Monday, August 27, 2018

My First Summer Job

My first try at gainful employment (other than babysitting like most of my peers) was when I was fifteen and detasseled corn.  We lived in a town in Illinois, but you didn't have to go very far to be in serious farm country.

I think detasseling corn was the hardest work I've ever done.  (Well, as a kid anyway.)

There were about fifty of us teenage girls who gathered in a city park by six o'clock every morning.  (Where were those child labor laws?!)  We were loaded into a semi-truck trailer that was outfitted with bench seats on either side and another double set of seats running down the middle.

We were then trucked to a specific farm for the day where we started working down the rows of corn that were invariably dripping with dew at that time of morning.  About the time we were soaked from head to toe, the temperature would begin to climb into the nearly unbearable range.  We had to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts or our skin would get cut up by the leaves on the corn stalks.

I have a not-so-fond memory of some of those corn rows going on for an eternity!

A lunch break was taken around noon time.  Most days we spread out under trees on the lawn of the farmer's house and, if we were lucky, were offered all the cold, clear water we could drink from a well with a hand pump on it.

We all brought our lunch and the food had to be something that wouldn't spoil in the heat as our lunch bags sat in the trailer of the truck from morning until lunch time.  Some of the girls had insulated bags they carried their food in, but those were the "older" (17 and 18 year olds), more experienced ones who came back to detassel corn year after year.

After a short lunch and rest period, we dragged ourselves back out into the field and worked for another three or four hours.

When finished for the day, we climbed back into the semi-truck to be returned to the park.  About half of the girls were African-American and many days on the truck ride home, they would start singing.  And, boy howdy, did some of them have amazing voices.

I lived about seven blocks from the park, but if I remember correctly, some of the girls walked the two blocks down into town and caught a bus home because they lived at a much farther distance.

My walk home each night almost made me sweatier, if that was possible, so the first thing I did upon reaching home was to strip off my dirty clothes (and they did get dirty each day) and take a cool shower.

Hard to believe, I know, but we were paid 35 cents an hour.  If we worked the whole detasseling season without missing a single day, we got retroactive pay of an extra 15 cents an hour.  Wow, what an incentive!  I didn't make it.

I detasseled corn only that one summer because the next year I was sixteen and old enough to get a "real" job which was as a clerk in a small two-story department store in our town.

It was decidedly easier, cooler and cleaner than detasseling corn.  Still, for some inexplicable reason, I'm very glad I worked in those corn fields the summer I was fifteen. 

I'd love to hear about your first job experiences.  Please do tell all!


Lisa French said...

Other than babysitting, my first outside the home job was pulling tobacco plants. Not bad work, early enough in the summer that it wasn’t too hot. The good old days....

On another note, I’ve been kind of worried about Glenda from living and Gardening in the Ozarks. Just wondering if you knew if she was okay. I enjoy her and your blogs so much!

Jan said...

Other than babysitting, I worked the front in a dry cleaning shop when I was a senior in high school.

tpals said...

Montgomery Wards! I teletyped the orders in each day and helped customers at the counter. Funny to be back in retail so many decades later.

Anonymous said...

Sorry about the anonymous tag but I'm old and I don't know how to do it any other way!
First of all, I LOVE your blog! I feel as though I'm reading a letter from a close friend. I grew up on a farm in Iowa and we detallessed every year as a family. We always had ten acres to strip. The money we earned bought something big for the family or a trip to a Major League Baseball game. The first year Dad spent the money on a color tv. It was such hard work, especially when us kids had to pull down the tassel so that we could reach it. It was the only time that we were given soda pop to drink, though, so we were thrilled. It was hot, wet, very hard work but I love the memories!
Take care.

Marie said...

I hoed watermelon and squash for my grandparents truck farm then as the plants got larger we turned vines and picked. We hand picked and loaded semi trailers with canteloupe and watermelons --- and if we weren't in the patch my Dad had us walking soybean fields and culling weeds.

There was always irrigation pipe to lay, irrigation guns to move and fall was stalk chopping (gotta love a tractor job), truck driving and the irrigation pipe needed to be picked back up!

It wasn't all work -- there were fishing trips, camping trips and of course girls need to shop!

Katie C. said...

