The summer of 1968 my parents decided it was time to find me a job.
So at age 11, mom told me to approach a local farmer for work at his small dairy operation. He agreed in a handshake to pay me $1 a day before leading me on a tour through his smelly barn and lush cabbage, bean, tomato and corn patch. He was to pay me in cash once a week.
For the next 11 days save Sunday, it was my responsibility to scoop the cow manure with a coal shovel from the barn stalls into a long narrow trough along its concrete floor. With each shovel, I dreaded the day would approach when I would have to clean up that sludgy mess, too.
The rest of the days were spent weeding and watering the garden before dusting it, unprotected, with a pesticide.
After day 11 passed and having missed my first payday, I asked the farmer for the money. He refused to pay up so I quit and walked the three miles that separated his scrappy farm from our house.
That didn’t set well with mom, who also went to work as a teen, never forgot the struggles of having lived through the Great Depression and knew the value of good work.
She drove us back to the farm, and ordered me to the man’s front door to tell him we weren’t leaving his driveway until he handed over my pay. He reached into his wallet, pulled out $9 and said that was all the money he had.
It was a compromise that mom accepted.
This had been a long-forgotten story I remembered the other day while talking with a friend about the economy being in a place similar to the manure pit in that barn and the struggles families are having to pay their bills.
We agreed it had important lessons to teach a child about hard work, earning a fair pay and standing up to an employer who cheats workers.
That said - we couldn’t imagine that many parents, today, would consider the thought of pulling their 11-year-old son or daughter away from their summer vacation to get a job.