When I heard that my husband’s fourteen-year-old grandson had landed a part-time job working at Kernels I was suddenly filled with so much pride in him. Apart from being a good student and an active participant in Marc and Craig Kielburger’s Me to We children’s charity program, he’s now a working man. I’m of the opinion that early work for young people is a good thing. It not only builds character but it helps them understand the value of earned money versus hand-outs. These are valuable life skills that ultimately contribute to young people becoming better citizens, better partners and better people. Canada is blessed with a large immigrant population and they seem more inclined to put their kids to work in the family business or elsewhere at an earlier age than most Canadians. These students frequently become high achievers in school and high achievers as adults.
My own life as a working girl began when I was eight years old. From 1955 to 1960 my parents owned one of two local taxis in our small Ontario town.
It was my job to be home to answer the telephone when I wasn’t in school, and take and dispatch calls to my mother or father on the two-way radio. They sold the business when I entered high school at the age of thirteen so by then I already had a resume with five years experience. I also had a steady supply of baby sitting jobs charging the astronomical sum of twenty-five cents an hour, fifty cents after midnight. The summer I was thirteen and again when I was fourteen, I worked for a short time reeling yarn from 7:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the afternoon in the woolen mill where my Dad managed the carpet department. That experience was certainly incentive to stay in school and get an education.
When I was fourteen I got a job as a carhop/waitress/short-order cook/dishwasher at the local drive-in burger joint where I continued to work part-time for the next three years until I left home. This was supplemented by my regular baby-sitting jobs and I taught Sunday school for several years. And these extra curricular activities didn’t absolve me from doing chores at home such as grass-cutting, shoveling snow and helping in the kitchen. At the age of sixteen I worked as a waitress at a summer resort off Manitoulin Island. When I finished high school there were no significant permanent jobs in our town so leaving home at seventeen to work full-time in Toronto was a given. In fact it even seemed a bit easier because there was no more homework and no working weekends, at least in the beginning.
Over the years I’ve been a clerk-typist and cable assignor for Bell Canada, a sales representative for a cosmetics company in the lovely old Eaton’s College Street store in Toronto, a secretary, receptionist, civil servant under contract to the Federal government, communications rep for a software company, deliverer of diapers and adult incontinence products for a market research company, order-taker for a courier company, self-employed marketing consultant and Corporate Marketing Manager for a multi-billion dollar company.
Nothing has ever been handed to me without my working for it. It has not always been easy but having a job from a young age made me fiscally responsible, independent and strong enough to be able to withstand all the challenges life throws in front of us. I’m always so delighted when I see young people with the initiative to go out and get themselves a job to help earn their keep. I know from experience that they’re going to do OK in life. No matter how menial, difficult or unpleasant the work may be, they’ll be acquiring valuable skills and resources to draw upon as they go through life.
My brother, who is a retired high school teacher had his share of student jobs including soda jerk and grocery boy during his high school and university days. These jobs and student loans allowed him to finance his own education and he feels that “education isn’t limited to the classroom“.
The various McJobs I’ve had over the years have left me with lifelong empathy and respect for the people who do those jobs. Fifty years after waitressing in high school I am and forever will be a generous tipper. When I’m tempted to become impatient with a retail sales associate, I remember what it’s like to be on your feet on hard floors with a smile on your face for eight hours a day serving recalcitrant customers, making minimum wage surrounded by millions of dollars worth of merchandise I couldn’t afford to buyâ€”even with my employee discount. I have infinite respect for those blue-collar workers in factories or doing manual labour in uncomfortable conditions, again for low wages. I think of the farm workers who pick the apples I eat, clean up after the pigs that become the pork tenderloin I enjoy and the millions of service workers who work nights and weekends so that I have the privilege to shop or eat in a restaurant at night or on weekends.
It’s always fun to reminisce with other Boomers about the jobs we’ve had over the years and we’re all in agreement that we’re richer for those experiences. We compare war stories about working conditions and challenges that would be unacceptable and perhaps even illegal by today’s standards. But these experiences are what fortified us. We learned about resilience, resourcefulness, perseverance, diplomacy, money management, responsibility and accountability. And it has provided us with an endless supply of stories to share over cold glasses of wine in the evening.
Our grandchildren are now working part-time at various McJobs to build up their own set of life skills and we’re so proud of them. A friend’s grandson works in the bakery of a supermarket. We have a golf-course groundskeeper, a construction worker, a restaurant hostess and now a professional corn popper. Whatever they learn through their experiences, however insignificant it may seem now, it will enrich their lives in so many ways they’ll come to appreciate as they get older. Then, they too can share stories with their Gen X, Y and Z friends when they enjoy their well-earned retirement glasses of wine.