Memoirs of the Deli Girl – Chapter two

It was official, neither Daisy nor I were chosen to be the new Deli Manager. The position went to a current manager, who was promoted to run the Deli too. The only change was that we knew when a supervisor was in the store. Yep, you guessed it, she would race to our department and start doing dishes or serve. Daisy would glance and frown as she blatantly took all the credit if they liked the deli.

The cracks showed with the loss of a hands-on Deli manager, and eventually, we were given help. The staff member employed was to work between the deli and front end. The only issue for us was they hired someone with greasy-long fringe that dangled into her eyes. And worse, her hair got close to the food when leaning into the case. Not that I knew much about hygiene at the beginning, even the word was unfamiliar to me, but if I were a customer getting served with a hairy fringe hanging in my polony, especially a dirty one, I would say, thank you but no thanks and not take the parcel. Nothing worse than paying for something you know will go straight in the bin once you get home. Hair and scalp particle polony. Eeek. So as nice as I could, I told her how pretty her eyes were, and she should show them off. I smiled and said, maybe pin your fringe up or give it a trim. Well, did I get a tongue lashing for speaking to her about it? The front-end manager found out, and I was hauled up in the managers’ office and asked how dare I and sternly told that was not for me to say. Oops! That was my first written warning, which was so worth it as greasy fringe was moved permanently to the front end.

Then came register girl number two. Was the second interested in Deli, not on your sweet nelly? Hated it and one day while I was on break, the new Daisy asked her to serve, and she would not. Said I had told her to clean the slicer packer. For those who don’t know, it’s an automatic, self-slicing machine and can cut two rolls of meat at a time. It was the old model where safety guards were minimal. It was nothing like the alternative models of later years. When the blade was exposed, it looked dangerous. But as clunky and nasty looking as it was, we appreciated any help in the department as we had got busier. We were never told the sales or knew if we were doing a good job after Sasha left. But figured the sales must be better by the sudden increase in customers. We never got a breather some days, nor did we get time to have our usual chats. But look at me getting off the subject again. Anyway, back to the apparent slicer needing a clean. It was only lunchtime, so no way would I approve any cleaning during the busy trade. Something new, Daisy, should have challenged her on. Old Daisy would have, but she didn’t stay the course. She left after not getting the Deli manager position. Didn’t blame her, really. So, some months in; the inexperienced became the trainer. I shake my head at how green I was, but it didn’t stop me from trying to keep the department ticking over as Sasha had taught me.

I still cringe telling this story and have done for years. It is a lesson to any newbie staff who would clean a slicer while on “L” plates. You can imagine what happened next. Like us all, she had been trained to switch off the power and pull the plug out from the wall before cleaning anything electrical. That was the number one rule. And why she would sharpen the blade, I do not know. It was something I preferred to do in the morning when the machine and stones were fully air dried. In this instance, instead of testing the blade’s sharpness with a slice of paper as shown, she used her thumb to feel if it were sharp. While the machine was going, and it had no guard on. What! And she sliced her thumb and hand open.

What I learned from these experiences.

*Strictly no cleaning while I am away from the department.

Management, or in my case, head deli girl, has a duty of care to all employees who work behind the deli case to ensure they understand and abide by all policies and procedures to do with the cleaning of the equipment. But accidents can never be totally avoided as we are all human. However, preventing any new staff member from cleaning a machine without supervision came into effect, and improved guards in the newer machines and slash-proof gloves prevented further serious injuries to us.

*Never ever use staff from other departments.

Someone is trying to get rid of them, trust me. Employ staff who are interested in fresh food. The face pulling when asked for fish or fresh chicken is a shocker, never mind the yuk sounds and comments as they pick up the product to serve. Help me, please! I would silently say.

Poor customer service is not only the face pulling and scowling. It’s ignoring a customer, serving poor quality products, having poor product display techniques, or unhygienic standards. It’s lazy not to strive for high standards or that person in charge must not be a good fit. A good deli person in charge will see through a smiling assassin and break the bad habits beneath. Even if it made me unpopular, I would keep striving to bring the best out of my team. Customers are too important to lose, even just one.

