Raising Money as a Kid
By Jeff Salter
This week, we’re recalling how we earned money as kids… plus memories about chores and early jobs.
Well, in my family, none of us kids had a measurable allowance until the year we moved (from Louisiana) to Iowa. My big brother was already in college by then, but I (in 10th grade) and my sister (in 7th) each received about $2.60 a month, as I recall. We never asked why we were suddenly paid “big bucks” (compared to the nickel every month that we’d gotten in LA). I always figured it was a sort of “compensation” – or “bribe” – for them having uprooted us from our friends and hometown during pivotal years of our youth.
So unless you count that nickel each month, during all those other kid years we weren’t paid for chores, either. A ritual on Saturdays (during the 7-8 “mowing” months of the year in southeast LA) was picking up sticks and pine cones so Dad could mow. We had zillions of pine trees and each one deposited 932 cones every week… not to mention all the twigs and small branches. But that was easy compared to the point at which Dad stopped mowing and turned over that labor to my brother and me. We still had a manual mower – yes, folks, that means no motor… you pushed it by hand and the blades cut by the rotation of the wheels – and that stupid thing was even second hand. It was also heavy! Neither of us could push it more than a couple of feet per shove, so we rigged a rope to the handles and one of us would pull as the other pushed (and guided). To a bystander, it probably looked like a kid behind a mule-boy plowing a field. Finally Dad agreed to buy a cheap power mower from Sears in N.O. but it was hard to start!
Speaking for myself, I really resented having to spend my Saturday mornings dealing with yard work or washing cars. [Looking back on it, years later, I realized it was an important part of growing up — learning that life often involves hard work that may yield little reward.]
At a very early age, my brother sold greeting cards, door-to-door. I went with him sometimes — usually on foot, as I recall, though I can’t imagine why we didn’t use our bikes. Most residents were civil, but few were interested enough to spend $2 for a box full of Christmas cards or all-occasion greeting cards.
Later, my brother had a paper route for several years. He was under the legal age when he began, but nobody enforced things like that in those days. He delivered the Bogalusa Daily News in Covington (which had no daily at the time). It was hard work… in all kinds of weather. On several occasions I went with him. A few times – when he was out of town, I suppose – I ran the route for him. In those instances, because I was still so young, I think Mom drove me from house to house on his widely-spread route.
I focus on those two of my brother’s jobs mainly to point out that I had already experienced enough of both to know that I wanted no part of either. So I turned another direction.
Practically the only ready cash to be had for kids in those days [late 1950s] was the two pennies for each soft drink bottle we could find, rinse, and redeem. Despite all the competition for those bottles, we could nearly always find at least some along the ditches and street shoulders. If not for the careless litterers of that day, I would have never had any candy and comic money!
There were a couple of notable exceptions to the free child labor racket in my family:
One Saturday, I was employed for the whole long, hot day to help my parents dig up the scraggly privet hedge which went along the Madison Street frontage of our double lot… and replace it with boxwood (slightly less scraggly). [To me they looked nearly the same, so I never got the point of that endeavor.] I earned the princely sum of ONE DOLLAR. I needed that dollar so I could buy a pair of flip flops, in the year the craze first reached our region. I think we had to go to N.O. to buy them. [Mine had brown straps and I think they were still called “thongs” at that point.]
My grandmother would sometimes hire me to do odd jobs for her. She wanted help building a dog pen, stringing a fence, hanging a gate, wrapping the pipes under her house, etc. I never knew how much I’d earn until just before I left, when she’d sit on the couch by her front door and we’d haggle over the value of my work. I do recall that she paid a lot better than my parents did.
