Labor Day weekend means the absolute end of summer job season, if college orientation or soccer doubles or carefully scheduled family vacations haven’t brought it to a close already. Does warming pepperoni slices, or scooping mocha chip, or painting faculty offices mean anything over the course of a life? Does steaming a lobster, if you avoid a permanent burn scar, stick with you after September?
Several Hartford characters, statesmen, or treasures were asked, "In your school years, was there a summer job you worked that was memorable - for any reason? What was it, where was it, and why do you remember it?"
Their funny, lovely, surprising, nauseating and philosophical responses indicate… yes.
“The most memorable summer job I held was working at Blood’s Catering and Seafood Restaurant. Yes, that wonderful catering and rental company in Hartford today was once a seafood restaurant too. I worked the counter in the restaurant, so I took food orders and did a little cooking once ‘Jim, the King of the Kitchen’ trusted me enough to batter and fry haddock. I loved working there because I was one of the youngest employees, so I got to hang out with all the older high school and college kids (don’t tell my parents.)
The reason this job is so special to me is because it is where I met my husband. In fact, Scott, as the general manager, was my boss for many years. For the most part, I did not like Scott because, well, he was the boss. And he and I did not agree on kitchen operations. (At 17, I am sure I knew best!) My father and I still fondly recall the story about when I came home (at 20) and told him I was going on a date with ‘Scott from work’. My father’s reply was, ‘Isn’t that the guy you told me last month was a real a**hole?’
I still make a mean seafood stuffing…”
-Barbara Farnsworth, Manager, Community Health Improvement
“In the summer between my junior and senior year in high school, I was lucky to land a job as a dishwasher at the Barker Hotel, on the banks of Mooselookmeguntic Lake in Oquossic, Maine. I say lucky because I was a couple of hundred miles from parental supervision, and almost all of the staff were kids my age: kitchen help, wait staff, cabin and room cleaners, trash detail. High school students eager for a good time. We, six or eight of us, had our own cabin. I don't have a memory of an adult ever checking on us.
My dishwashing partner, a friend from high school, and I reasoned early on that not all dishes brought to us from the dining room were in need of a high temperature, flesh eating detergent wash. So we instituted a system. A #1 went directly from the dishwashing station to the clean dish rack, a #2 might get a wipe with a dry rag, up to a #6 - which we would soak overnight. If management noticed, we never heard.”
-Mike Humphrey, Retired Bartender and Business Owner
“During the late 70s I lived in Florida. In the summer between 8th and 9th grade, I volunteered to assist junior-high science teachers with their curriculum-planning workshop. For two weeks the teachers test-ran chemistry experiments, many of which fizzled into laughter. It was my first glimpse into teachers’ behind-the-scenes work. Aside from cleaning up after them, I also organized my school’s neglected chemical storeroom. Danger lurked in dark corners. A hunk of sodium metal slumbered in a glass jar filled with kerosene. Enough, if exposed to water, to blow up the whole science wing. And I had my first (and last) schoolgirl crush on a visiting 29-year-old teacher with blond bangs and aviator sunglasses. He took me along in his white TR-7 for hamburger runs to Wendy’s. Maybe he also had a secret thing for me, but we both behaved. So I made it through the summer workshop without sparking off pyrotechnics and/or living my own personal sequel to Nabokov’s novel Lolita.”
- Lisa Barfield, Co-op Stocker and HBA Guru
“One of the most memorable jobs that I worked when in school was for the Quechee Fells Farm, owned and operated by Harold Eastman and his wife, Arlene. It was known to be one of the most respected farms in New England, having purebred registered Jersey cattle for the majority of the herd. A working farm, they shipped large quantities of milk to the commercial market, their jersey bulls were highly sought after for breeding purposes.
The farm was a forerunner of todays ‘farmers markets’. Acres of trees produced abundant apples for sale as well as apple cider. Gardens yielded an array of fruits and vegetables. They had a large maple sugaring venue, its sugarhouse operations located at the south woods, about a mile west of the farm toward Taftsville. The maple syrup and maple sugar candy sold at the farm stand. Hundreds of chickens made for a profitable egg sales operation (graded and boxed on site.)
