I didn't always enjoy the luxury of having summers off. Believe it or not, I am no stranger to work. Hard, dirty, back breaking work. Of course I am fortunate that those jobs have been offset by some pretty cushy jobs as well--like working as a racquetball club receptionist during my senior year of high school and (my hands down favorite position) as a dental receptionist for my family dentist (and dear friend) during college summers.
Dr. Bauerle let me take breaks whenever I needed to “go to the bank” [read: smoke a cigarette] and whole days off to go to the beach if a banner day was forecast. I learned my love of words from him and our mutual friend, the dictionary, and gained confidence in my writing from him. He saved every letter I ever wrote to him and my other friends in the office—Mary B, Maureen, Janice, Colette. My musings made him laugh. He thought I was clever. In fact, I remember when once he told me he couldn’t understand why I was majoring in Biology. “You could be the Erma Bombeck of [your hometown]!” he said. If only I hadn’t thought then that what I wanted to do was find the cure for cancer, or understood what a daunting task that would be, I may have changed majors. After college, he kept me on as an honorary staff member so that I could continue to attend Christmas parties and summer get-togethers. From all accounts he still has my letters with him in Florida, where he and his wife retired. And I continue to have connections with The Bauerle Bunch as we call ourselves.
But long before I got to show up late and start answering phones when I was good and ready while surrounded by supportive friends, I was more practiced at the aforementioned hard labor.
The summer after 3rd grade I went to work on a broad leaf tobacco farm with my grandfather and sisters. It was my great aunt’s farm, and therefore didn’t seem obscenely cruel or illegal. I was 9. I worked there every summer until I turned 14, and could work for legal farm wage with my friends from town on a shade tobacco farm. So I did. And I loved it. I have fond memories of those summers, waiting for the grey bus to lumber down the street early in the morning, having to wash black, sticky tar off every hair on my arms in the afternoon, then napping in the one air conditioned room in our house. I also remember having money to pay for fried dough at the local firemen’s carnivals and admission tickets at Riverside (now Six Flags), and having Levi cords in every color when I went back to school.
Of course you already know about my days saying “Howdy Partner” in the Roy Rogers Drive Thru, but there was also a yet undisclosed summer I spent as a housekeeper at the local Howard Johnson’s with Jill. Only they called us chambermaids back then. “Tick tick tick [our keys would forewarn] Housekeeping!,” we’d say, feigning cheer, hoping that we wouldn’t key in on anyone, hoping against hope that at least one room would be untouched, that the flight attendant to whom the room was registered had fornicated with the pilot next door, so that we would have one less room to clean and finish with a spritz of bubble gum scented air freshener. (I swear. Bubble gum.) How we survived that summer I don’t remember. But think it had something to do with Haffenreffers at night.
More often than not, and until fairly recently, I worked two jobs at the same time. During high school summers I worked on tobacco during the day and at Roy Rogers at night. I worked as a Resident Director full time during full time graduate school, while working part time at Crate and Barrel. And I worked part time there when I was a text book editor, too. Then, when I began teaching, I waited tables at a seafood restaurant two nights a week and weekends. I took on more shifts during summer.
I clocked a lot of hours in all sorts of jobs before I took my first summer off at 35 and I appreciate every hour I spend by the pool these days, not working. In fact, I think I have earned them.