Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Diary of a waitress

Diary of a waitress

Carolyn Meyer
Historical Fiction
For ages 12 and up
Calkins Creek, 2015   ISBN: 978-1620916520

Kitty Evans knows what she wants to do with her life. In the fall she is going to go to college so that she can become a journalist one day. Then, on June 1st 1926, Kitty’s father tells her, at the breakfast table, that there just isn’t enough money available to send her to college. Apparently there is a job available at the shoe department at McMeen’s, and Kitty can get a job there being a sales girl. Kitty is flabbergasted. How can this be happening to her?

   Then Kitty sees an advertisement in the newspaper. The Fred Harvey Company is looking for young women to work as waitresses in the Harvey Eating Houses on the Santa Fe Railroad. No experience is necessary. Still fired up about the unfairness of what her father has said, Kitty writes a letter of application and she mails it.

    Kitty never expects that she will be called for an interview, but she is. On June 8th she dresses up in her Sunday clothes and tells her family that she is going to spend the day with her friend Maudie. Instead, she travels to Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri for an interview with a Miss Steele. While she is waiting for her interview, Kitty meets a flapper from Pennsylvania called Cordelia Hart. Both Kitty and Cordelia are accepted as potential Harvey Girls. They will have to go through thirty days of training frist, and if they complete it successfully they will be offered a six month contract to be a Harvey Girl for fifty dollars a month plus room, board, and uniforms.

   Kitty’s mother is appalled when Kitty shares her news with her family later that day. She proceeds to accuse Kitty of “ruining your life, and you’re ruining mine too.” Her father is not exactly delighted when he hears that his daughter wants to be a waitress either, and he is sure that she will regret her decision.

   Two days later Kitty leaves home to travel to Emporia, Kansas to begin her training. She runs into Cordelia at the station and they sit together. Later they are joined by another trainee, a farm girl called Emmy. The three of them are soon settled in at the Harvey House in Emporia and their training begins.

    Kitty does not expect the work to be hard, but it is. Every Harvey girl has to learn all the jobs that the waitresses do at the lunch counter and in the dining room. Every place setting has to be perfect, and service for every guest has to be flawless. The guests who are train passengers will only have half an hour to eat a three course meal, so service has to well timed, but at the same time it cannot be rushed. Kitty is often exhausted and feels more than a little overwhelmed, but she firmly tells herself to “Stick to it, Kitty!” which she does.

    Kitty, Cordelia and Emmy all make it through training and they are sent to work at the Harvey Eating House in Belen, New Mexico. The town is small, and nothing like the places where the three girls grew up. They meet people from different cultures, and experience celebrations that are completely new to them. They make new friends and come to take pride in the work that they do, no matter what other people may think of them. Kitty, following the advice a newspaper editor gave her, carefully notes down what she sees and hears. After all, she is a reporter in training.

   In this fascinating book Carolyn Meyer weaves together fact and fiction to take readers back in time to the Midwest and New Mexico in the mid 1920’s. Young women at that time had a limited number of career options, and most people felt that after completing school they should focus on finding a husband, getting married and having children. There were some young women who wanted more; who wanted a career and the opportunity to see a little of the world. Many of the young women who became Harvey Girls were like this. They were not ready to settle down and wanted to do something adventurous with their lives. The work in the Harvey Eating Houses was hard, but they were well paid for their labors, and they got to go places that were different from the towns and cities where they grew up.

    To complement the dairy format narrative, the author has included period photographs so that we can see what the Harvey Eating Houses looked like and take a peek into the lives of the girls who made these places so successful.