by Maria Schulz
When I was a kid, there was nothing I wanted to do more than work. I couldn’t wait to get a job so that I could make money and buy cool things, like that Sweet Sixteen Barbie I coveted or the Barbie Dream House (but who was I kidding…I probably couldn’t afford that dream house even now!)
Since you had to have working papers to get a real, bonafide job, I was forced to do odd jobs to keep the money rolling in. Some of them were fun, but most of them were hot, sticky, backbreaking work that no one else wanted to do. That’s why they hired me! So, here in no particular order, are the jobs that I had as a young kid during those long, hot Summer days:
Lemonade Stand Concession Owner
This one seems easy, but it really isn’t. First of all, you have to have a game plan and some money to get the business started. I used to ask my mother to buy some lemonade fixings and then I’d mix up a few batches, grab some plastic cups, get a plastic tablecloth and a card table, and search out a hot spot where I could make millions. Since we lived across the street from the school, I found parking myself on the corner by the gym was a good spot.
I had a good shot of cornering the market there since it was a hub of activity on days when there was actually something going on. Sometimes, the cheerleaders would gather to practice in the streets outside of the gym. The problem then was that one of the boys from down the block would jump into his car, rev the engine, and tear off towards them, scattering them in all sorts of directions while he beeped his horn and his gang of friends in the car laughed and laughed.
This resulted in my possible customer base running indoors in tears, without buying a single cup of lemonade.
I used to hope that maybe the religious devotees who thought Mary (as in The Virgin Mary) was loitering around on the school grounds might show up thirsty. However, they used to just come and stare at the space where the statue used to be, and bang on neighbor’s doors to ask if they could use the bathrooms. No one ever bought lemonade from me. Perhaps the problem was that by the time I got all my supplies set up, the crowd had dispersed, or been sent on their way by the police. I ended up selling about 2 cups: one to my mother, who I owed money to for all the supplies, and one to me (this was a thirsty business).
This was the kind of gig I usually picked up as a result of riding my bike too close to the convent. It was the backbreaking ugly seasonal cousin of raking leaves and shoveling snow.
There were no perks with this one, unless you considered spending all day doing dirty, tedious work for a packet of rosary beads to be killer compensation. Although I did often see Sister Anne Kathleen without her habit as a result. Shocking!
This was the kind of job that my elderly neighbors thought I was perfectly suited for. They’d invite you over for what you thought was a couple of cookies and chit chat, and soon you’d be washing every window in their house, elbow deep in soap suds. By the time you got up to the third floor, you were certain that you were going to make at least $20 for all of your hard work.
When they handed you two shiny quarters at the end of the day, you had to fight the urge to throw the quarters at them and run screaming through the house, leaving fingerprints all over those newly washed windows.
Did anyone ever ask you to watch the easy kids who did nothing but watch TV, sleep, or brush your hair while you all smiled and laughed like old friends? Noooooo. Instead, you (or really, I) would get stuck watching a child who made Damian from The Omen seem kind of misunderstood, and really quite sweet by comparison.
Some of the kids I watched would run screaming just a few feet ahead of me, toppling over end tables, breaking glass, and shrieking with delight as they remained stubbornly out of reach. When I would finally corner or collar them, they would cry, kick, scream or scratch in a vain attempt to avoid bedtime.
It made me wish I had Spanky from The Little Rascals along with me to help. He seemed to have the best ideas when it came to babysitting, including gluing his little charges to the ground.
At the end of the night, the parents would usually come home and hand me $10…after I’d spent something like 20 hours with their kids. It made washing windows seems like a pleasure cruise.
Again, the elderly neighbors just loved hiring me for this one. I figured, how hard could this be? Very hard, especially when the person who has hired you is a former prison guard/marine drill sergeant. A plain old mop would never do; better reach for the scrub brush and get ready to spend the day bent over the floor lifting the dirt away inch by inch. As far as your bucket of suds goes, please remember to replace the water every two minutes, or you’ll be washing the floor with dirty water!
