Summer employment opportunities have been in job ads the last couple weeks.
Seeing them got me thinking about summer and part-time jobs I’ve had.
My first (non-babysitting) employment was working for the local school district the summer after ninth grade. I grew up in another state, where seventh, eighth, and ninth grades were known as junior high, and we were in our own school building—too old for elementary school, but not old enough for senior high school. One of my junior high teachers was moving up to teach at the senior high level, and he had been put in charge of the “book room.” Mr. Nash offered several incoming 10th graders, including me, summer jobs getting books ready for the upcoming school year. The pay was a dollar an hour, which we considered hitting the jackpot.
My friends and I got 50 cents an hour for babysitting in those days, so this was a huge step up. Besides, it would be a real job, not just babysitting. The hours were a couple mornings a week, which left plenty of time for lounging around the community pool in the afternoons. We could even get there ourselves, by riding a city bus to work and back—the student fare at the time was 15 cents each way. Best of all, we could wear shorts, and goof around with our friends, instead of entertaining cranky youngsters. It was exciting.
Another perk of working in the book room was learning about the senior high school building before actually attending classes there. We’d be familiar with the whole place by the time September rolled around. It was a large school, three stories high with about 2,000 students in 10th through 12th grades. Any advantage we could get would make us more comfortable about high school.
The job was hot and dusty (no air conditioning at the time) and not particularly interesting, but it was fun. The book room gang unpacked and hauled cartloads of textbooks to the cafeteria, where we’d stack them up by subject and grade level. Then we’d open the covers and stamp each one in several places with the name of the school district. Books were counted and stacked and hauled around the building to various distribution points.
Used books were also readied for the new school year. Mr. Nash showed us how to use wide, super sticky clear tape to repair and “sturdy up” older books that were showing their age. These books were stamped “USED” and then counted, stacked and carted around the building with the others.
Another important task included collating informational handouts for orientation. A long table held piles of photocopied papers. We started at one end, picking up a sheet of paper from each pile as we passed by and worked our way around the whole table. At the end, we’d staple the new stack we’d made into a booklet and add it to a box. Round and around we went, stacking and stapling and filling boxes with all kinds of booklets.
When the days came for orientation sessions, we worked non-stop handing out text books and information booklets in the bookroom. Every student’s name and a list of the books issued were hand written on an index card. The book room gang was proud of our work and our positions of authority (or so we thought).
Before we knew it, the summer was over and we were senior high students. A couple of us continued working in the book room during the school year, two study halls a week. I also had occasional shifts helping out in the school library. That was my first job, and it still ranks as one of my favorites.
I worked at a nearby Burger Chef restaurant in the summers during high school and college. I started at $1.50 an hour and worked slowly upward from there. When working the front line, we had to add the customer orders up in our heads, including sales tax—no pencils or paper allowed—and then figure out the change the same way. Fast food businesses at the time only took cash payments. The total order amount was punched into the cash register and change counted out manually. The menu was pretty simple—hamburgers, cheeseburgers, Big Chefs and Super Chef sandwiches, fries, sodas, milkshakes and little square pies (apple or cherry). The prices were easy, too— hamburgers, 25 cents; cheeseburgers, 30 cents; Big Chefs, 55 cents; Super Chefs, 69 cents; French fries, 20 cents; sodas, 15 cents and 25 cents; milkshakes, 60 cents. I can’t remember the price of the pies—oh well. Math wasn’t my strong subject, but my arithmetic skills sharpened up in a big hurry! Employees could eat any of the food that didn’t sell at mealtimes, at no cost. We had a discount on everything else. I ate a lot of burgers and fries in those days.
When I “graduated” to the back line, the job was cooking burgers, dropping fries in hot oil and scrubbing equipment, floors, windows, walls and everything else in the place. The back line crew also did inventory, food prep—this was mostly peeling cheese slices off a stack and restacking them at odd angles to make them easier to grab when needed—and parking lot detail, during slow periods. I couldn’t stand the smell of hamburgers or fries for years afterward.
Later, after moving to Wisconsin, I worked as an evening and Saturday clerk at Evans, in Kiel. I had never seen so many items for sale in a small store! Evans literally had everything—the trick was finding it. Learning the stock and where it was to be found was a daunting task, but the knowledge still comes in handy when I shop there. One of my favorite parts of that job was the wonderful chaos of “plant season.” I loved getting my fingernails dirty digging out bedding and vegetable plants for customers who stood in line on the sidewalk with their lists. On Saturdays, we’d order sandwiches and malts from Cal’s Coffee Shop. That was some of the best food I’ve ever eaten; I still miss Cal’s.
I also had an early morning job at the Sugar & Spice Bake Shoppe in Chilton. I’d go in before five o’clock in the morning and fill up the glass cases with freshly made doughnuts and sweet rolls. I never saw the bakers; they could have been elves for all I knew. Whatever their size, the baking crew members were likely at home in bed by the time I arrived. The baked goods just seemed to appear there, like magic. One of my tasks was making peanut squares—rolling cake squares in thin frosting and then in ground up peanuts was a very messy job. I also waited on early customers. Later, I delivered buns, doughnuts, sweet rolls and loaves of bread to stores, restaurants and the hospital ER. I learned that a person bearing fresh doughnuts is always warmly welcomed.
Working the afore-mentioned summer and part-time jobs gave me a great introduction to the real world. And I’ve kept in touch with some of my former coworkers from these “starter” jobs from all those years ago.
Copyright © 2017 Ruth Wasmer
Contact Ruth at ruth.wasmer@yahoo.com