This week we’re discussing the ways we earned money while we were young, and Donna Summer’s 1983 hit came to mind. My father was an accountant, and later on he managed a credit union, so the value of money was instilled in us quite early. I remember my excitement when he finally decided that we could get an allowance of 25 cents each week. The announcement was followed by “…as long as your mother tells me you’ve done all your chores.” Of course, that requirement was rather unnecessary, because if we didn’t do our chores we were punished. So we always got our allowance. I think the amount was raised to 50 cents by the time I graduated from high school.
I remember when I got to junior high I learned that some of my friends got money for bringing home good report cards. I quickly shared that news with my father. Some of my friends, I told him, actually got a dollar for every A they received. My father was unimpressed. He told me, “You are more than capable of being an A student. Why would I pay you for getting what you should get on your report card? I must have continued to beg, so eventually he cut a deal. “I will give you a dollar for every A. But for every B on that report card, you will have to give me two dollars.” I never asked again.
By the time I got to high school, I’d begun babysitting for neighbors. I think the going rate at the time was 50 cents per hour. As I got a bit older and some of my clients stayed out later and later, my dad suggested I charge a dollar an hour after midnight. I honestly don’t remember what I did with most of my money, but I remember stopping at the drug store every afternoon on my home from school. I’d get a candy bar and eat it while walking the rest of the way home.
The summer before I went to college, my dad got me a real job – one where I went every weekday. I was a teller at a credit union. Since I’d earned a scholarship that covered my tuition, Dad said that whatever I earned that summer would be my spending money during the school year. The credit union was associated with one of the auto manufacturing plants in town, and I met several colorful characters that summer. I also learned a lot about dealing with people who might not have had a good day.
During college I worked as a music librarian and a music copyist. As a librarian I was responsible for filling the band members’ folders with whatever titles the directors wanted to rehearse. I also took attendance at rehearsals and did some of the director’s correspondence. After each concert, I’d empty all the folders and file the music away. As a music copyist, I’d get these roughly sketched compositions and write the music out legibly so that musicians could read it. This is back in the days before music-writing software was available. I also earned money by performing in the Bloomington Municipal Band once or twice a week.
In the summers, I worked at the furniture factory nearby. One summer I upholstered chairs. Another summer I welded desk drawers together. And another summer I was on the desk assembly line. It was hard work, but I learned several life lessons there. After my second year of teaching, my school laid off almost half of its teaching staff, and I went back to work at the factory until I managed to get another teaching job.
After graduating, I settled into my first career job, teaching elementary music. At first I saw it as a temporary thing – my degree was in instrumental music, so I expected I’d become a band director. But I realized that I enjoyed working with younger children, and stayed there through the rest of my public school teaching career.
They say that things happen for a reason, and I think that’s especially true with my work experience. By making me earn my allowance, Dad taught me that I shouldn’t expect things to be handed to me. By expecting me to get good grades, he taught me to do my best, even if the reward wasn’t tangible. Babysitting taught me how to interact with young children. Working in a factory showed me how to get along with people of different backgrounds and beliefs. Each job has taught me something to prepare for my place in the world. I may not have enjoyed them all, but I know that each one gave me something beyond the monetary compensation.
What are the jobs you remember from way back when?