Learning to Work

My parents, living with seven children and a modest income, encouraged my siblings and me to accept any small jobs that came our way. If we worked, they explained, we could (a) start savings accounts for college and (b) have spending money for things we wanted beyond the basics they provided.

I wanted money for movie tickets, Malted Milk Balls, Ben Hur perfume, and shoes in colors other than black or brown, so I worked.

I specialized in babysitting, cherry picking, and chickens.

naughty-boy-mdWhen babysitting, I did the dishes, kept the floors swept, and tended sullen pre-teens resentful of my presence, children telling inane knock-knock jokes, toddlers chewing crayons, and babies needing diaper changes. As the hours crept by, I entertained myself by keeping a running total of my take-home pay.

At twenty-five cents an hour, my calculations didn’t require higher math.

I enjoyed babysitting, especially when the departing parents told me to help myself to anything I wanted to eat. I regularly hit pay dirt at the Millers: Twinkies, Cheetos, and Kool-Aid.

I thought of asking if I could move in.

The Bradfords offered no such delicacies, just four boys between six and twelve who knocked over houseplants, pulled the dog’s tail, and threw baseballs at each other—before their parents left.

Whenever I addressed the oldest with the simplest request or question—“Could you quit standing on my foot?” or “Where does your mother keep the band-aids?” — he gave the same meaningless answer: “Nay-duh kuh eyeballs.”

This strange witticism caused his brothers to laugh until they choked on the uncooked wieners they regularly sneaked from the refrigerator.

After five hours of such fun, I went home with  $1.25. And thought I was rich.

cherriesCherry picking offered seasonal employment and all the cherries I could eat. My sisters and I crashed ladders into trees and climbed headlong into high branches through the coolness of dawn. Stretching as though we were made of warm taffy, we gathered the cherries and plunked them into buckets we’d hung with metal hooks from nearby branches. As the sun rose, we ate, chattered, and kept count of the filled baskets accumulating below.

When a chugging tractor pulling a flatbed trailer approached, we scrambled down our ladders and watched carefully as the orchard boss weighed our baskets and recorded our earnings.

At three cents a pound, he didn’t need higher math either.

It wasn’t until years later that I appreciated the true value of working when young. The milkshakes and Jantzen sweaters I bought didn’t prove beneficial beyond the moment, but my recognition of the direct relationship of my work to money, savings, and purchasing power paid dividends my entire life.

An afterthought
I didn’t forget the chickens.
They deserve a post of their own;
you won’t want to miss it.

Have some ideas
you’d like to share on today’s post?
Please comment below.



13 thoughts on “Learning to Work

  1. Everyone should work when their young. I especially like the bad jobs that encourage us to go to college and better ourselves.

    There is something else I noticed recently too. My youngest sister never worked and was never held financially accountable. She just graduated from college and is having a very difficult time in the real world (“I can’t believe that I have to work 50 hours this week!”). It got so “painful” for her that she considered quitting even though she has 50K in student loans. I mentioned the many faults of her plan and she shrugged. I guess debt doesn’t matter if someone else will step in and pay. Sigh.


    • I think one of the best gifts my parents gave me was their expectation that I would work to help pay for things beyond the basics coupled with the expectation that I would go to college and saving would help get me there, because they couldn’t. You and your sister sound so different. I’m curious about whether you both had the same upbringing.


      • “I’m curious about whether you both had the same upbringing.”

        Nope, not at all. She was born 14 years after me. My parents were very strict with me. For my 5th birthday, I got a wagon which was swiped the same day I got it. When I asked for another one, my parents responded with,”You should have been more responsible and put it away. So, we’re not getting you another one.”

        As a teen, my sister kept totaling cars. Parents couldn’t get to the dealership fast enough to her another one.


      • I think the situation of “two families in one” is not uncommon as parents find themselves with more money to raise the younger ones and also, in large families, become tired of the battles they waged with the older ones to turn them into fiscally responsible citizens. Never having been a parent, I’m not sure of this, but that is my theory.


  2. I remember picking the peaches off our tree in the backyard, putting them in a red wagon and taking them around the neighborhood to sell for a penny a piece!


      • I don’t know about the irresistible part. I do remember having fights with my siblings about how to divvy up the money. I thought I should get a bigger cut because I was the oldest!


  3. Well, at least it’s good to know that by the time I started babysitting wages had risen to 50 cents an hour!

    Seriously though, I also credit my parents with instilling the work ethic in me and my sisters. My father worked in the insurance business from 1951 until 1995 and took only three sick days—when he had his appendix taken out. My mother worked very hard at home, and also did a lot of volunteer work.
    But oh, the “menial” jobs I had when I was young—the ones that made me appreciate my college degree. I worked in sewing factories, hospital and pool snack bars, tourist attractions and the like. But I always worked hard, and was well-appreciated by my employers.

    It may be my imagination, but it I think many kids today consider those types of jobs beneath them. Or could it be they’re just too busy with all their extracurricular activities? It seems that the people you see working in snack bars and at tourist attractions now are all retired folks who have gone back to work.

    Looking forward to your post about chickens, Janet!


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