Bill Knight column for Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, 7-10, 11 or 12
There’s “school summer” and “real summer” – which for most adults means work, only hot.
As a kid, I worked various jobs, shoveling walks, delivering newspapers, mowing lawns and bagging groceries, and in college worked as a cafeteria “beverage boy” and dorm front-desk clerk. That all offered me independence of a sort for spending money on baseball cards, comics and pricy musical instruments, and for saving for college, where money would be scarce.
Summertime steadily became a transition from school breaks to summer jobs to help pay for school, to practice being grown up. Seasons change, but after high school, apprenticeships or vocational training, community college or university, summer seasons profoundly transform to be not much different than April or October, except for temperatures.
Summer jobs got us used to separating “work” and “play” into shifts. We’d work eight hours, and then maybe play eight hours (or more) and sleep eights hours (or less). That was unlike childhoods of working a while, playing some and napping whenever.
Some summer jobs led to new skills; others seemed irrelevant to our dreams, hoped-for adventures or even college majors. However, manual labor or working in offices or eateries offered perspectives no classrooms gave, points of view valuing the trades, the liberal arts, and life. I came to appreciate work.
Republican progressive Teddy Roosevelt in 1903 said. “Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”
At their best, summer jobs presented significant steps toward adulthood, if not immediate maturity.
From a summer before I turned 16 – when I had Drivers Ed most mornings, and mowed lawns or played baseball or golf afterward – I moved the next summer to working as a farm hand, driving a tractor, picking corn or weeds out of bean fields, doing chores and getting paid for a 40-hour work-week.
Then I spent two summers working construction, toting shingles, banging a hammer and narrowly avoiding being beheaded by a concrete truck’s chute on a patio project. That was followed by summer work on a rural electric company’s crew clearing the right of way beneath lines on country roads, and eating out of a lunch bucket in the shade or in the truck cab in bad weather. Before I finished my degree, I had a last summer juggling summer classes with a steamy stint washing dishes in a cavernous campus kitchen.
Later working full-time, the temptation to re-live carefree summers led me to taking a week off to hitchhike to New Haven for protests about a Black Panther trial, squeezing a few hours to drive to Davenport to check out Father James Grubb and his butterfly robes at St. Anthony’s folk Mass, and going to Ann Arbor for a blues and jazz festival with others in the “collective” or commune or whatever we called it when work and play once more blended together. (But that’s a story for another time.)
Even now, in semi-retirement, I most enjoy combining “work” and “play” like I did riding my bike back from spending lawn-mowing money at the local Rexall drug story, chewing baseball-card bubble gum and wondering if Superman could beat the Flash in a race.
Maybe Gershwin in the number from his classic opera “Porgy & Bess” really had something for kids working summers. Its lyrics also offer, “One of these mornings you're gonna rise up singing and you'll spread your wings and you'll take to the sky…”
[PICTURED: Illustration from gurl.com.]