I started working at the local drug store on my sixteenth birthday. I was horrified when I saw the deductions from my first paycheck. I also learned to really hate dusting because that’s what we did in the summer. Start at one end of the store, take stuff off the shelves, windex the shelf, return and repeat.

SmartAlex said...

Well my first actual job was grooming horses, and that came with as much dirt and sweat and scrapes as any summer job could offer, but the NEXT job I had was working in the greenhouse that my parents had previously owned. Yes, I was lucky enough to grow up in a greenhouse!

coffeeontheporchwithme said...

My first job as a teenager was working in Woolco menswear department. I folded a lot of clothes and tagged a lot of boxed men's briefs for $1.44 days. I also worked in a greenhouse and learned about taking cuttings and planting flats. That was probably my dirtiest, hottest job, but it gave me a lot of knowledge! -Jenn

Joy said...

I successfully avoided detasseling jobs because my mother would have had to drive me each day. My first real job was as a waitress in an Interstate truck stop, midnight to 8 am. I’m grateful for having had that experience, which taught me a lot about hard work, unfairness, and the completely pitiful pay received by service workers. And I can tell you that the traveling public are NOT at their best between midnight and 8 am, though most professional truckers are terrific. I remain an excellent tipper.

Mama Pea said...

Lisa French - Pulling tobacco plants! Do they still do that by hand?

I've been thinking about Glenda lately, too. Can't find a place on her blog to send her an e-mail, am missing her posts and do hope she's just in a "rest" period from writing. If you hear anything, I'd like to know.

Thank you for commenting and your nice words!

Jan - Hope you didn't breathe too many of those fumes! We used to have a small dry cleaning establishment in our town and when you walked through the door to pick up your cleaning, the fumes were so strong it almost made your eyes water. We don't have too many clothes these days that require dry cleaning, do we?

tpals - I think it just shows you have a real knack for working with people. And using a keyboard!

Anonymous - Oh, the memories you have of working as a family must be precious. And your folks obviously knew how to make it a rewarding thing for you kids! They were very wise. Thank you for commenting and reading and saying such nice things.

Marie - That sounds like a lot of work! I wonder if kids today get to experience any kind of manual labor such as so many of us did when growing up? I have a (terrible) suspicion they would seriously balk at such a suggestion. (A very sad thing to my mind.) Tasks like you did taught you every day skills, ones you probably use now without even thinking about it.

Katie C. - I was in our local drugstore a week or so ago and saw a girl doing exactly what you described . . . emptying the shelves and giving everything a good cleaning. Some things never change, eh? :o)

SmartAlex - Yes, you were lucky to grow up in a greenhouse! No wonder you're such a fantastic gardener.

And grooming horses! I'm sure most people don't even think about that down and dirty aspect of horse care. Unless you have one, of course. All animals need to be taken care of and it always involves manure, dust, dirt, hauling lots of water and always being on watch for too much friendliness (or crankiness!) from a large animal!


Mama Pea said...

Jenn - Yep, in my job at the department store, I folded (and folded and folded) a lot of clothes, too! I've often wished I had been exposed to greenhouse-type work at an early age. I think I could have really gotten into it. Glad you had that experience.

Joy - Boy, you really got indoctrinated into the working world in that night job at a truck stop! I'm betting it is a whole different set of people out and about on that midnight to 8 a.m. shift. (Not saying in any way they would all be "bad" or "strange" but there's a totally different feel to life at that time, don't you think?

My daughter has always been a generous "tipper" after having been a waitress herself!

wisps of words said...

One of those experiences, which you remember. And which probably did a lot, to shape the later you.

One of our Grands had different summer jobs. But one was clerking in a busy grocery store. She hated it! She said she was thus very determined, to work hard in college, so she never would have to do that again. A shaping experience, for sure. :-)

Ann T said...

I’m from England, and my first job at 15 in 1968, was packing bags behind the till at the local grocery store, and stacking shelves. A very nice patient checkout lady taught me NOT to put tins on top of bread and cakes, and I learnt to clean shelves and put the groceries back on with the new stuff at the back. I have never forgotten what I learnt, and still prefer to pack my own bags, even if staff or volunteers offer to help. And I can do it twice as fast as they can! And you will always find me looking for the fresher items at the back of the displays.
Love your blog, but you do so much, I feel tired just reading about it xx

Mama Pea said...

wisps of words - As hard as I remember the work as being, I had a sense of pride that I could do it. Yes, good learning experience.