My brother and I also spent a lot of time hunting golf balls in the rough along the neatly trimmed fairways of Tchefuncta Country Club, outside of Covington. I’ve gotta tell you, it was hot work, full of briars and poison ivy… and often snakes. Occasionally we’d approach golfers at tee boxes with some of our most pristine examples. We even sold a few that way. But at some point we also were told that we’d better stop trying to sell balls to golfers or we’d get into trouble. So what to do with golf balls you’d spent the day hunting? Well one time I took a sack full to the pro shop and offered to sell them to the pro for his driving range. I figured he’d look them over and say, “this one’s worth 50 cents, this one’s 40 cents, and those three are 30 cents each. But the rest are a dime apiece.” Nope, he held up the bag and asked how many balls it contained — there were 20. Without a word, he stowed the bag behind his counter and gave me a dollar bill from his register. A nickel a ball! What happened to the bidding war?
Working for Others
When I was in 7th or 8th grade, my older brother got a job at Burns Dry Goods, a clothing and fabric store on one of the main streets in Covington’s business section. It was just an hour or so each shift, on six days a week. Daily, we had to sweep the entire floor. Weekly (or maybe twice weekly) we had to also mop the entire floor. On Saturdays, we had to also wash the glass front. It paid the opulent sum of two dollars per week. Over time, my high school brother turned that job over to me and I’d walk (from the junior H.S.) the several blocks to Columbia St., perform the work, clean up the back room that I dealt with, and then walk the 1.5 miles home.
During my one year in Mt. Pleasant IA, there wasn’t much money making opportunity for a new (H.S.) sophomore in town. But one day I was invited to join a small group of classmates who were helping a local farmer bring in his hay bales. Folks, that was hard work! Those bales (the old rectangular type) probably weighed as much as I did at the time… and it was a struggle for me to wrangle one with both hands. For that full day’s work, I earned $8.25. So I guess it was $1 per hour.
The summer after my junior year, my friend Norman M. got me a job at his father’s feed and seed store on Gibson St. To begin with, it was only on Saturdays, I think, but as the summer of 1967 progressed, I was working more and more hours each week. After that summer ended, I continued to work on Saturdays during my senior year… and that following summer, I worked “full time” (or close to it). Initially, I’d been hired mainly to candle eggs… but my duties expanded. I sometimes drove the store truck to pick up un-candled (and therefore also un-weighed and un-sorted) eggs at the various places out of town where the layers were caged in immense long houses. I also hauled feed, seed, and fertilizer to customers… and occasionally helped unload boxcars. Later, I even worked the register out front [probably filling in for somebody’s vacation weeks]. For a short period, while Mrs. M. was on vacation, I also handled the posting of bills. That wonderful job (which I truly loved) paid $1 per hour, which was good money for a high school kid in those days.
The summer (1969) after my college freshman year, I worked as a laborer for the T.J. Murray construction outfit, hired to build an addition to Forest Manor nursing home (on the Madisonville Highway), not far from my house. Started out digging footings — 1.7 zillion miles of ditches… enough to bracket the Panama Canal. By the time I’d worked some 8 weeks or so, I had also tied steel (re-bar), and had hauled countless wheelbarrow loads of mortar or cement over narrow boards to reach the proper destination. Also, I hauled countless cement blocks — one in each hand. I don’t remember exactly, but I think the job paid $1.25 per hour.
At some point, late that same summer, on a rainy day, I drove to nearby Hammond (about 20 miles west) and applied for a job at the Daily Star. They happened to have an opening for a reporter and I had amateur journalism experience on my university newspaper. They started me off on… wait for it… obituaries. True. [It took a full week before I understood that the bereaved were the survivors… not the dead people.] I soon graduated to minor news and features. Later, incredibly, I was made acting sports editor — but that was due more to turnover (including one guy who was drafted) than to specific aptitude on my part about the sports world. Briefly, I was switched over to advertising — which I didn’t like and wasn’t very good at. For a while I was even their principal photographer, though that, too, was because of manpower shortage rather than specific talent on my part. I continued to work there part time during my sophomore year at Southeastern Louisiana University and full time again during the summer afterwards. I think it paid $80 per week, which would have been $2 per hour.
The next job I had, on a weekly paper, paid $90 per week and that was what I was earning in late 1970 when we got married… before I took a pay cut and went into the Air Force, where I earned $131 per month (i.e., about $33 per week). [But that’s another story].
What kinds of jobs did you have as a kid?
[JLS # 301]