Column, Looking Back

Summer jobs

By Mary Ellen Shaw

If you are old enough to be reading this you probably had a summer job during your school days. The winter months were spent searching for places to apply.

The types of jobs available to young people today are often quite different than they were back when my husband, Peter, and I were teenagers back in the 50s and 60s, respectively.

The two of us got talking recently about what we did to earn money “back in the day.” Peter took just about any job that came his way as he was saving money to buy his first car. He wanted a 1941 Studebaker. One opportunity to earn money was by babysitting his neighbors’ two boys. He classified that as a fun job!

My mother, worry-wart that she was, never encouraged me to babysit. She thought it was too much responsibility for someone who never had a sibling to take care of. These days that problem can be solved by taking babysitting classes. They weren’t offered 60 years ago so no money to be made there for me!

Peter’s most interesting job was standing on a corner in Plainfield, New Jersey, and calling out “Tums for your tummy” as he held a sign for that product.

Another job for my husband was selling shoes. He got a lot of practice fitting customers by placing their foot on a metal measuring device that showed their shoe size. Many women wanted a smaller size than the device showed. If he told them that the correct size was an 8 or 9 some women weren’t happy. They wanted to wear a size 7. If the customer left with a smaller size he knew their feet would be hurting. But, the customer is always right!

In his spare time Peter pumped gas at a local service station. No self service back in those days! Customers even got their windshields washed. Now that sounds pretty good to me.

One of my summer jobs was sitting at the reception desk of what was then called the Rutland Hospital. All visitors had to stop at the desk to get a card, which allowed them to visit a patient’s room. There were two cards per patient. If both cards were gone the visitor had to sit in the lobby and wait for the cards to be returned.

If a patient died a nurse would call the reception desk and tell me to not allow a visitor to go to that room. One day I saw the wife of a patient rushing by me without stopping. I had just gotten a call that the family member she was going to visit had died. Did I stop her? No, I couldn’t do it. What would I say? I don’t remember getting reprimanded but I knew that job was too stressful for 80 cents an hour!

One of our neighbors who was just barely a teenager was lining up his summer job on one of the coldest and snowiest of winter days. My mother and I heard our doorbell ring and who did we find at our door but Billy Perkins. He was checking to see if we wanted our lawn mowed in the summer! Now there was a young entrepreneur! The fact that he later became the president of Perkins Insurance Agency doesn’t surprise me. When we run into one another he always asks me if I want my lawn mowed. I’m not getting any younger so maybe if he should ask me again, I’ll say “Yes!”

One friend worked at a summer camp for young children. The workers lived in bunk houses and on their days off they headed “over the line” to Hampton Manor in New York state where you could be served alcohol at age 18. Anyone involved in those escapades now says they are lucky to be alive since they had very little knowledge about the proper way to drink and drive. With age comes wisdom, as they say.

One of the most fun jobs was held by my friend, Peggy, who scooped ice cream at the window of The Wagon Wheel gift shop. The late Bob and Janet Donahue were two of the nicest people ever. They were known to give a free cone on more than one occasion to high school classmates who stopped in to see Peggy. That was much appreciated on a hot summer day.

You may not have had any of the jobs mentioned above but I bet you have some great memories of the jobs you had. The biggest thrill for all of us was probably getting our first paycheck!

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