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Mae Christmas

Edith’s Café

Central City, Kentucky 09/06

Interviewer: Candacy Taylor Interviewee: Mae Christmas

Taylor: State your full name and how many years you’ve waitressed.

Christmas: My name is Mae Edwin Christmas and I started when I was fourteen, so that makes forty-two years.

Taylor: And were did you start?

Christmas: The first job I had was at the Kentucky Grill in Central City.

Taylor: So you grew up here?

Christmas: Uh huh. Sure did.

Taylor: Have you ever left?

Christmas: No. Probably never will.

Taylor: Did you ever want to leave or want to go anywhere else?

Christmas: No. I never didn’t. I always liked it here. I never had any desire to leave.

Taylor: Can you talk about Central City and what it’s like?

Christmas: Well, it’s just a small home town; everybody knows everybody. Especially if you’re a waitress, you’re going to know just about everybody in town. It’s a good place to live, I think.

Taylor: So this is the downtown area, is this the main restaurant here?

Christmas: Oh, no, no. There’s another restaurant here on the corner, then we’ve got another restaurant there called The Purple Onion.

Taylor: And how long has Edith’s been here?

Christmas: Well this was Winnie’s Grill for like sixty something years, but now Edith has just had it since January of this year.

Taylor: And how long have you worked at Edith’s?

Christmas: Since January of this year. But Tina had it before that and I worked for her down here.

Taylor: Okay, so how many restaurants have you worked at in Central City?

Christmas: Well, let’s see….five that I know of….six. I keep thinkin’ and I’ll probably come up with some more, six.

Taylor: So what’s the longest you ever been at one restaurant?

Christmas: Probably nine years and it was uptown.

Taylor: And were they all diner, coffee shop type of places?

Christmas: Uh, huh.

Taylor: So you never wanted to work in a fancier…

Christmas: No. Because when someone comes through the door I’m liable to holler at ‘em, you don’t do that in a fancy restaurant. No, I never had any desire to work in a fancy restaurant. You know everybody comes through here and you know what they want. Holler and ask them if they want their usual when they come through the door. Holler and ask them what they want to drink, you know, it’s just a friendly atmosphere, I think.

Taylor: I think it’s more liberating, for a waitress.

Christmas: I do too. You know we have here, some customers, if you’re busy they’ll get up a clean tables, or help you get drinks, you know. You know it’s just like home to them, so.

Taylor: That’s so nice. How many customers are regulars?

Christmas: Well we’ve probably got at least thirty to forty. And that’s like that couple over there. I’ve waited on them for the last fourteen years. And they’re here pretty much everyday.

Taylor: And do they order the same thing?

Christmas: No, now them two don’t. But I do have some that order the same thing everyday.

Actually we don’t even write the order down, the cook knows, we just write their name down on the ticket, we don’t even write ‘em down.

Taylor: Do you ever call ‘em [orders] in?

Christmas: Okay, well what it is, I’ll just write on the ticket, Johnny or Kenneth and they [the cooks] know what it is so they just send it out and I just put the price on it. See we still write our orders down on a tablet, we don’t have a computer or anything, it’s still the oldtimey way.

Taylor: Well if it still works.

Christmas: Well yeah. That’s what we do.

Taylor: So tell me about your parents. What did they do for work?

Christmas: Well my dad was a coal miner, and my mom never did work. She was a homemaker. Now my dad died when I was twelve, and my mom’s been dead now I think right at twenty years. So neither one of them are living now, but she never did work.

Taylor: And is this a coal mining area?

Christmas: Yeah, this used to be pretty much the capitol of the coal mining, yeah. There was a lot of coal mines back then. When dad was working, I had two brothers that worked in the coal mines.

Taylor: And what happened; they just closed down?

Christmas: Yeah, a lot of them closed down. They’re trying to open them back up now.

Taylor: That must be hard for the economy for the area.

Christmas: Yeah, it was, it really was, because we had a lot of coal miners.

Taylor: Do you have any siblings?

Christmas: I’ve got three brothers still living. One is a plumber, but the two others are retired.

Taylor: And how old are you?

Christmas: Fifty-six. And my brother who was the coal miner, he’s seventy-nine.

Taylor: So tell me about your first waitressing job.

Christmas: Well, it was at the Kentucky Grill, I more or less started at…we had a window kind of…well people came up and ordered from the window. So I didn’t do much waitressing there. But then, people would come up from outside and order. I guess probably when I really started waitressing was at the Y Café. That’s when I really started waitressing.

Taylor: Was that from the picture you showed me?

Christmas: Yeah.

Taylor: And when was that again?

Christmas: It had to be about 1968. That’s my son I’m putting a coat on, and the reason I’m putting a coat on is, I had to work a lot of hours and I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with him and my boss let me bring him to work with me some. Until he got to walking, but when he was little I could take him to work with me some and spend time with him.

