As far back as I can remember, I had summer jobs. That was just an expected part of growing up around our house. Other than the seemingly endless list of chores and projects that my dad would have for my brothers and me, however, I don’t remember what the actual jobs might have been.
Maybe my memory has simply protected me from the adolescent anguish of having to perform backbreaking work at slave wages from sunup to sundown while “all of my friends” got to ride their bikes all day or enjoy the beach or go on exotic vacations with loving parents and best-friends-forever-siblings. I just remember that’s often what it seemed like from my side of the summer.
My dad would leave detailed lists of “things to do” before we were allowed to play or go anywhere. If these tasks weren’t completed to his liking, we did ‘em over. And over. Until they met his standards. Eventually, we learned to take the time necessary to do something the right way (or at least Dad’s way) the first time. Or we’d just wind up working away even more of our precious summer vacation time.
For several weeks one memorably miserable summer, one of my jobs was to sort through dozens of shelves filled with coffee cans which in turn were filled with all manner of fasteners and loose hardware. My dad (by trade an engineer, of course) had painted each of the metal coffee cans (am I the only one who remembers when coffee came in a can instead of a bag?) a uniform, flat white color.
Then using a black marker he labeled each can with what was supposed to go into it; machine screws, wood screws, sheet metal screws, lag bolts, carriage bolts, metric screws, standard screws, pan head screws, flat washers, lock washers, castle nuts, cup washers, star washers, cotter pins, brads, wire staples, brass screws, Phillips head screws, slotted head screws, Allen head screws, galvanized nails, roofing nails, finish nails, 16-penny nails, box nails, duplex nails, concrete nails and welcome to my teenage nightmare.
Every day after summer school, I would sit for hours in our sweltering garage on Harmony Place – just a few houses away from the beckoning basketball courts, cool grassy slopes and glorious, lazy freedom of Two Strike Park – separating machine screws from the sheet metal screws (yes, there is a difference), roofing nails from finishing nails and flat washers from star washers. Hour after stifling hour. Then, Dad would come home from work and casually scrutinize the results of my afternoon’s labor. All too often it would take mere seconds until he discovered a rogue flat washer hiding among the lock washers and pronounce, “You’re not being careful enough! Do these over.”
Of course, this was a time before iPods or streaming video. Even cassette tapes and Walkmans were yet to be invented. To ice this crummy cake, our neighborhood was in a black hole for radio reception, so my little 9-volt transistor radio was of no use while I worked. Feel sorry for me yet? Please don’t. I learned invaluable, lifetime lessons at the feet of my taskmaster dad those summers. At the same time, he also taught my siblings and me about carpentry, auto mechanics, roofing, plumbing, wiring, how to slurry a driveway and build a fence and dig a leach line and – most importantly – about the value and satisfaction of a job well done.
I got to thinking abo
ut my past summer jobs while driving to Hume Lake with my wife this past weekend to visit our youngest son. He has a summer job as a counselor at Hume Lake Christian Camps deep in the cool forests of the Sequoia National Park. Next week I’ll write more about what he’s doing and how it’s changing his life. For now, I’ll just say that it beats sweating in a hot garage counting nuts and bolts.
I’ll see you ‘round town.