my head around. It looked like a salad bar with stainless steel tubs and yet it was inside the case. Most had a white film across the brine and it didn’t smell good at all.

I stood with a smile as they introduced me to the deli manager, and the entire time she is sending me daggers. Come and touch my deli and lookout. Knew how she felt, we deli girls are protective of our babies but hers needed resuscitation. Then I met her 2IC, Maybell. Hello, they had some talent here after all. Working with her was easy and straight-up felt she should be the deli manager and suggested it to my supervisor. Maybell reminded me of one of those Southern Bells (you know the American South’s upper class). From her hair to her pressed uniform she was immaculate. The actual deli manager didn’t train up well and the day I was leaving after helping, I suggested again, Maybell should be the deli manager.

Not sure what happened but for some reason they swapped us both. The Deli manager was transferred to my store and me to hers. What! Really! I needed to take on more in my life. But fronting up for work I had to look at it “not” as a burden to bear but a positive. All the while thinking, but their baby is ugly and I’ve got no idea how to fix it. Doom and gloom followed me around the day I left High street. (And I was right to worry, the Coles/Target deli was almost my undoing. It was a hard slog and wine continued to be my solace on many occasions while at that store.) Yet on the outside, I showed calm was all smiles, and pushed through the panic with a gung-ho attitude, let’s get this done.

Thankfully I had Garth, the lovely Maybell, and my workmates to get me through those darker days where work and at home for the first time clashed and became blurred.

Sunshine on a cloudy day

Had made friends with the neighbours Mike and Jessie. They were the perfect couple. They had a two tots, but it didn’t stop them from spreading themselves thin and putting on a BBQ some nights. Getting out of the car and having a friendly person pop their head over the fence and say, “we’re cooking tonight. Just BYO drinks and come on over.”

I’m not sure if I ever told them, but they were the sunshine on a cloudy day for me. Didn’t matter what kind of crappy day I had endured, within a minutes of being with them I had put it aside while they chatted, joked, and brightened up my evening. My daughter enjoyed playing with their kids and hubby behaved around them. Mike was a good influence on him. They were the best neighbours ever in my younger years. And the best couple you could ever wish to meet.

 

But before I bring this chapter to an end. I said I’d tell you about the magic pool.

It was New Year’s Eve and everyone was in the pool, well not all but most. It was a stinking hot tropical night and drinks were still flowing. That night, Garth and Maybell got together for the first time.

At work the next week, Maybell was all a glow with her new love interest, but I worried. Garth was secretive about love and had a reputation for the ladies. Not that I believed the gossip, but when it meant sweet, unsuspecting Maybell could get really hurt, I shared what I heard. It was like my terrible life was rubbing off on her and I so didn’t want to see her become me. Living with a cheater. I risked losing both of them but had to take a chance they would sort it out. With it all out in the open, she could make an informed decision before getting in too deep. I only wish someone had warned me about Mr. Unpredictable. Given me that chance to turn away and never look back.

Of course, Garth was angry at me. But she was like a delicate rose and possibly the first person I had ever trusted. If it was simply a rumour, I had faith he would nip it in the bud and if not, she was someone he could change for. And, to tell you the truth, if I’d heard the spiteful gossip, she would have heard it soon enough too. 

I wore the dressing down. It was worth it. The rumour was just that, and it made their kung fu strong, and they still are the cutest couple ever. But I still think it was the magical swimming pool, where cupid swam that night. 

 

Thank you for joining me on my journey back into time. 

You are welcome to leave a message. If you like  reading my blog, I’d love to hear from you.🙋‍♀️🥂

Until next time, 

Storytelling Cougar Out!