Taylor: Yes, I’ve heard people describe waitressing as “Mother’s Hours.” Because you could be home when they came home from school. You could cook them a meal and spend more time with your kids. A lot of the kids could into the restaurant. Did anybody teach you? Or how did you learn how to do it?

Christmas: Not really, you just had to more or less learn on your own. You know, you just take a table and write down the order, you know, what they wanted. You kinda learn from that.

Taylor: You know it’s amazing that so many people consider waitressing a skilless job.

Christmas: You know that’s true.

Taylor: Can you talk about that?

Yeah. You know really a lot of people don’t even consider this a job and to me it’s one of the hardest jobs you can do and you already know that because you did it for 8 years. It’s a hard job and you’ve got to like it to do it. If you don’t like it, you’re not going to be any good at it. I don’t think. You’ve got to be a people person, you’ve got to have patience. If you don’t like it you’re not going to keep doing it because it is hard work.

Taylor: So did you pick it up right away?

Christmas: Yeah, I did really.

Taylor: You’re just naturally organized, would you say?

Christmas: Yeah, I think so.

Taylor: Because you have to be. I mean how else would you really manage? I think that so many people think when you first start waitressing, it’s just this job anybody can do, but if you’re behind, and things are piling up, it can be very disorienting and scary and people get mad at you. So I think it’s important to recognize that it does take skill to do this job.

Christmas: Definitely, and you’ve got to remember who gets what, which table gets what, because it’s terrible when you take the wrong food to the wrong table and they start eating it and these other people have been waiting ten minutes and then there it is, somebody else’s eating it, you know [laughing]. It gets a little leery there, you know.

Taylor: I know your stomach sinks, and you’re like, “Don’t eat it.”

Christmas: Yeah, it’s like, how did I do that?

Taylor: And then when you have regular customers you have to remember what they want.

Christmas: Yeah, that’s true.

Taylor: Well I think it becomes automatic, but since you’ve been in Central City, do you find that being in so many different restaurants, do you still get regulars that come from other restaurants you served?

Christmas: Yes.

Taylor: Did they follow you?

Christmas: I think some of them have, yeah. You know just like that couple over there.

Taylor: Because they know that you know what they want.

Christmas: Yeah, yeah. And then know it was usually be a good atmosphere. Because you know I’m always joking and stuff like that. That’s why I can’t work in a really fancy restaurant, I’m sure the money would be better, but I don’t think I’d be happy.

Taylor: You know, sometimes I don’t think it really is better money necessarily.

Christmas: Well, know I guess you’re right.

Taylor: You know sometimes with your regulars you can budget because you know what they’re going to give you and a lot of times with a fancy restaurant there’s so much more expectation, sometimes they’re not as inclined or feel obligated to tip well, because they don’t know you.

Christmas: That’s true. That’s true.

Taylor: And if you’re in a place where they don’t have a lot of turnover, you know it a busier diner atmosphere, you’ve got more turnover, you’ve got more opportunity to make more money, so sometimes, it doesn’t mean more money.

Christmas: Well, I don’t know, I’ve never worked in one but I’ve heard that too, that it doesn’t turn over as much.

Taylor: Do you make minimum wage?

Christmas: No.

Taylor: Do you make more than minimum wage?

Christmas: No, I make $2.75 an hour, plus tips. Well actually $2.13 is all you have to pay a waitress, yeah, I make $2.75 plus tips.

Taylor: That’s crazy, because you know in San Francisco you get minimum wage.

Christmas: Well you don’t in Kentucky.

Taylor: And the minimum wage in San Francisco is around $8.75

Christmas: Is that right? Oh no, we don’t.

Taylor: Do you tip out? Do you have a busser?

Christmas: No, actually in here, I do everything, I bus the tables, wait on the people, get the register, I do everything. No we don’t have no bus boy. I wish we did [laughing].

Taylor: But then you’d have to give him money though.

Christmas: Yeah, I guess that’s true. So actually we usually just have one waitress on. Sometimes it gets…if everybody gets here at one time, it gets pretty busy. Now Edith will get up and help.

Taylor: So if there’s one waitress you have 9 tables. That’s a lot.

Christmas: Yeah.

Taylor: So do you work mornings?

Christmas: See we’re just open from 6-2. So I work all day, from 6-2.

Taylor: How many days a week?

Christmas: Four.

Taylor: So why do you think you’ve waitressed this long? What’s kept you doing this work?

Christmas: I think it’s because I guess I enjoy it. I really do. And I don’t think I’d make any more money anywhere else. You know the money’s pretty good.

