If you’re like me, you’ve spent most of your working life in Catawba County.
I hadn’t thought much about that until I attended docent training at the Museum of History on the Square in Newton. That’s where “The Way We Worked” will be exhibited from Aug. 10-Sept. 18. I will be one of the volunteers helping to guide visitors through the five rooms of work-related disp “The Way We Worked” will be open Monday-Saturday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. In addition to items from the Smithsonian, visitors will view artifacts representing local industries such as agriculture, pottery, furniture, textiles and fiber optics.
As I toured the displays under construction, I thought of my own work career. It all started in 1979 when my husband Tym and I, then newlyweds, arrived in Hickory sight-unseen. He had transferred with Kmart Corp. After settling into our apartment, I scanned the want ads. Soon I was hired at the Hickory Farms store at Valley Hills, the “new mall” as it was then called, a far reach from town, along 64-70. That summer at Hickory Farms I learned how to operate a cash register, ringing up sales of summer sausage, cheese, pepper jelly and sweet hot mustard. Most sales were by cash or check. What few credit card sales there were required a credit card imprinter and a triplicate form with carbon paper.
That September, I landed a P.R. job at Inform Inc., a local ad agency. In those pre-digital days, Inform produced newsletters and other communications pieces for associations including the Catawba Valley Hosiery Association. I had hand-knitted socks before, but I’d never fully considered the mechanized world of commercial hosiery production of its terminology: greige goods, knitters, loopers, boarders, fixers.
At the same time came my introduction to the furniture industry. I learned that the smell of varnish was the smell of money. Furniture I’d seen in stores back home in Illinois had to come from somewhere, and more than likely, the Unifour was the place. Working at Inform, I was able to visit the production floor of furniture plants where I became acquainted with such words as rough end, case goods, spring up and eight-way hand tied.
And I was amazed to learn that local people rented their homes to furniture buyers who descended on Hickory twice a year during market season.
My working life at Inform involved a phone, a typewriter and a light board where employees created pages using scissors, a waxing machine and large pieces of layout paper. Producing photographs involved acetate film, darkroom chemicals and photo paper. No one could imagine desktop computers or a camera existing within a device the size of a Hershey bar.
Three of the women I met at Inform have remained my friends for nearly 40 years. Though we have moved from job to job—and two of us have retired—we have all chosen to remain in the county.
Through the years my employers included, besides Hickory Farms—a book store, two family-run businesses, two large corporations, a public utility, a school system, a public library system, a credit union, two colleges, a United Way agency and myself as a freelance writer. Yes, I did a lot of moving around at a time when most people stayed put, but I consider myself rich in experiences.
When we turned off I-40 back in 1979, we didn’t know a soul in North Carolina, much less Hickory, but we were young and adventurous. We said we’d give Catawba County a try. We had no idea we would retire here.