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Opinion: A career of many paths

Mother’s Day has passed by and while I paid a tribute to some of the women who helped me on my journey, there are many more who lent a helping hand. Career-wise, my life has many chapters.

My first job, not including babysitting, my senior year in high school was to empty and wash the refuse cans at Sno White Drive-in. I only lasted a few days as the smell of dumping and washing the trash cans made me “urpee.”

That is what my oldest brother always called nausea. He couldn’t eat in the school cafeteria as a kid because the smell of the garbage cans made him urpee. The only thing that helped with the nausea was to sniff a rag dipped in cider vinegar. I can’t smell cider vinegar to this day without thinking of Rocky.

When I was a freshman at Fresno City College, I worked as a donut fryer at Sno White. I wasn’t very good at the job so it, too, ended badly. I always smelled like French-fries and fresh donuts. It was years before I could eat donuts again.

At age 19 I worked for a pawn broker named Howard Starck. Our store was in the Leighton’s Jewelry gift room.

People needing cash brought in things of value and Starck would lend them money. In order to borrow money, the client needed to show proper identification. I had been on the job for about a week when in strolls a lady with a Eureka vacuum cleaner to use a collateral for a loan.

When the other clerk asked for ID the woman said “If you don’t believe me, that girl right there is my cousin.”

Ah yes, true story. Her mother and my dear grandmother Lillie Mae Kirk were sisters. There was once a couple of generations of my family that came to California in the 1930s. If you have ever read or seen the movie “The Grapes of Wrath,” you’ve met my family. My dear mother said we were rich Okies because we had two mattresses on the top of grandpa’s car.

Once, in front of a friend, I said I was just white trash. An Italian, he scolded me and said not to put myself down like that. I told him, if I wasn’t white trash, I’d have no ethnicity at all. Just because you are born white trash doesn’t mean you have to live like it.

Next, I waited tables at Berenda Ranch Restaurant. The diner was owned by Dino Mariscotti brother to Bob Mariscotti, owner of The Vineyard Restaurant. My termination from that job after about four weeks was inevitable. I also made the mistake of laughing at Dino when he wore his houndstooth trousers, white tunic and big ol’ chef’s hat.

I came into the restaurant to get my check and we had this little exchange.

“Is it filed under T for Tami or H for Hill?” Dino asked holding a little file box with alphabetic divides.

“I don’t know but is it under F for fired?” I asked.

He didn’t expect that but I thought I’d give him an opening. I was a friendly waitress and made great tips. I was too friendly to the bikers who stopped there. When there were Harleys in the parking lot, the traveling families wouldn’t stop. This was the mid-1970s after all, and the motorcycle clubs came from near and far to celebrate Fourth of July at Bass Lake.

He had a waitress the summer before who got too friendly with a table of bikers and they waited for her in the parking lot to finish her shift. Dino had to come in and shoo them away so the girl could go home. He had a lot of reasons to mistrust the bike clubs.

A drama that touched me that summer of the Bi-Centennial Year had bus driver Ed Ray stopping at the restaurant for iced tea every day before picking up his passengers from summer school.

We lived not far from the restaurant on Road 22. Deputies searched our little five-acre place and all the sheep barns before moving on. That was a bad summer for this area.

My next job found me working as a dispatcher for Madera Radio and the Massetti family. I worked there about 10 years before our parents got sick and I helped them out as best I could. I think a contributing factor to not having kids was in part because we spent so much time caring for our aging parents. About five months after my mother-in-law died, my father had his first stroke. Even with help, it was not possible to care for him at home.

My mother came to live next door to us in what the Nix family called the little house. A cute little one-bedroom house that Fred and I lived in when we were first married.

In about 1990, I went to work for the Law Firm of Lester J. Gendron.

I’ve said many times, “My heroes have always been lawyers.” While I envisioned it would be like an episode of Perry Mason, I was sorely mistaken.

It should have been called the Gendron, Gendron and Gendron law firm. Les, his former wife Virginia and their daughter Stefanie (Gendron) Eddings comprised the staff.

There is always busy work to do in an office and I was the dweeb they hired to do it. During my tenure there, I filed papers, scheduled appointments and did pretty much whatever needed doing, but didn’t take formal training. It was there I became acquainted and friends with Madera’s legal community. The first year I was there I also became a Notary Public, a position I maintain to this day.

I met Judge Ernie LiCalsi and got to know Judge Eddie Moffat. I went to high school with Judge Mitch Rigby, he was a senior when I was a freshman. At that time the Superior Court cases were overseen by Madera County Clerk Rebecca Martinez. She and I literally went from kindergarten through 12th grade together. Part of my job consisted of a couple trips a day to her office to pick up filings on the various clients the Gendron firm represented.

Virginia S. Gendron was a brilliant attorney who detested going to court. Their daughter served as a legal secretary as good as any paralegal working today.

During the course of my employment, Stefanie married David Eddings and had their daughter, Simone. I got to experience her big wedding at the Harvest Community Church with a reception at the Elks Lodge.

When Les died, I was honored to write his memorial piece under the headline, Former Madera County District Attorney died. In addition to having served as district attorney, he also held office as public defender during his career.

I still maintain a close friendship with Virginia and Stefanie.

Virginia is in her 90s and still crochets a lot. As for Stef, any time I need help domestically, she is there for me. She has helped me move about a half dozen times, sewed me a bunch of really cool COVID-19 masks and bakes for me any time I ask. If I get a lug of fruit from one of my grower friends, her house is my first stop to have her make pies for Fred. Currently I’m eating on a few batches of cookies she made for me. She is my No. 1 go-to if I have a question, such as how do I clean this, or how do I cook something else. It is nice at my age to have such a knowledgeable friend I can call on with a Mommy-type problem.

In 1995, I started work at The Madera Tribune as an advertising executive. When a spot opened in the editorial department, I was first in line.

The newspaper game has changed dramatically in the almost 25 years I’ve been with the Tribune. I still contend nothing really happens in Madera until we say it happened.

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Long days and pleasant nights have a great weekend.

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Readers may contact Tami Jo Nix by emailing or by following @TamiJoNix on Twitter.

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