The Deli girl’s reflection.

Sorry to be so blunt here, but it’s best they leave and let someone take it on that has a love for freshness, quality, a trained eye for presentation, and above all, enjoy striving for those extra sales.

*Last, never chastise a staff for personal hygiene, it’s not your job.

Here I still beg to differ and guess I didn’t learn my lesson. After all, isn’t it the job of the senior staff member who is training staff in the department to cover all aspects of the delicatessen operation? Does that not mean hygiene too? I believe well-groomed staff is a must. And that includes discussing the use of deodorant privately to those who need it. I was now in the business of selling freshly cooked products and it was my duty to send out fresh clean invites not… beware; we don’t look clean or smell great, but the food is fresh. Sure it is! I bet the shoppers think different, as the deli is given a wide berth.

The Deli Girl’s reflection.

Put an end to stinky staff and bad cleaning and grooming habits by adding this to the “new staff” induction policies and procedures. Nip it in the bud before the staff member begins work in any department.

Never a dull moment.

Like all things that go down they come up and eventually we found an extra staff member and like a well-oiled machine, the deli ran smoothly for a while, and we were all happy in our little bubble behind the case.

After-five, sagas continue.

At home, not so much. It was total chaos, as usual. My two-timing partner had come back to me instead of staying with the other mother in Unit 4. That did not go down well with her at all. She was not happy he two-timed her with me, (now that’s a twist). One night we were woken up by her terrified kids yelling and bashing on the door. She had tried to commit suicide with tablets because my partner would not go back to her. Police sirens and an ambulance sat in the driveway as she was worked on until she was okay. Not sure any of us got to sleep that night.

The affair had shattered me and yet somehow; I looked like the bad guy because he stayed with me. After that incident, I wasn’t anyone’s favourite neighbour, and it wasn’t easy living there.

Regardless of what was going on in my personal life, I tried hard never to let it interfere with my promise to look after the deli for Sasha. I had learned Makeup does wonders, and after a night like that I plastered it on, and with the addition of a brighter smile, no one ever noticed the gut-wrenching sadness I carried inside. I soon learned to leave personal problems at the door and put it out of my thoughts until knock-off time, so it didn’t affect my work standards. That I would not compromise. The deli became my pride and joy. Those hours working were my saviour and gave my mind peace for at least some of my day.

Over the next few months, my partner spent a bit more time at the local pub, and some weekends he would disappear. These moments in time for me were filled with tears and worry. Was he in hospital, jail, or dead? Surely someone would knock on the door and tell me. Back then there were no mobile phones, hell, only the rich had house phones. And I had no car to search for him. So, it was a waiting game and heart-wrenching, let me tell you. All these emotions and yet they had to be bottled up, so my daughter didn’t feel them. No way would I ever let his bad behaviour filter into her happiness. But let me tell you, it was an early bed for her so I could hide in my room and release them. Sometimes he would come home battered and bruised from fighting, but he couldn’t remember what happened. One problem with a drunk who cannot remember, they are so nice when sober. He would come home out of the blue with no apology. As far as he was concerned, he had done nothing wrong. Fair-dinkum, after a day or three away, he would rock up and butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. Upset, I would tell him how much he had hurt me, but he would sit there blank. Say, sorry sweetie, I can’t remember where the time went. You’re overreacting and getting worked up over nothing, you know I love you. I’m home, aren’t I? Just drop it, I told you I was out with blah blah and did nothing wrong. These were just some of his general responses, but you get the gist. Funny how I always ended up feeling like the bad guy. Back then I believed he was right, and I was just over-emotional.

Wished I could toughen up and be like him, not so spineless. Then I could do the same. Show him how it felt. But Miss dependable who kept a clean house, cooked all the meals, cared for his child, and now worked full time, was too exhausted by the time the day was done to contemplate going out.

