Summer Jobs – some better than others

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 7, 2012

Every year around this time, when I am feeling hot and icky and completely uninspired, my motivation gets tweaked up a few notches when I think about what I was doing during the summer of 1981 — working in a poultry processing plant. All day long, turkeys (ready to be put into their grocery store packaging) would come down a conveyer belt. I would slide one into position onto a little metal contraption that allowed me to shove it into a plastic bag. The turkey would then continue on to the next station, where the bag would be vacuum sealed.
Most tasks now seem pretty good by comparison.
If you’ve never had to wear a hairnet for a job, consider yourself lucky. If you’ve never had to handle dead, naked turkeys for a job, consider yourself lucky. If you’ve never had to ask permission from a supervisor to leave a production line just to go to the bathroom, consider yourself lucky.
It was not a job I’d care to revisit, but it did teach me that there are people out there who work extremely hard, hefting poultry all day long while standing on hard concrete. It also taught me that while I respected these people, I did not want to ever permanently join their ranks.
But as unpleasant as that was, it’s still better than the summer job my mother had when she was 19.
With absolutely no training, she worked for a mental hospital in Elgin Ill. back in 1951 and says the experience aged her five years in one summer.
“The medications were few and mostly sedating. I was in charge of various wards…a few times alone with 200 or more combative women. I face-checked, dispensed medications and clothing, bathed, cut hair and trimmed nails, exterminated bed bugs, and policed. That was a big order for us.”
My mother’s summer job did not set her on a life course, but for some people, summer jobs help them realize what they want to do.
‘Changed my life’
Recent Pfeiffer graduate Jamie Rose Beinkampen has had a life-changing experience in her summer internship — her first “grown-up” job, she says.
“I never had a desire to work with special needs till coming to GHA Autism Supports and it has really opened my eyes to special needs. In fact I am waiting to hear back on an Autism Certificate program through UNC Charlotte’s graduate school. (This job) has changed my life and my passions.”
Bobbin stacker
Robert Jones, who is now a librarian, had a summer job working first shift at Cone Mills at Chestnut Hills.
“I worked 40 hours a week at $1.90, which … at the time was 30 cents more than minimum wage. I worked in the spinning room taking wooden bobbins full of cotton out of a big box and stacking them in a smaller box for the spinners — all day long with continuous boxes coming up from the floor below. The bobbins had a metal ring on the end that cut my fingers. I still have three on my left wrist that I have worn ever since to remind me what real work is like.”
My colleague Deirdre Parker Smith had a cool job when she was 15 running the box office at Parkway Playhouse in Burnsville, the summer theatre of UNCG. And before that, she was an actress in Maine.
Gordon Furr says he was a fill-in bus boy and dishwasher at Roses on Faith Road, which had a little cafeteria. One of the perks, he recalls, was that “there was a very pretty server” he got to work with.
Tomato potter
Myra Tannehill recalls working in Rufty’s greenhouses and transplanting flats of tomato seedlings into their own little pots. She also remembers eating barbecue at lunch on “their great gleaming dining table.”
Videos and fries
Ashley Honbarrier’s first summer job was at Doorstep Video.
“The older movies you could rent 5 for $5 for 5 days, mostly during the week. It was very slow, so I would sit in the aisles and watch movies while eating chili cheese fries from College Barbeque.”
Guarding lives
Marie Leonard-Hampton and Robert Crum both had the job a lot of teenagers want: lifeguard. Marie was a lifeguard at Brookwood Swim Club in Jamestown and says it was the best summer job ever.
“It was so cool because I could socialize with friends and neighbors every day! The responsibility was very intense and I learned to make quick decisions.”
Paver torture at the Post
Craig Ratchford recalled that in the summer of 1988 the Salisbury Post had just installed new pavers in the parking lot and sidewalks.
“The company that installed them did a terrible job so my father was contracted to pull all of the pavers up individually, clean them and replace them by hand one at a time,” Ratchford wrote. “Kevin Smith and I spent weeks at the Post under the wicked sun pulling them up, stacking the pavers, scrubbing each one and then replacing them with a proper installation. I couldn’t wait for football practice to start.”
Kevin Smith pointed out one bright spot: the Hap’s cheeseburgers they ate for lunch.
