First Jobs!

Work is work!

We often hear these words, usually spoken by disgruntled employees. Yet we can learn something from every job, can’t we? Let me tell you about two jobs from my youth.

My first job was as a papergirl delivering The Wallaceburg Daily News. I was 10 at the time I applied for the position. When the agency contacted Mom and Dad to request parental permission, they weren’t even aware I had applied! I desired a job to earn money to buy Barbie doll clothes from a neighbour who handmade them. Fur stoles and glittery evening gowns for the disproportionate dolls. I got the job and I got the doll clothes. I learned that if there’s a “want,” you reach out for a way to obtain it!

The job taught me that carrying a bag full of newspapers wasn’t easy. Work can be hard. My shoulder was sore. But, that the longer I walked, the lighter my load of newspapers became.

I learned there are great people and there are difficult people. I had some wonderful customers like Hungabunga, the senior crossing guard, who always carried Kraft caramels—not the no-name ones with the plastic wrapper you can’t easily remove—in his pockets for schoolchildren. Hungabunga resided at the last house on my route and I would stop and listen to him play the cello in his garage. The companionship between an older gentleman and a youngster would probably be frowned upon these days but it was different times then. Sweet innocence. Classical music and Kraft caramels.

I learned that some customers never had money on hand to pay me, despite numerous trips to their homes in all types of weather. So after supper, I’d eat an ice cream cone while watching The Flintstones. Then, relaxed and full, I’d head back to my customers’ homes “to collect.” If I wanted money, I had to collect. No walk in the park, but I felt pride and I had my own spending money! Even Wilma Flintstone worked. She was a cigarette girl at a resort.  Do you remember Wilma saying, “Cigars? Cigarettes?”

My second job was the hardest job of my life. In hindsight, it was good for me. The job toughened me up. I could have played all summer before starting high school. But I had a goal. I wanted contact lenses! And they cost a fair bit of money!

Actually, I would be acquiring my contacts for cheaper than the average person. My left eye is a lazy eye and doesn’t feel much like working. Not at all! So I needed only one contact lens: for my right eye!

The job was a seasonal position and the duration was merely weeks. Corn detasseling! I knew nothing about it except that I could make big bucks and lots of people did it every summer. I was thrilled to be hired.

Workdays started early with a bus ride out in the county. We drove past fields of tobacco and tall corn. Before starting our shift, all of us workers donned a garbage bag. This was accomplished by tearing one hole for the head and two holes for the arms and wearing it over our clothes. It was necessary as the corn leaves were wet in the morning. We’d be drenched otherwise.

As the sun dried the corn leaves, we discarded our garbage bags. Soon we were sweltering in the scorching heat. Thermoses filled with water were available. I’ve never drank so much water in my life! Most days the field boasted a portajohn. Sometimes, not! I learned to be thankful for the basics: water and a toilet.

This job was a challenge because of the elements and walking all day long. But there was more. I learned I couldn’t do it all on my own. This was difficult for me as I am, and always have been, pretty independent. But I could not detassel corn well at all! People were let go—fired!— daily. I needed to stay employed long enough to earn money for my contact lens.

You see when the workers reached the end of the row, the Crew Leader would randomly choose a row to check. If there were many corn tassels missed, that worker would be fired. I had two issues: nearly blind in one eye, so it was difficult to see the rows on my left side and my short height was the other problem. I’m shy of 4’11” now so probably was shorter at that time. The corn was tall, sometimes way too tall for me to reach!

However, I was fortunate. My friends from the city swimming pool and cousins came to my rescue! After they had quickly finished their row, they’d race through mine and detassel whatever I had missed. They had me covered.

I earned plenty of money. I bought my hard contact lens and it was the best purchase I’ve ever made. Plus, I had enough money to buy a back-to-school wardrobe. I still can recall the outfits, bought at Reitman’s in Chatham.

Having been blessed with “helpers” taught me to help others in my nursing career and to also accept help, if needed. Many times fellow nurses would start an IV for me as I lack depth-of-field vision. And often I would help others, whether it be with paperwork or calming a distraught Mom-to-be giving birth. Teamwork makes a job easier.

Learning early on in my second job that I had a weakness, well, that did not defeat me. It just me grateful for my friends who helped me along the way, one row of corn at a time. And it made me more understanding of others who need help as well.

We all have our strengths and our weaknesses. They can be a curse or a blessing. From my point of view, it’s all the way you see it!

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