I worked at Smith Brothers Dairy, which was the largest dairy company in Washington at the time, but the place was pretty much held together with chicken wire. My job was to clean out the cow stalls by filling up a dump truck with manure. At the end of each day, I dumped the manure in a field about sixty feet across and two feet deep. The idea was that the manure would crust over and then we could spread it on the fields as fertilizer, which was another part of my job. But the only way to tell if it had crusted over was to walk on it. If we broke through the surface, it wasn’t ready.
Hanover Park, Illinois
My first summer home from college I worked two part-time jobs: I was a telemarketer by day and a shelf stocker at an office supply store at night. I worked telemarketing from noon until 5 p.m., and stocked shelves from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. I would sleep a few hours in the morning and a few hours in the evening, and then catch up as much as I could on the weekends. Worst. Summer. Ever.
I worked the graveyard shift in a dog food factory, making minimum wage. For eight hours at a stretch I did tasks like dropping coupons into the open dog food bags as they came through on a conveyer belt. The factory was so noisy that all the employees had to wear earplugs. At least that masked the sound of my singing to pass the time. I would sing all the verses of the hymn “And Can It Be” over and over again, knowing each time I finished another five minutes had mercifully passed. I came home at 8 a.m. every day smelling like dog food.
Randall Philip Wilkens
Mount Vernon, Washington
Picking rocks out of our fields. I was probably ten or eleven years old. It was the worst job ever. I think Dad had us kids pick rocks to ensure we would want to go to college.
Best summer job: I was a company member with the Brownville Village Repertory Theatre in Brownville, Nebraska. I also spent a summer as a waiter at a Country Kitchen, graveyard shift. It really honed my people skills serving the drunks at night and the truckers in the morning!
I grew up on a farm just outside of Kingsburg, California, and most of my summer jobs were related to agriculture, in one way or another. In high school, I packed peaches one summer at a local packing operation. I stood beside a moving belt, picking out the peaches that matched the size of fruit we were packing in our individual boxes. (There’s a hierarchy of peaches: from peach halves at the top all the way down to pie filling at the bottom.) I would eagerly wait for a breeze—even a hot breeze—to bring some relief in the 100-degree weather. I did not appreciate the heat, nor the peach fuzz that would climb up my arms throughout the day.
I polished shoes at a tuxedo rental company.
Redwood City, California
I spent a couple summers as a pool cleaner. Usually that would be a good gig, but this was in Seattle, where it rained all summer. I didn’t get much of a tan.
My first summer job was getting paid to create visual art (and have it sold in the gift shop). This was at Gallery 37 in Chicago, the precursor to After School Matters. The next two years I worked there, I was paid to write a play (and it was performed as a reading at the end of the program). Loved it! I even got to meet Ted Newly and Carl Anderson from Jesus Christ Superstar.
While it might be a bit of a clichéd response, the best job I ever had was being a summer camp counselor at Camp Squanto at Pilgrim Pines in Swanzey, New Hampshire. I vividly remember being so emotionally and physically exhausted at the end of each day but at the same time so spiritually filled. I would fall asleep each night knowing I was exactly where God wanted me to be that day doing his work.
My first and most memorable job was riding around on a barge on Lake Vermillion in northern Minnesota dropping docks in the spring, repairing docks in the summer, and lifting docks in the fall. I loved being out on the lake all day.
I worked in a video arcade. Big mistake! I think I lasted about three weeks before I was busted playing the games.
My first job (besides babysitting) was scooping ice cream. My first day on the job was also the first day of a weeklong special on banana splits. It was forty-three years ago, and I still remember the recipe: one scoop each of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry ice cream, with the banana split in half and laid on either side of the scoops. Toppings: chocolate sauce on the vanilla, strawberry sauce on the strawberry, and marshmallow creme on the chocolate. Two piles of whipped cream between the scoops, each topped with a maraschino cherry, and chopped peanuts sprinkled over the whole thing—$1.09 now through Saturday.
Jo Anne Taylor
New Ulm, Minnesota
I emptied parking meters for the city of Portland, Oregon. Primarily for traffic reasons, we only worked at night. So on a regular basis, I got to walk around downtown Portland at 2 a.m. with a large metal pushcart containing $5,000 in quarters, nickels, and dimes. My favorite part (besides the constant risk of mugging) was our official job title: “Meter pigs.”
The summer before I started seminary I worked as a waiter at an upscale hotel, and sometimes when the bartender took a day off I would sub for him. The way people opened up and shared their lives was amazing. I often say that was my first experience in pastoral counseling. In fact, when I told folks I was going to seminary in the fall, they often opened up to me even more. Some really substantial conversations happened in those days of substitute bartending!
Grand Rapids, Michigan
I worked the drive-thru night shift at Krispy Kreme in Tallahassee, Florida. The kinds of people who crave donuts at 2 a.m. are interesting! That same summer, I was also a clown named ’Dipity (short for Serendipity) entertaining kids in Colorado Springs.