Years ago, I worked for a company that sold oils and vinegars steeped in herbs and packaged in beautiful Italian bottles. We worked in a small space with concrete floors, a metal roof and metal sides. There was an industrial sized rolling door where deliveries came and went. This rolling door transformed our work-space from a drab florescent-lit room into a gateway where we could see miles into the hill country.
After a day of packing jalapenos into hot apple cider vinegar, corking, sealing, cleaning, packing 30 or 40 orders, double boxing each weighing in at 20 to 30 lbs, Margie would tell me to open the back wall, where we would sit, legs dangling off the steep concrete embankment and watch the sunset with our favorite poison d’jour. For Rena it was usually a Bloody Mary and a joint. Margie enjoyed Miller light with a shot of tequila timed at 30minute intervals and supplemented in between with a few Virginia Slims. At 24 I was poor and a lightweight so I tended to mooch a beer, a couple of hits off Rena’s joint and I was good.
This was not your typical career path job out of college. It was something better.
Two years earlier I had emerged from college ready to conquer the world. Instead, I ran smack dab into a recession and the Gulf War. I moved home, scoured the employment section of the newspaper and spent every Sunday night hanging out at Kinkos with my best friend.
We were renting time on desktop computers creating individualized cover letters to go with our rather green resumes. Back in those days we were hard pressed to fill a page, even double-spaced with a 12.5 type font. 26 years later, I think I still have a ream of Neenah Classic Laid 24lb in natural white floating around in the attic somewhere.
Ah, the joy of weekly rejection, the hours of tube tv spent watching scud missals lighting the desert night.
Somehow I stumbled into a pre-press job after a month or so. I learned a lot, particularly about working for someone who is 25, arrogant and set up in a printing business by parents who have won the lottery.
Seriously, his parents won the lottery.
They opted to buy him a print shop rather than send him to school. So, I found myself with a boss three years older than me who slept with every employee he could, fired anyone who did not feed his ego and who on occasion would follow me out to my car when I was off the clock to tell me what the fuck I had done wrong.
It didn’t take much arm twisting when my college boyfriend asked if I wanted to move down to San Marcos with him. He was working at a gas station in Wimberley while finishing his degree and told me his boss’ wife was looking for someone to design her a label.
Margie and I instantly hit it off. She was eleven years older than I, beautiful, smart and straight forward.
She had spent a lot of money to have a bunch of men at a San Antonio ad agency design a label for a gourmet vinegar she created. She told them exactly what she wanted and they designed something completely opposite. They proceeded to tell her this was for her own good. They knew her product better than she did. She paid, left, and never contacted them again.
I listened to what she wanted and then tried to turn her vision into reality. It is the magic moment in graphic design, the moment when your client says, “THAT!!! THAT is exactly what I was imagining.”
In that moment you have connected and brought to life the thing that was in their head.
It is glorious.
After that Margie offered me a job. It ended up being one of the best opportunities of my life. The money was terrible but I learned what it was like to work with someone who values your ideas.
The company was started in Margie’s kitchen. We did every single step of the process; making recipes, researching bottles, finding local fresh herbs and resourcing large quantities of vinegar. We took small baskets of our product to boutique stores in Wimberley, Fredericksburg, Gruene, Austin and San Antonio.
Together we planned out a space that was built between a candle maker and a jewelry designer. I had a say in everything we did. I was never talked down to or belittled as I had been in the print shop. In this environment, I had a confidence never even experienced in college. Our products, completely designed by a 24 year old rookie, were sold in Harry & David, the Neiman Markus gift catalogue and the Texas Monthly gift catalog.
In most jobs, this would be where the enchantment ended, but Margie hired a staff of amazing women.
Most of the work was monotonous. It paid per bottle so we could know exactly what the cost was for every bottle produced.
What I found monotonous, retired women loved.
There were two ladies, both somewhere in their 60’s who could sit for a few hours or more talking, smoking and stuffing jalapenos into jars. The outside of the jalapeños had to show and there was a visual way of speckling the green with red so each bottle was a mini work of art.
Some days I packed orders, some days I was on the phone and some days I would sit and stuff with Dixie and Jeanie.
She also hired the most off the grid, interesting, true hippie I have ever known. This woman in her early 40’s could see a silver aura around me and told me once she had an orgasm during sex, she would advise her lovers to hurry and be done because she had no need for them after that. These things were mind blowing. You simply did not come across a lot of women talking about auras and orgasms in 1993.
Okay, let’s face it, that doesn’t happen often in Dallas in 2017.
This was much more than a place to work. It was a place to pour out the best parts of ourselves.
For Dixie, that was her cooking. She was from Shreveport and she could cast a spell on a pot and whatever went in, (usually something cheap and on sale), came out so delicious it would have moved Gordon Ramsey to tears. If Dixie was working we all feasted at lunch. If she stayed til close, she would dance a bit of zydeco around us on the loading dock, cigarette between her teeth, white hair not moving an inch.
In every way Dixie was spicy, Jeannie was not.
She had been married for 40 years to Harold, her honey. I don’t think we ever knew how many times Dixie had been married although I think at that time, she had a well-trained fella who might have lasted. These two were perfect work buddies.
They both loved to spin a tale, most of Jeannie’s were about her life with honey, most of Dixie’s were about dancing and raising hell. The great thing was, as much as each of them loved to talk, they loved to listen to the other. Probably more then the rest of us did. Of course we were still in our 20’s, and 30’s we could not yet appreciate the complete joy of sitting next to someone and just listening.
Although we did do a lot of listening.
This job was outfitted with hours of talk radio and we had a small tv on which many an Oprah and Heat of the Night was watched. It was even with these women that I watched the infamous OJ Simpson car chase. We spent hours and hours together watching the trial. We may have been the only 5 people in the country completely behind Marcia Clark.
Not a single one of us was perfect. I think everyone but Jeannie had spent a night spread out on two office chairs when things had not gone well at home. We had cried and laughed together, never feeling judged. We all knew what it was like to be bullied in a man’s world. We would have welcomed her into our fold with open arms; our mystic spot in the hill country where we were free to be ourselves.
In the years since I have probably heard it 50 or 60 times, “You know, how horrible women get when they all work together, it is awful.”
No, I honestly don’t know. My best bosses have always been women.
Sure, I have run into female personality types that I have not meshed with, just as with men.
But the time when my silver aura was the strongest and brightest, the time when my ideas were most nurtured from a seedling into brilliance was with the ladies of Cypress Valley Garden, in a small industrial building with a really big view.
About the Author: Jeanette McGurk
Jeanette McGurk is a Graphic Designer who entered the world of writing through advertising. She discovered writing a lot of truth with a little fluff is a lot more fun than the other way round. Now that she is no longer spending time making air conditioners, tile floors, IT and Botox sound sexy, she writes about the unglamorous yet wonderful moments of life for people like herself; in other words, anyone looking for interesting ways to put off cleaning and doing laundry.
She is a curmudgeon and doesn’t Twit or Instagram. She has heard the blog is dead but since she has finally figured out how to do it, that is the museum where you can locate her writings. http://jmcpb.blogspot.com/.