Today’s column is a re-run of one from a few years ago. It seems apropos to take a vacation day from one of my summer jobs. Enjoy Joyful Musers – and if you’re wearing white polyester, no doubt you’re rockin’ it.
By Susan Dromey Heeter
This week I muse joyfully on summer jobs, summer employment, summer rituals. When I turned 16 well back in the last century, my dad wished me a happy birthday followed by the words, “And now you can get a job.”
My birthday is in April so my first job was to be a summer job, a job known to many as the one that begins in June and ends in September. These are the positions that put Social Security numbers to work, introduce W-2 forms and encourage a plethora of employment experiences and opportunities.
Many first-time employees are soon to be finishing up their own summer positions here in New Hampshire. They are basking in their tans, their tips, their experiences and their learning curves.
My own stellar career began at Donut Dip.
Donut Dip is a small shop located in East Longmeadow, Mass. When I worked, the menu was simple: doughnuts and coffee. And soda was available in a cooler. I served those items while sporting a white polyester nurse-like uniform. Smoking was allowed at the counters of the “Dip,” and I’m surprised my outfit did not burst into flames from an errant spark.
At 16, I did not have a car but a bike I borrowed from my sister. She had one of the first 10-speeds, a brand known as “Free Spirit,” and it was stolen week two. I then walked to my job the rest of the summer … in my white polyester … down long, long Sumner Avenue in Springfield. It was not a pretty sight — especially after I had taken advantage of the fact that I could eat as many doughnuts as I wanted to while working. Tight white polyester was not my best look.
But looking back at this first foray into the working world, I think fondly of summer jobs. I left after that August to pursue summer jobs at Riverside Park — now Six Flags in Agawam, Mass. I worked the Starlight Express ride and learned quickly about the effects of motion sickness.
I worked a summer as a receptionist at the Springfield Registry of Deeds and was then employed several summers as a lifeguard at what was then known as Westover Air Force Base.
At that job, we wore orange bathing suits — tank suits as they were referred to, “tank” being the optimal word. We were pre-”Bay Watch” lifeguards — the suits not quite what they are today — kind of the white polyester doughnut uniform of swim attire.
When I asked my brother-in-law, Mark, of his summer job experiences, his resume reflected an eclectic mix, primarily in our hometown of Springfield. He’d worked at the Department of Public Works cleaning up municipal roads and lots, pulling weeds, picking up trash. He’d worked as a zoo keeper at the Forest Park Zoo, recalling with disdain the llama named Jake with whom he’d clash.
Mark also worked as a guard at the jail, a park leader for basketball camps and as a trash collector. He spoke of collecting trash as the toughest job he’d ever had, being exhausted after 10-hour days. Mark described working with men who, even after eight hours of excruciating physical labor, would push on for overtime to bring more to their family’s table.
Mark never slept better than that summer and to this day, leaves lemonade out for those who collect his trash on hot summer days. Suffice it to say, he retired from trash collecting after that summer but never forgot the experience.
Summer jobs give us just that — amazing experiences upon which to learn what we like, what we don’t, what we hope to do when we “grow up.” My own daughter worked a job scooping ice cream one summer. She was thrilled with her tips, with her financial independence.
And what I do know is that working any summer job has never been a bad gig — no matter what the pay, the experience, the trials, the tribulations. My dad gave me the gift of learning to appreciate honest work, of appreciating a dollar well earned. But I sure am glad I was not wearing white polyester this summer.
Susan Dromey Heeter, a writer from Dover who recently let her hair go au natural white, debuts her new column “Joyful Musings” at InDepthNH.org. Dromey Heeter is a secondary Spanish Teacher at Dover High School and the mother of two teenage daughters. Writing has been her passion since her English majoring days at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Dromey Heeter has lived in The Netherlands, Alaska and currently basks in all things New England, including the frigid winters. An avid swimmer, Dromey Heeter’s great passion is to bring back body surfing as most children have no idea how to ride waves without ridiculous boogie boards. She also writes about thrift shopping and all things frugal in a column called “Budget Vogue” for the New Hampshire Union Leader.