Very helpful lesson your granddaughter learned early in life from her grocery store clerking job.

So what was your first job, m'dear??

Mama Pea said...

Ann T - Thank you so much for commenting! You've proven that even from what some would call a menial job, you learned more than one thing that you've been able to put into use throughout your life!

You might say I (we, as Papa Pea is doing more than his share around here) work hard but it's all what we want to be doing and we're very happy with our lives. I realize I still whine about not having enough hours in each day, but I'm trying hard to change my attitude on that, too. :o]

Lynne said...

My very first job was cleaning cottages. I was 11 yrs old. Living in a tourist area, there were always places to clean. The turnover was on Saturday and sunday's. I think I made 25 cents an hour. It was for a woman my Mom knew.I believe I did that for 2 or 3 summers.I never minded that job. The next job I had was being a waitress. I made very good tips, but the base pay wasn't very good. I don't know if its much better today. My mom was always glad when we all had jobs, because it helped buy our school clothes.

Mama Pea said...

Lynne - And I'll bet you're a very good housekeeper in your own home today! Never too early to learn how to clean, is there?

I don't know for sure, but I'm assuming waitering still pays only minimum wage and if you want to make money, it has to be in tips. You must have been a good waitress to get good tips!

Except for perhaps a new coat or very special prom dress, I bought all my own clothes (made a lot of them) from the time I was sixteen on. I think that helped my folks out a bit.

Thanks for adding your comment here. It's great to hear all of them!

Goatldi said...

The job of choice for the city kids was babysitting or working at Woolworths or Montgomery Wards or JC Penney and Sears. I baby sat as with ten and thirteen years between myself and my sisters I was already trained. The country kids and some of the high school age who could drive and had a vehicle would swamp peaches in the summer. A job about equal to your summer job with corn Mama Pea. My two post high school jobs were pouring resin into grape cluster molds and removing them when they were dry. My most favorite summer job was working as a housekeeper in Yosemite Park for Curry Co. A dream job good pay , great environment and really cute boys.

Geoffrey swamped peaches and irrigated Sudan grass. He had a Mustang fastback! And 1/4 quarter horse 3/4 Morgan gelding who the farm is named after also.

Mama Pea said...

Goatldi - So I have to ask . . . what does to "swamp peaches" mean? Never heard the expression before.

Interesting that you say your favorite summer job was as a housekeeper. That sounds like hard work to me, but if the pay was good and the boys were cute . . . ;o}

Anonymous said...

My first job was picking an acre of cucumber, and they wanted the little ones.
we started at 5am and stopped at 5:30pm. then we hauled them to the cucumber plant. The cucumbers you buy in the store to day sold to farmers to feed their cows. $2.00 a truck load. I was 11 and my sister was 14. it paid for our school clothes and supplies.


Mama Pea said...

Coni - I can almost imagine what a taxing, difficult job picking those cucumbers must have been. All the bending and searching the vines for the fruit!

It's so interesting to read your and all the other comments of the hard, physical labor kids living on farms, and otherwise, did at a young age. I don't think it hurt us one bit and would benefit following generations a great deal toward their development into responsible adults to have a chance to do the same. However, things have just changed too much in our society today for that to occur in most cases.

Thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

I detassled corn for three summers in northeast Iowa. One summer we slept in the fields for the first week, with tents and food in cans, and some water to drink but no way to clean ourselves up! The next 2 years we were a little more organized as we had a ride home at night. However our work (for Pioneer Seed) was checked by small planes above, and the "rows" were 1 to 3 mikes long! I loved it, and this paid my living expenses for college for those 3 years, 79-82. I grew up in NYC and NJ, and no one could believe how dogged and dedicated I was! But honey, it WAS HOT! Laura

Mama Pea said...

Laura - Good grief! You had it a lot (LOT) harder detasseling corn than I ever did. I can only imagine how you must have felt not being able to clean up every night . . . or sleep in your own bed! Sounds like you made good money though. I'm betting it was even hotter in the Iowa cornfields than in the Illinois ones I experienced. Kudos to you (even all these years later) for being tough enough to do what needed to be done!