Taylor: Umm hmm, I think that’s a big misconception. A lot of people assume that waitresses don’t make any money, you know that they’re not skilled workers and it’s not valued. You know the truth is…

Christmas: It’s usually more than if I got a job around here in a factory or anything. And like I said, a lot of people, they might not understand that.

Taylor: Because they don’t know.

Christmas: No. And they don’t have any idea how hard it is either.

Taylor: Can you talk about that?

Christmas: Well, I mean…you really get tired because you make a lot of steps in a restaurant, back and forth, back and forth, you know. And sometimes in here…we might not get a break, period. But then it might be slow and we’ll get a break. But yeah, I’m pretty tired when I go home, but I’m pretty contented when I’m off a day or two I’m ready to hit it again.

Taylor: So how is it with the physical demands? Do you have any physical ailments? What hurts you the worst?

Christmas: Just my legs when I go home. My legs hurt, but like I said, if I get my rest, I’m ready the next day.

Taylor: Have you ever hurt yourself on the job?

Christmas: No, I reckoned I haven’t.

Taylor: So what about the younger waitresses? Do you have any that work here?

Christmas: No, we don’t have any in here. And I’ve worked with them and most of them, to me, don’t pay attention to what the people need you know, as far as keeping their drinks filled and you know stuff like that. A lot of them just don’t understand enough to do that.

Taylor: Why do you think that is?

Christmas: I really don’t know. Like I said, I’ve worked with several of them and it would seem like they just couldn’t remember stuff like that. I don’t know why they couldn’t remember.

Taylor: Do you think that maybe…because I’ve interviewed a lot of older waitresses and they agree with what you’re saying. A lot of the women I’ve interviewed grew up on farms and they’re used to hard physical labor so they don’t have the same feelings about working hard. So a lot of older waitresses will say the younger ones are just lazy and I don’t know what it is, because they younger waitresses work hard doing different things, even if it’s just exercising…

Christmas: I really think, and it’s just like these little restaurants…the day of the mom and pop restaurants are just about over. Because the older generation is dying out and it’s hard for these younger kids to understand this. You know most of the kids work in places now where everything’s timed. You know like French fries or anything, so to me, I think a lot of the little restaurants are going to be gone before you know it, you know the little home type.

Taylor: Yeah, but they serve such a great part of the community.

Christmas: Yeah, you have people that come in here everyday, they visit with each other everyday, you know, like widows and widowers. Like those two ladies come down and they’re both widows and they come down and enjoy each others company and they eat here everyday so, you know it’s hard to do that a fast food [place] or something like that.

Taylor: It’s different.

Christmas: It is it’s different, it really is.

Taylor: Yeah, and I don’t think that people recognize the contribution that a lot of career waitresses have made.

Christmas: I don’t think they do either. You know we have people that we’ve had for years, sayin’ if they’re missed from coming down here, we’ll call ‘em. We call and make sure they’re not sick or something like that.

Taylor: Yeah, it’s almost like an extended family.

Christmas: It is.

Taylor: So what do you like the best about waitressing?

Christmas: Just meeting people. You know I met two guys from Louisiana yesterday, we meet them from all over. They’ll come in and say, “we just drove all over town, trying to find a little restaurant.”

Taylor: Is there anything you dislike about waitressing?

Christmas: Not really. I mean, I can’t really think of anything. You know there’s days when you know it seems like everything goes wrong. But you know as far as really disliking the waitress part, no. Well there’s days where a lot of things go wrong.

Taylor: When was the last day when everything went wrong?

Christmas: Well, it’s been a little while. It’s been a few months. We were really, really busy, I mean just packed all at once. And all the tables was dirty and I had the bus tub and I had it full and I sit it on the end of a chair and the chair fell and all the dishes went all over the floor and it just made the awfulest mess you ever seen and I was too busy to clean it up. So I guess that was probably the worst day. Because it was just food, dishes everywhere, you know. Plus we were busy.

Taylor: So the woman with the long hair, is that Edith?

Christmas: No, that’s Tina. She waitresses two days a week and cooks three days.

Taylor: Does Edith work?

Christmas: No. She owns it. That’s Edith there. If we get busy, she does.

Taylor: That’s good. But it looks like you have a good relationship between the cooks and the waitresses.

Christmas: Yes, we do. Actually we’ve worked together for a long time. We worked at Uptown together and we worked down here together. We’re just kind of family really.

Taylor: Do you wear a uniform?

Christmas: We’re not required to wear a uniform. Now I wear a vest all the time because it’s got a pocket. Now I have to have a pocket. So this is what I normally wear.

Taylor: Do you have any mean customers? It seems like they’re all regulars. Do you have any ones that give you a hard time? And how do you learn to deal with that over the years?