Food Town produce delivery boy
Kent Bernhardt bagged potatoes and delivered produce to Food Town stores in the summers of ’72, ’73, and ’74 while he was working for Saleeby’s Produce on East Council Street.
“I got tired of working in the warehouse all the time, so one day I told them I could drive a truck. After a short trip to pick up some food, they realized I couldn’t (I realized it too), but they let me practice in an old truck, and soon I was making deliveries.”
Kent says he made $50 a week the first summer.
En garde, y’all
Kathy Pulliam spent four summers while at Appalachian State working at Camp Yonahlossee in Blowing Rock, a camp for girls. “I taught fencing with foils and had such fun,” Pulliam says, adding that the experience helped her later in her profession as a teacher.
Oh, the horrible pants
Laurie Klaus worked at Wendy’s and remembers having to walk at least a mile and a half wearing “awful white polyester uniforms.” She remembers taking her mother’s advice about working: “If they call you in, even if you aren’t scheduled, you go in. You don’t ask for time off unless it’s for a family vacation out of town. You work when you’re scheduled without complaining.”
Missy Spencer also recalls having to wear detestable polyester pants. A fast food worker at age 16, she was working to pay her parents back for her 1974 Volkswagen Beetle. At 5 feet 9 inches, she was too tall for the polyester pants she had to wear, and even when she took the hem out they were still “highwaters,” she says.
“My manager would not buy me pants that fit, so to make the best or the worst out of the worst, I would wear white socks to accentuate my degrading uniform.”
But, she says, despite the polyester, it “turned out to be a great job, a great car and a three-year career with McDonald’s.”
No polyester for Pitzer
Former Post columnist Sara Pitzer worked as a waitress at Biggs American Restaurant in Stroudsburg, Pa. when she was 14.
“We wore brown and white gingham check uniforms with puff sleeves. Our aprons were white. My side duties included filling the salts and sugars and brushing the toilet. So, 50 years ago, a man gives me a dollar tip. Mrs. Biggs (the chief cook) said, “You just talked that right out of him.”
Corn de-tasseler
Mary Ann Johnson’s first job was de-tasseling corn
“It’s something of a rite of passage for rural Indiana teens,” she says. “I was not a country girl, but many of my friends were, and I was lured into making the 30-mile commute by the promise of big bucks…I want to say something like $3 or $4 an hour, which may not be correct, but it was a lot more than the 50 cents an hour I earned babysitting. I made it one day. I think I started crying as soon as I got in my car to head home. The heat, the bugs, and the scorching sun were a pleasure compared to getting sliced up by the corn.
“Fortunately, as a freckle-faced redhead in a pre-sunscreen era, I was covered from head to toe to avoid sunburn and therefore also avoided most of what I think some folks called ‘corn rash’ or the cuts and scrapes bare skin receives when walking through rows of corn. I can remember my mom trying to talk me out of going…I think she knew I was not the hardy type. And God bless her, she didn’t insist I follow through on what I had started!”
Toys R Greg
Greg Shields’ first job working at Toys R Us was also his most memorable, he says.
He started on the game wall, which was where you could buy games like Monopoly, Life or Trivial Pursuit — which was all the rage at the time.
“The other rage at the time was Star Wars action figures and Transformers. They were all in the action figures aisle and I distinctly remember the woman who was responsible for that aisle. She was an African American woman who was at least eight inches taller than me and outweighed me by 50 pounds. She worked harder than anyone in that store trying to keep her aisle neat and organized, but it was always a mess due to the throngs of little boys that perpetually ransacked it from open to close. I remember her at the end of every shift sitting in the break room, smoking a menthol cigarette, looking like she had just stepped out of a boxing ring.
“I was later promoted to work as ticket writer. I was responsible for making sure that there was inventory in stock when someone wanted to buy something that was a large item that the customer would pick up around back — a bike, crib, stroller, case of diapers, etc. It was so wonderful to see young couples, the wife very pregnant with what I suppose was the first child, test driving strollers more carefully than they probably test drove their car.
“The saddest part though, was at least a couple times a week, you were guaranteed to get the guy that came up to you and said, ‘My kids are coming to visit this weekend from their mother’s in (fill in the blank). They are five and seven years old. I have no idea what kids that age like. Can you tell me what to buy my kids so that I have a present for them when they get here?’ Heartbreaking.”