WOSTER: Ah, a summer job — everyone had one
If you grow up on a farm or ranch, you probably never have to worry during your school years where in the world you will ever find a summer job.
A friend of mine recently wrote a piece about summer jobs, mentioning that he worked in a gas station for a while as a young man. That got me to thinking that he must have actually applied for the job. That would have unsettled me, especially if the boss turned the moment into a formal job interview. In the case of my friend, that was unlikely. I know the station where he worked, and the boss would have known everything about him and his whole family. Small-town job interviews probably aren't as grueling as those in cities where the boss has no idea who the applicant is.
I never liked job interviews, not my first one as a college kid applying at the Chamberlain Register weekly newspaper and not my last seeking a public information position with the state Department of Public Safety. I was 65 years old when I sat for that last interview. With 40-plus years of career behind me I still felt as nervous as a kid fresh out of college with absolutely nothing to write on the form in the space that says, "Previous employment history.''
I was fortunate, then, that my dad never made me interview for my summer job on the family farm. It was a given that when the last bell of the last class of the school year sounded, I'd be trading my cotton slacks and penny loafers for denims and work boots. I'd barely have time to sing a few choruses of "See You in September'' ("Bye, bye, so long, farewell'') before I'd be out on a Ford tractor in an alfalfa field mowing the first cutting of hay for the summer. My dad didn't believe in long transitions from schoolwork to fieldwork.
I sometimes felt cheated, missing out on the advantages the town kids had — summer baseball, classmates to pal around with in the evenings, the swimming pool the town built just before the summer of my sixth-grade year. Towns definitely have attractions for young folks.
But most city families I knew also expected their sons and daughters to find summer jobs of one sort or another. As my friends and I progressed through our school years, we began to hear more and more often about responsibilities and the value of work and the importance of staying busy. I had a fifth-grade teacher who loved to say things like, "The devil makes work for idle hands to do.'' Of course, she had 30 years of classroom experience with fifth-grade boys, so she appreciated the value of keeping them busy.
By the time we reached junior high and high school, most of my friends had summer jobs of one sort or another.
Some worked in gas stations, where full service was still a thing and a customer pulling in for three dollars' worth of gas could also expect to have the oil checked, the windows washed, the floor mats swept and sometimes the level of the fluid in the radiator measured.
Others bagged groceries and carried them out to the customer's vehicle. Some cleaned tourist cabins. Some waited tables or learned the secrets of being a short-order cook. A few hooked on with house-painting crews. One or two even got a taste of the farm life and a glimpse of the world from Texas to Canada by traveling with custom combining crews.
Sometimes a kid would mow lawns for neighbors, although most people mowed their own lawns, often with an old-fashioned push mower. I guess those weren't so old-fashioned back then. Mowing lawns for neighbors seldom turned a profit, though. A kid was expected to do that if the neighbors had trouble doing it for themselves.
My kids all worked summer jobs during their school years. They began looking for work in February or March and worried their way through the weeks until they had been interviewed and assured of a position.
Watching them fret, I see that I had it easy.