My First Job was in a Toy Store

Chink-chunk, I was in charge!

Katharine Valentino
3 min readJan 27, 2022

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Photo by Barrett Ward on Unsplash

I worked summers in a toy store all through high school. When I took the job, I was so excited to be working, making my own money to spend any way I wanted to. I envisioned purchasing a real faux pearl necklace and the rag curlers recommended in Betty Cornell’s Teen-Age Popularity Guide. My mother pointed out that Grandma had already given me pearls and I didn’t need curlers to mess with my already too-kinky hair. But Mama was missing the point. I wanted to have everything Betty Cornett wrote about, so I could be “attractive and popular.” Attractive and popular and grown-up. With a job.

When I took the job, I imagined myself becoming an expert on toys. I would assist all the little children in the selection of a perfect teddy bear or acetate building set for a birthday or somebody’s very special day. Instead, I spent much of my eight-hour shifts jamming Mr. Potato Head arms and legs into last night’s baked potato — back then, you had to use a real potato — or climbing under the table at the front of the store to get all the Rig-a-Jig pieces — “boys and girls build anything their hearts desire” — back into their Training-Tray.

I also spent too much time digging Matchbox cars out of boys’ linty pockets and kewpie dolls out of girls’ greasy purses while delivering the standard lecture on stealing. I was shocked when I first realized how many kids tried to steal. Taking things that didn’t belong to me had ceased to be an option for me at age 5 after my mother marched me back to that bakery with two by-then ruined doughnuts, which she paid for. Then, I had to pay her back out of my allowance.

I think ringing up sales was the only thing that kept me at this job for four years.

I rang up sales on an ornate, brass, mechanical contrivance with an adding machine on top and a cash drawer below. There were 0 through 9 keys on a keypad, but there was also a special row of keys with specific amounts: 10¢, 20¢ and on up to $1. When I was first shown this beautiful machine, I was offended that somebody would think the “toy expert” wouldn’t be able to press 1 plus 0 for 10 cents or 1 plus 0 plus 0 for one dollar on this thing I had just learned was a “cash register.” I realized, however, that a “sales clerk” might need some special…

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Katharine Valentino

Still trying for the words to help us do and feel good things. Owner of the Publication Creators Hub. Top writer in politics/racism but often write memoir.