Christmas: Well I’ve had some that have given me a hard time. You deal with it until you can’t deal with it anymore and you just tell ‘em [laughing] you know I have. We have people that you just could not please on cooking for them. And you know this was several times that it would happen. So I finally, I just told the boss one day, I said, “Look, you’re throwing the food in the garbage everyday, you’re not making any money off of them. I just told ‘em, “We can’t please you. You need to find another place to eat.” Because we were really losing money on them.

Taylor: And what did they say when you said that?

Christmas: Well they left and they hadn’t been back. But this was several, several straight times. You can’t just keep cooking stuff and throwing it away. So I told my boss I was going to do and she said it was fine and so I did and I was glad they didn’t come back [laughing].

Taylor: What stands out as some of your best memories of doing this job?

Christmas: Well I’ve had a lot of them.

Taylor: Have your regulars done anything special for you?

Christmas: Well a lot of them remember my birthday and I think that’s good. They bring cards in or something like that or gifts. And they remember me at Christmas, which is good. We do have regulars that will buy gifts and things.

Taylor: Do you feel like waitressing has provided you with a good life?

Christmas: I think it has, I think it has. I did try, at one time, to work at the hospital, I was a clerk and I just wasn’t happy with it, so I didn’t stay there long and I went back to waitressing.

Taylor: So it was more office work?

Christmas: Yeah, kind of. And me, I’d rather be up doing something than sitting and doing something. I’m a mover, I’d rather do something.

Taylor: Do you have any plans for retirement?

Christmas: No, I really don’t ever plan to retire. I really don’t because I really think I’d get too bored. I don’t even take vacations.

Taylor: When was the last time you took a vacation?

Christmas:’92. It’s been fourteen years.

Taylor: Where did you go?

Christmas: I didn’t go anywhere, but that the last time I actually took any time off, you know. The longest I’ve been off was 13 days and I was in the hospital.

Taylor: In the forty-two years you’ve been waitressing!?

Christmas: Well, not in all the forty-two years, but in the last several years. I know in the last fourteen years, I haven’t took even a week off, other than being in the hospital.

Taylor: Have you ever left the state of Kentucky?

Christmas: Well, we went to the Smokies one time and that’s about it. I’ve been to the Smokies and I’ve been to Branson. And I think that’s pretty well it.

Taylor: Where’s Branson?

Christmas: Branson, Missouri. I think those are the only two places out of Kentucky I’ve ever been, but I just never cared anything about it and my husband doesn’t either so, it’s a good thing. And we both get lost too easily, we do.

Taylor: That’s amazing. So you’ve never worked for a union restaurant?

Christmas: No.

Taylor: And do you have health insurance?

Christmas: Not here, but I do through where my husband works, he works for the city.

Taylor: Where does your husband work?

Christmas: He works for the city, he’s been with the city for…since ’68, so thirty-eight years. He’s sixty-five years-old and he’s not retiring either, because he likes to work too. But I don’t have any insurance here, most waitresses, you don’t have any kind of benefits at all. You know that.

Taylor: Do you own or rent your house?

Christmas: We own it.

Taylor: How far did you go in school?

Christmas: Well, I quit when I was fifteen, but I did go get my GED when I was forty. When I turned forty years-old I went and got my GED, just to have it, because I was afraid that something might happen and I couldn’t waitress anymore. You’ve got to have a GED even to be a manager, so I did go get it.

Taylor: Do you have any other health issues that might hinder your waitressing?

Christmas: Nothing I know of. I hope I don’t. But I know of any…and I hope I don’t find out if I do.

Taylor: How many children do you have?

Christmas: One.

Taylor: A boy?

Christmas: A boy.

Taylor: And what does he do?

Christmas: He works for a sign company.

Taylor: Does he live in the area?

Christmas: Uh huh. He lives two doors up. I have two grandkids.

Taylor: Do you have any other hobbies?

Christmas: Yeah, I play Texas Hold ‘em, poker. I love to play. We have a lot of friends that get together and we play the little tournaments, but we have a lot of fun doing it.

Taylor: Do you have any other stories about waitressing?

Christmas: No, I can’t think of any.

Taylor: When you first started did you ever think you’d be here over forty years?

Christmas: No, I didn’t.

Taylor: It was supposed to be a temporary thing?

Christmas: Yeah, really. I didn’t think I would. Like I said, it’s a job, it’s an honest job and it’s a good job that a lot of people don’t understand but it is, it’s a good job and it’s honest work.

Taylor: Well I think we’re finished, unless I missed anything?

Christmas: No, you didn’t miss anything that I can think of.

Taylor: Well you were a great interview and you have a wonderful speaking voice.

Well thank you. Most of them [her regulars] come in and say, “I knew you were here Mae, I could hear you.” [laughing] They’ll come in and say, “We knew you was here, we could hear you outside.” [laughing]



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