I had job offers in White River, with a higher rate of pay, but chose to work on the farm. Its proximity made the commute easy, walkable if needed. My hours were from after school until usually seven, but not later than eight on school nights; weekends the days started at five a.m. Summer vacation the hours started at five a.m., and if hay was down we worked until it was all in the barn or at least on the wagons, all covered. A few times I remember eleven-ish at night. I learned so much about farming and nature. Beyond the chores and the hard work, I learned a lot about myself.
I learned persistence and humor when I took the tractor to spread manure on the corn field (now a golf course and swimming pool.) There was no wind when I started across the field, but November in Vermont has its vindictiveness even beyond the thirty degree temperatures: maybe its own sense of humor. The wind came up fast and hard, the airborne manure blowing back at me. Pulling the collar of my coat up and drawing my head down didn’t help much. I changed direction; the wind seemed to do the same. The wind and I at battle. The futility of continuing clashed with my need to finish the project. My choices were to scream or laugh, stopping not an option. I chose laughter.
I learned patience when I went to the 18 acre pasture after the cows at 5:30 in the morning: time for their milking. It was in a hard rain storm. I called for the cows, most of them coming, knowing food and shelter waited for them. One waited at the top of the pasture (now a ski hill.) I wasn’t looking forward to going up after her. I climbed the hill, muttering. Reaching the top of the hill, I saw her back legs trapped, wrapped in wire from the fence. She could not move. She stood quietly as I freed her from the entanglement and we headed down the hill. She walked behind me, close, at times putting her nose on my shoulder. I learned sometimes things are not what they look like at a distance.
I learned about Spirituality the night I was feeding the calves, watching them jumping around, full of life except for one. She was ten days old, too weak to stand and could not nurse from her mother. I sat in the sawdust on the floor of the pen, holding her on my lap. My whispered prayers to have her live, repeating. I cupped my hand in the milk, bringing the milk into her mouth. She looked at me, her tired eyes unblinking. She sucked weakly on my fingers and then stopped, the life- giving liquid flowed back out of her mouth onto my lap. Tears streamed down my cheeks, mixing with the milk on my clothes. I knew God answered prayers. That day I learned sometimes the answer is no.
This was back in the early 1960s. The farm is gone now, lost to gentrification. Some call it development. Most people, unless you are a ‘local’, know that same farm area as the Quechee Lakes Landowners properties: clubhouse, ski hill, golf courses, aqua center, tennis courts. In the 1960s Quechee was a village that had lost its way. The mills had shut down; people looked for their livelihood elsewhere; high school graduates left the area to find a better life. The development brought better work, a higher lifestyle for those who wanted to stay. Arguably, progress at a high cost.
No other job could have sparked the stirring I felt as I climbed the hill on a clear morning, the crisp air smelling of grass and clover. I gazed down the valley: the morning sun glistened off the winding river, as if the evening stars had settled into the water, their brightness still sparkling. Seeing the fox doing his hunting dance, leaping into the air landing stiff-legged, seeking to drive a mouse from its cover. Walking through the apple orchard on a late fall afternoon smelling the spice of apples and glimpsing a magnificent buck deer, his head held high, antlers blending within the branches, muscles in his shoulder rippled, ready to launch him to safety. Looking toward the hillside, the only thing that broke the skyline was a lone eagle, wings outstretched, riding the thermal currents, soaring high over the hilltops. At peace in this beautiful valley he called home.”
-Carl Small, Author and Active Grandfather
“My first ‘real’ summer job, with an official paycheck, was working at the Wilder IGA as an evening deli/bakery clerk. I believe my starting pay was either $2.00 or $2.25 an hour which was a huge jump from the $1.50 per hour, the standard rate for babysitting, my previous means of earning spending money. I remember the job being both fun and hard work. I did everything from making fresh ‘subs’ for waiting customers, to slicing cheese and deli meats, to scrubbing the baking trays and swabbing down the floors with ‘Mr. Clean’ and water at the end of my shift. It was the means by which I could buy the official Levi Jeans and other fashionable clothes to start the school year. I loved the idea of purchasing my wanted items with my own money versus receiving what I needed when my mother controlled the back-to-school budget. It's funny to me today to think that I was so brand oriented then whereas now, I'm more concerned with fit and ease of care rather than brand names in clothing.”
-Lori Dickerson, Senior Financial Manager
Department of Microbiology/Immunology
Geisel Medical School at Dartmouth College