My first paying job was babysitting for the ‘tribe’ next door. There were 4 kids: two of each gender. I thought the youngest one hated me because she would burst into tears whenever I walked into the door. Now I know that she didn’t really hate me, she just hated to see her mother leave. For the most part, we all got along pretty good. Some of what I learned about cooking I learned from their mom, because she left very good instructions whenever I had to cook for them. If I recall, I started at .25 an hour and worked my way up to .75 before it was all done.
But every teenager in Nebraska knows the good money is in agriculture. I walked beans every summer with my friends for as many of their fathers who would tolerate me. This paid a whopping $1 an hour at first and I think by the time I retired from bean walking, it was paying $2, maybe? Most days, we started at sunup and could only work until noon when it got too hot. For you city folk, “walking beans” means you walk from one end of the bean field to the other, cutting or pulling weeds from the 2-4 rows on each side of you. In a weedy field, you could usually only watch 4 rows (2 on each side) without missing any weeds. In a clean field you could take up to 5 on each side. With the new “Roundup Ready” strains of beans and herbicides on the market now, I never see any bean crews out walking anymore.
I spent a few summers detassling corn for the DeKalb company. The hourly wage was good, though I don’t recall the exact figure, but the job was usually fewer than 6 weeks long. The crew would gather outside the Lyons Bakery at 5:00 AM and load into cattle trucks to be hauled to the cornfields. We walked up and down the rows of corn and removed the tassles (silks) from the female stalks. If I think about it long enough I might remember how you could tell the difference between male and female stalks, but it’s escaping me now.
The summers I spent in the bean and corn fields made me appreciate rain a lot more because rain meant a day off!
For awhile, I worked at the local Dairy Queen and fell in love with soft serve ice cream. Next, I waitressed at some local cafes. The truck stop I worked at is still there, but all the others are gone. I usually reported for work after school and worked until 9 or 10. I’m sure there was some sort of legal restriction on how late I could stay on a school night. I remember the smell of coffee and the heavenly aroma of steaks on the grill and fried onion rings. The truckstop owner had her own method for making the most glorious platter of home made onion rings on the planet! Those smells would follow me home on my clothes. Truckers are good tippers, but I remember one lady I worked with a couple of evenings. I thought she was being nice, because she offered to clear my tables for me. It wasn’t until after she went home I realized I’d been duped and she’d stolen all my tips! She must have done it to others as well, because she was fired after a few weeks.
Saturdays at Fern’s Café kept me in tip money for awhile. Fern always had a daily special plus hot beef sandwiches. A hot beef is roast beef on white bread, cut into two triangles with a big scoop of mashed potatoes in between them. The whole plate full of food is then covered over in brown gravy. Fern never used powdered potatoes and her roast was always melt in your mouth tender. Her gravy was hot, smooth and rich and I have to stop telling about it now because I’m drooling all over the keyboard!
Then, I moved into the medical field and took a job as nurse’s aide at the brand new (in the 70’s) nursing home in town. My shift was 3:30-8:00 and my job was to give baths to the infirm people who couldn’t do it for themselves. They didn’t all appreciate it, either. My experiences with stroke and Dementia (before they identified Alzheimers) patients include every emotion you can think of: funny, incredulity, pity, deep sorrow, compassion, etc. And that was all in the same person in one evening! I sometimes wonder if medical science has done us any favors by helping our bodies live longer. I don’t think the body is supposed to outlive the Spirit.
That pretty much covers my first job experiences. I think many of them may have overlapped: walk beans in the morning, waitress at noon and nursing home at night, but I probably didn’t keep that schedule up for very long. I learned something new about being a good employee with each job.