Reading recently about the summer jobs various famous people had when they were young reminded me of my own assortment of “odd” jobs over the years. Singer Anne Murray worked as a maid at the Keltic Lodge in Cape Breton where her initiation included getting down on her hands and knees to scrub floors. As a result of her strict training in making beds, to this day she rips apart improperly made hotel beds and remakes them before climbing in. Victor Dodig, President and CIO of CIBC (Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce) worked a midnight shift at Canada Packers hanging pork bellies for smoking and freezing. From working as dishwashers, tree planters in the north or delivering newspapers at six o’clock in the morning, every job by every baby boomer left a lasting impression that contributed to these people becoming productive, hard-working and positive contributors to society.
When Boomers were young and desperate for pocket money (our parents weren’t as flush or as generous as today’s parents), we would do whatever we had to in order to scrape together some spare change. We learned not only how to manage the money we worked hard to earn, but it gave us a life-long appreciation for people working in service or low-paying jobs who perhaps didn’t have the advantages we did. Because I waitressed for three years in high school, I understand how hard it is to be on your feet all day serving people who are not always kind or even polite. Consequently, I am and will always be a generous tipper.
One summer, when I was sixteen, a friend and I waitressed at a lodge on an island in the North Channel above Manitoulin Island. We were water-taxied out at the end of June and back to the mainland at the end of August. The proprietor took over management of the resort after her husband passed away and her management style ranged from she-Nazi when she was sober to invisible when she was passed out in her cabin for days on end. Like Anne Murray, we spent the summer washing floors, furniture, dishes and cookware, cleaning silverware and generally keeping the place shipshape for guests. When the chefs quit half-way through the summer, we also took over the cooking duties. Imagine an entire summer resort with docking facilities and cabins being run and managed by a gang of teenage girls who barely knew how to fry an egg. Our diet in the staff galley consisted of toast and tea for breakfast with fried potatoes and bologna for other meals. All food had to be boated in so the good stuff was restricted for guests only. We saw no milk in the staff kitchen all summer and we were too young and stupid to steal what we needed from the main kitchen. Strangely though, we had no qualms about stealing chocolate bars and potato chips from the tuck shop.
From age eight to thirteen (yes – that young!), I was a taxi dispatcher, taking calls and dispatching by two-way radio to my mother or father who were on the road in the family business in our small town. At thirteen and fourteen, I worked briefly during the summer in a carpet factory transferring yarn to a large reel for spinning. I was a carhop/waitress for three years and self-employed for a few days as a worm-picker but nobody bought my worms so I had to give that up. Even after I left home, I had my share of peculiar jobs as well as some amazing ones. My Boomer friends have similar stories that would probably qualify today as exploitive child labour but none of us can deny it did us the world of good. We were always devising creative ways to earn a bit of money so we could buy bubble gum or licorice. Nothing is more character-building than having to do something you would prefer not to do in order to earn your own money. Earned money is worth so much more than handouts because it’s harder to come by and therefore more appreciated.
What’s your odd job story? Did you pump gas (back in the days when they still did that)? Perhaps you babysat kids almost as old as you were. Maybe you were an army cadet or spent hot summer days cutting lawns and trimming hedges, setting pins in a bowling alley or helping a local farmer with the haying or picking tobacco. I’d love to hear what you did to earn money as a teenager and I’m sure my readers would too. Share your stories by clicking in the “Comments” section.
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