First job

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IT was hot and humid the day Jennifer applied for her first job - a typical Philadelphia summer day. Un-perturbed by the heat, she was her usual jovial self as I piled her into her stroller and started off for Cherry Street. Poor child, she had no way of knowing she was about to join the ranks of the workers of the city of Philadelphia! But her mother's eye had caught the ad in the Sunday paper that read: ``Wanted: Mother and 18-month-old baby to pose for sculptor.'' Jennifer was about three months under the prescribed age, but very precocious, and as I looked at her jowlsy, cherubic face I told myself that the sculptor wouldn't be able to resist her.

I was right. She walked off with the job easily. After we had climbed the long narrow flight of stairs to the enormous studio above a garage, she began to look about her with her usual amiable curiosity at the various pieces of sculpture of all sizes and types that crowded the studio. She waited unconcernedly and patiently while several baby girls were interviewed by a tall, stern-faced woman with straight white hair pulled back in a knot. It was indeed a pleasant surprise to find that the sculptor was a woman, and that she didn't refer to herself as a ``sculptress.''

When Jennifer's turn to be interviewed came, the sculptor was obviously impressed with her extreme but nonboisterous joyousness. Although the sculptor was a reticent and noncommittal woman, her pleasure showed in her face in spite of herself, and I knew before she told me that Jennifer had landed her first job.

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The ensuing appointments were among the most enjoyable hours I have ever spent. I was a bit disappointed when I learned that I would not be a part of the proposed piece but was there only to control the baby. But I resigned myself to letting Jennifer be the star - though I knew I'd be doing most of the work.

Holding an active baby in my lap for 15-minute periods and trying to keep her in something resembling the desired pose for at least one minute at a time was a challenge, indeed, but it was an enjoyable one.

Watching the deft fingers of the sculptor shaping the clay while she dispassionately expounded her views on the state of modern sculpture was fascinating, and I came to greatly admire this woman's integrity and dedication to her art. She had made a successful career, and several of her pieces were to be found in Philadelphia's various parks.

Jennifer was in the process of learning to talk, and it was difficult to restrain her from suddenly pointing enthusiastically at the various figures she spied on the studio shelves and exclaiming, ``Horsie!'' or ``Lion!'' or ``Baby!'' To her, this was another of the inexplicable adventures of life, and she accepted it with total enthusiasm.

When people asked the inevitable question, ``How's the baby?'' my husband would reply, ``Fine! She's got a job now, and she's earning more per hour than her old man!'' They would soon guess, of course, that she was modeling, and also that her hours of work were fewer by far than his, but it was fun to see the initial reaction.

The job lasted well into the fall, when a fire had to be lit in an old stove to keep the model reasonably warm. By that time her vocabulary had grown to such an extent that the artist and I had to pretty much give up our attempts at conversation. She now called our sculptor-employer unceremoniously by her last name only: ``Fountain.''

When the work was completed, we were presented with a photograph of it. A jovial cupid sat perched on top of a large shell, making a lovely, old-fashioned birdbath for some pleasant garden. I treasure this photo as a memento of my daughter's first working days.

When she was 3, I took her to try out for a job as a photographer's model, but she was highly suspicious of the whole business and in her good-natured way failed completely to cooperate. She never modeled again until her early 20s, when for a time she modeled shoes. Her life then flowed in other directions. But to have one's first working experience at such an early age in the high-ceilinged, sunlit loft of a sculptor was a good start.

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