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Friday, February 26, 2010

What jobs did you have as a teen?

This question separates the country mouse from the city mice. I grew up outside a small Iowa town where jobs for teens were scarce. The farm kids had a skill set that was in high demand; the town kids cornered the soda fountain, grocery store, paper route circuit. As a country kid without a farm, I scrambled for the leftovers.

The summer after freshman year, I detasseled corn, which is possibly the simplest job ever. First, the crew bosses determine which week in July will be the hottest and most humid. Then they load a bunch of unsuspecting girls into a cattle truck and dump them by a cornfield at 5 o’clock in the morning. Stranded in the middle of nowhere, we trudged between the rows of dew-drenched corn and tugged the tassels off the tops of the plants. The rules were strict: no music or talking. Yeah, right. In a couple hours we were soaked with dew and sweat, thirsty, and seriously in need of a bathroom. Bathroom? That consisted of getting a friend to act as lookout and squat in what you hoped was a vacant row. Two weeks of that were enough for me.

Sophomore summer my mother bravely offered to let me work for her. She was County Auditor with a very cool office on the second floor of the courthouse. By cool I mean it was air-conditioned with indoor plumbing, which put it several levels above being cut by corn leaves and peeing on the ground. Mom was proud of the position she’d earned in county government, and her nerves were shot by the end of August. I wasn’t an awful employee, but my typing and calculating skills were so-so, and I usually skidded through the door every morning just after 8 o’clock. Mom didn’t invite me for a return engagement.

The next two summers and school breaks I worked full-time at the local chicken farm. It was indoors, air-conditioned, and there was a bathroom, but the smell would bring tears to a maggot’s eyes. Except for the owner and his two (gorgeous) sons, the employees were women. Susan, a girl my age from a nearby small town, worked summers and breaks, too, which kept me from being totally stranded with women my mother’s age. Our job was to collect the eggs, dry them, and put them on flats as they came out of the washer on a conveyor belt. On down the line we removed them from the flats and put them in cartons, weeding out the cracked eggs or “checks.” Another part of the job was breaking the cracked eggs into large barrels that were shipped to local bakeries.

The biggest problem was that the eggs marched out of the washer six at a time and they just kept coming. My first week was filled with “Lucy and Ethel at the chocolate factory” moments as the eggs piled up and I freaked out. We were only supposed to stop the conveyor belt if we had an emergency like a broken egg spreading yolk on the other clean eggs. Until I got the hang of it, I waited until nobody was looking and smashed eggs on the belt just to give myself a break. By the second week I’d become an expert egg-handler, and by the end of the summer Susan and I had the run of the place. Phil, the owner, invited us over to swim in his indoor pool. And I had a brief summer fling with his older son Dirk who was 22 and (Gasp!) divorced. I was 17. Best summer job ever!

I could move on to my shoe store job the next summer with the sexual-harassing, deposit-stealing manager. But as the other bloggers have said, “That’s a story for another time!”


Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Wow, Jan, the summer fling at the egg place sounds like it could be a great romance story or romantic comedy if you begin with the Lucy moment. Great story! Definitely different than my city girl jobs!

Danielle Joseph said...

Jan, I agree, great story. Sounds like you have the perfect setting for your next book!

Jan Blazanin said...

Hmm. You two may have something there. How about LOVE IS NO YOLK for the title?