Chapter One – Deli Induction

The storytelling cougar shares her life as a mother and a Deli girl, while struggling with the shame of not ever feeling good enough.

My days I spent striving to better myself and by the end of each week it drained away as my private life spiralled out of control. Embarrassed to share, ashamed to tell, I kept it a secret using the anguish and frustration instead as fuel to work faster, harder. 

I struggled for years inside closed doors and even now my friends will be surprised as I have never discuss such private matters so in depth. But I am at an age now where life allows you peace from fear and to talk about my Deli days, which I would love to share, it does come with some real struggles deep inside. So, I have decided to tell my story as a memoir to honour the deli girl that time forgot. 

If you enjoy food and can handle a little after work drama. Join me on my journey as time, coincidences and the love of food conformed me into a Deli Girl.

Names have been changed, but I will most likely out the stores. Get ready for the good and the bad, the rise and fall, and all those juicy bits in between.

Here is my Story

Part 1 – Induction into the Deli

To begin, I will take you back to 1978. I was a mother of one, lived with a two-timing, beer-guzzling drinker, and had started full-time with Coles Lavington NSW as a tea lady. To put food on the table and keep my sanity, I was not too proud to try my hand at any job. So, a tea lady was as good as any. Generally more elderly than me, but I was persistent for a full-time position and was hired.

It was a time when staff had morning tea prepared by a tea lady. Enormous pots of tea and coffee were set on a trolley and wheeled into the boys’ tearoom, and for the girls who shared the main tearoom, they had the same ready and waiting. I had many embarrassing moments taking tea to the boys who would always hang it on me and stir me up for doing an old lady’s job. One day I poured salt into their pot of tea and coffee. Heard them all spitting it out and laughing. They made their own pots of tea and coffee that day. Funny thing, they never stirred me or made fun of me again.

In the tearoom, my duties also included cleaning both tearooms then helping in the variety department. It was while doing the dishes I was discovered by the Deli manager of the store. She would come down to do her paperwork and chat as I worked. So impressed with my cleaning routine, she took me under her wing, and I became her Deli assistant. Let us just say that was life-changing the day I agreed. I absolutely loved the Deli and worked hard to learn. Didn’t even know what Devon was then. The customers had to point to the sliced meat they wanted when I first served. That was until I learned the names and what they looked like. I had never shopped in a Deli before. I came from a struggling background and if you had asked me what mince or sausages looked like, well, I would have earned a gold star for knowing that! My time with Sasha, my manager, set me on a whole other path, and am still thankful for that very first chance, glad she didn’t worry I had absolutely no knowledge or basic skills with food.

Back to my story… There were three of us running a three-thousand-dollar Deli. Sasha, Daisy, and me. Sasha was good at her job, strict, and gave us what for if things weren’t as she expected. Mostly, it was directed at Daisy because Sasha said she should know better. At first, I never got what was wrong because when you are just learning, you don’t see any of the intricate details of the display case or cool room procedures. But I learned fast, not wanting to be on the receiving end of one of those cross glares.

Sasha wasn’t at the Deli much, but when she was, her personality and style shone. I thought she was the ant’s pants and idolized her. I had been sent off to another state at thirteen and from then until this moment, had never really been taught about caring for myself or for others. So Sasha became my role model. Listening to the way she spoke, served, and held herself, I lifted my head instead of shying from everyone, and I tried hard to act and speak with more confidence. I even wore a little makeup and taking it further, my waist-length hair I had cut so it bounced like other trendsetters in the store. We all wore uniforms, but the deli girls pinned little white princess-shaped café headwear to each side of our hair and had matching aprons. Now I think back they were cute outfits, but at the time thought we looked ridiculous. When learning the art of display, Sasha had me pull out a section and display it many times until I got it to look how she liked it. She was very fastidious about product display and cleaning. After a while, working with food was like a drug, I couldn’t get enough. During my pitifully dragged-up life before Coles, apart from my beautiful daughter, I don’t think I liked anything as much as I did working in the Deli. But change keeps happening and doors in life never stop revolving.

My partner proposed on my 21st birthday. Came into work and surprised me with a ring. Unfortunately, that was where the excitement ended. Straight after he informed me he was going on a camping trip with the guys and would be home in a few days. Yep, that was my 21st. Although work gave me a lovely necklace that I never took off until one day the chain broke. Many years later. But I got another chain and continued to wear it. Partly because it was a piece of memorability and second, because I was thirty-six before anyone ever bought me another.

Anyhow, months after my engagement (yes, I know, no party for that either) The deli manager found out she was pregnant and Daisy the other Deli assistant got shingles. And me, well, I had developed a rash on my hands from all the cleaning. My deli manager swore me to secrecy about my hands and instructed me to wear cotton gloves with rubber gloves over the top. She was about to lose the other Daisy if her stress didn’t ease, and she said she couldn’t lose me too. I didn’t know what was wrong with my hands, just knew they were peeled when I took the gloves off, and at home when dry, they would always be cracked and sore. But I persisted because Sasha was very pregnant by this time and I was really working hard to pick up the slack while she rested a lot. I did all the cleaning and packed and cleaned the cool room while Sasha and Daisy filled the case and served. My hands became so sore I couldn’t even pull up my knickers and it was then I did almost break her trust and tell. But suddenly, as soon as it came, it disappeared. My hands got stronger and healed. Sasha had said if I kept them covered, they would get better and they did. I would never have thought to see a doctor. After years of jabs every week to fix my asthma as a kid, I avoided doctors like the plague. After, I found out it was called dermatitis and when I think back on how wrong on so many levels it was to continue working with chemicals; I shudder. No, not everyone is perfect, but Sasha darn near was in my eyes. It was the first time in my life anyone, and I mean anyone, had taken an interest in me and I would have walk water for her if I could. She was up there on a pedestal and in my thoughts, stayed there all the way through my career. Many times, years later, I would hear her voice in mine. That friendly tone and confidence allowed me to handle many situations, teaching me still.

My skills had grown by the time Sasha left on maternity leave and as I said a teary goodbye, knew I would be okay as I never intended to settle for ordinary again. She had left me with a gift, to better myself and please those above me. Doing so I would always have a job somewhere. I took something else away from her training too; I learned above all if someone is unwell, suffering, or unfit to work with food, I would never let them go through what I had. I intended to transfer them to a more suitable department. Trust me when I say, Deli work is not for the feeble.

What happened after she left? That is for another day.

Talk soon, foodies.


Deli Girl Out!