I know what you are all thinking. Why not leave? And mind you, I had tried to in the early days but got the kicking of a lifetime. Basically, couldn’t walk for a few hours, so didn’t get to run away after all. Plus, I didn’t want my daughter to grow up without a family home as I did. I had lived on and off the streets from my early teens, and this was the first time I had a permanent roof over my head. Things can always be worse. And they had been for me. But I wanted better for my daughter and me having a job and us having a roof over our heads gave me hope that might eventuate. And yes, I admit fear of him when drinking was a big reason too. Many times, in a fit of anger, he would remind me if I ever took his daughter from him, he would find me and kill me. Yep, drunk or not, I believed that shit too!

It was in between him being nice; we get word we were excepted by the housing commission and they had a brand-new home for us to move into. A lifeline at last, and it was only over the border in Wodonga. I got my license and after, purchased a car for five hundred dollars. Called it my purple people eater as it was purple (of course) it had a wild-looking bonnet scoop, a 186-grey motor, and the gearshift was now a three on the floor. Someone had way too much time on their hands. But it was because of this find my crazy-looking car allowed me to continue working at the Lavington branch for a little while longer.

However, it had been tough on my daughter with the move, and shifting from one sitter to another wasn’t easy for her. If I picked her up and she cried when I hugged her, I knew something was wrong. She never cried unless unhappy. So would find someone else to look after her. Luck came our way when my sister came back from WA earlier that year and offered to mind her as the kindergarten was close to her new house. It was so nice to pick her up happy again.

It was a temporary fix until she started school the following year. But that seemed so far away and so much could happen between work and Mr unpredictable. Who during this time was actually behaving. He had thrown himself into a hobby and because our relationship was cruising for a change; we decided to get married. Unfortunately, not for reasons other couples tie the knot. We felt we should, so our daughter wouldn’t be ridiculed for being a child of an unmarried mother. (Back in the late 70s early 80s it was still frowned upon to have a child out of wedlock). But that’s a story for another day.

However, what I can share is the date is set and a secret wedding is on the horizon. Shhhh! Everyone thinks we are already married. 

Bye Bye Lavo

In the hope I was worthy, I asked for a transfer to the Wodonga branch and waited in hope. Delighted when it came through just in time to sort out my timetable which would include school drop-offs the following year.

Saying goodbye to the staff was tough. As I mentioned earlier, it had been my sanctuary of sanity, and would miss those that had been my biggest influencers. One, in particular, was Garth. He was our favourite in the deli, but I must admit, we did butt heads. I can remember one instance when I reduced the price of a ball of Edam cheese to a customer. It was the last one left on display as the new stock had not turned up. As I removed the wrapper, noticed the red wax was cracked and informed the customer. He bartered with me to reduce it and checking it was okay, sold it. However, the customer brought it back a couple of days later and insisted he wanted a new Edam ball to replace it, but would not pay the extra price. It was his way of getting his cheese cheaper. Sneaky shopper. I tried to make my case to Garth but frustrated with me, he just walked around me, went into the cool room and got a new ball, and replaced it on my behalf. Ticked off, sure I was as I didn’t understand Coles’ policy on such matters then. But that was an excellent learning experience. It taught me the customer was always right no matter what, and I never forgot that lesson.

Regardless of our couple of spats, I liked Garth. He had a pleasant sense of humour which sometimes got him into trouble. Like when he saw a paper bag with a cream cake inside. It was on the tearoom table and he just walked past it and lay his first onto it, squashing it, and thought it funny. Of course, he was reprimanded for it, but we all had a good chuckle over his many schoolboy pranks. His voice, height, and air of such potential reminded me of my only brother who I missed terribly when he left with his mate to follow their dream to WA. So, I guess Garth was someone I wouldn’t forget. But in saying that, there were others I would. Like, I bet my deli manager did a Toyota jump when I asked for the transfer. Cannot remember the goodbye. She was someone I couldn’t wait to forget. <chuckle>



Join me next time when I start at the new Coles Supermarket, in Wodonga. We had already moved into our new home and what the heck! I thought I was transferring to the Deli department?  

Talk soon, foodies.


Deli Girl Out!

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