I don’t think I ever worked quite so hard for $2.
Shoe Shine Girl:
This looks easy, but kids, remember this: if your father spent any time at all in the armed forces, he’s going to expect a level of shine on those shoes that far exceeds anything you ever imagined or hoped for.
I used to have to make my father’s shoes gleam like he was about to star in An Officer and A Gentleman. I don’t think 25 cents a pair was really enough.
Granted, I didn’t have to haul the wash down to the river and beat it with rocks, but that doesn’t mean that this job was easy. My customers (aka my brothers) would wait until they were down to absolutely no clothes left, and then ask me to get their wash done in a matter of minutes.
We had one small washer and dryer in the basement, and if you didn’t get down there before my mother, you had a long wait indeed. I used to get up early and run down there, hoping to get some clothes done for my brothers before the house wash started. Sometimes I succeeded, and sometimes, I had about 50 loads ahead of me.
My going rate was $2.50 a load. I supplemented my income by doing ironing as well. For 50 cents a shirt, I could press your clothes like nobody’s business. My heroine at the time was Johnny Dangerously’s mom. She looked like she would understand me completely.
Sandwich and Drink Server
If ever there was a time to take pity on your fellow countryman, it would have been during the 1970s Gasoline Crisis. I remember setting out at the crack of dawn with my Mom in our Buick station wagon so we wouldn’t have too long a wait at the gas station. Even though we got there early, we were still the 25th car in line at our local gas station.
An hour or two wait was not unheard of, so Mom would shut the engine off and we’d sit there, as the sun started to rise, and slowly bake inside our car. She would crank the car up every time we needed to move up an inch or two. God forbid you left sunlight between you and the car ahead of you, because then some jerk otherwise known as a line jumper would try to wedge in front of you.
Since we were good Catholics, we probably should have walked in Jesus’ shoes and seen this as an opportunity to feed the multitudes with a few loaves of bread and a few stout fish. But did we? Nah.
Instead, we saw this as an easy way to make a little extra cash. My friend Ann’s mom hired Chris and me, and of course, Ann, to help make about 50 sandwiches. With a few loaves of bread, turkey, salami, ham, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes, we whipped up some pretty awesome lunches that rang in at only $3. Plus we brought chips, pretzels, candy bars and sodas for all comers.
We made a sign that said: Sandwiches: $3! Sodas: 50 cents each! Chips/pretzels: 75 cents a bag! Candy Bars: 50 cents! We waited until about 12:30, and then we took everything down to the ridiculously long lines and waited for the honking horns to start.
And then the honking began.
We worked for hours in the hot sun, running back and forth from the cars to the coolers and back again. Lucky for us, most of the people on line were desperately hungry and thirsty. Even if they’d already eaten lunch, they couldn’t resist a drink or a candy bar or better yet, a drink and a bag of chips (those pretzels were making them thirsty).
Mrs. B sold every sandwich, every can of soda, and most of the snacks. We worked the same line for about 3 days, and at the end, I made more money there then I did at some of my “real” jobs. Some people shudder when they think about those lines, but I just smile.
Mrs. B’s Best Sandwich
The psychology behind Mrs. B’s sandwich was that she piled everything on. Here’s one of my favorite, healthier sandwiches now, with a nod to Mrs. B and her gas crisis subs.
4 oz. turkey breast
2 slices cheddar cheese (optional)
2 slices bacon (optional)
1 avocado, sliced thin
1 tomato, sliced thin
Wheat bread, toasted
Light Mayo (or mustard, you choose)
Assemble the meat and cheese on your bread. Add the avocado, tomato and lettuce. Spread light mayo on. Put the top slice on and cut it in half. Yum!
So, Hungry Lifers…what jobs did you do when you were a kid? What were your best ways to make a little cash on those lazy Summer days? Please leave a comment below and let us all know. Thanks!