I had a rather horrific day at work this past week that resulted in a night of insomnia. I was tossing and turning in bed, replaying the day and how I could have made it different, a rather futile exercise considering the day is past and I have yet to discover the secret to time travel. But as I was lying in bed torturing myself, I remembered some of my first employment experiences – cringe-worthy horror stories in themselves.
Like a lot of country kids, my first employer was my father. During the summer months and some weekends, my mother didn’t always have someone available to watch me while she was at work as my older siblings all had full-time summer jobs. So I would be packed off to spend the day at my dad’s office, which happened to be a manufacturing facility that built products from fibreglass and aluminium. My dad owned and ran the company with a partner and spent the day selling and managing the factory workers. I spent the day exploring the back fenced storage area for toads, frogs and wild cats, riding empty resin barrels like a horse, sorting sales brochures, playing with the adding machine and tracing routes on the large map of Ontario that was pinned to my father’s office wall. I also liked to fiddle with my dad’s address book, which was equipped with a metal arrow. You slid the arrow up the side of the address book to the letter you were interested in and then pressed a button at the bottom. Presto-chango, the address book would open to that page. I could play with that damn thing for hours.
After awhile, my father obviously got annoyed with me kicking around his air conditioned office. Or perhaps he was amazed by my prowess with the adding machine. Regardless, he soon found a summer job for me.
It started out with sweet corn. Although my father ran a manufacturing company, deep down under the collared shirt and tie, beat the heart of a farmer. And, as such, he had this great idea that selling fresh produce in the parking lot of his company, which was located along a very busy highway, was the perfect thing for me to do. So, he put out a table, a cash box, a lawn chair and what seemed like 100 dozen of fresh sweet corn and set me to work. At times it was an extremely hot and boring job. I’d read my Nancy Drew books and dream about that air conditioned office as I sat on the hot pavement in the direct sun, sweat dripping down the back of my shirt. I always seemed to have to use the washroom a lot. But soon I had enough truckers and harried factory workers starving for fresh sweet corn to keep me busy for hours. Huge semi trucks would pull over in front of my stand, hissing and whistling and chugging while the driver bought six cobs of corn from me (50 cents). Before the driver was back in the cab, he’d be husking a cob and eating it raw as he drove away.
The sweet corn was such a success, my dad decided to up the ante and invested in a truck load of peaches. The flats were stacked in the air conditioned office for storage and I would take a few baskets out at a time to set up my display. Soon I had truckers buying corn and baskets of peaches, juice dribbling down their chins as they drove down the highway, corn silk flying out the window. The smell of peaches soon overpowered the smell of fibreglass in the office and customers interested in fibreglass and aluminium products were soon buying baskets of peaches as well, unable to resist the aroma.
It was a very educational summer that taught me an important life lesson – how to add, subtract and make change in my head. My father checked that cash box every night and if the daily sales total did not match up with my sold inventory, I received a lecture on the importance of adding and subtracting money PROPERLY. I was soon a pro, counting back change from $20s without batting an eye.
The summer after that, I worked for my dad on our farm doing field work in the vegetable patch and picking up piles of potatoes by hand. I swear those potato rows were two miles long. He would harvest the tubers with a special machine that dug them up and dumped them on the ground behind. We had to grab the greenery and shake off any spuds still attached and then pick up all the potatoes and put them into bushel baskets we dragged behind us. It was back breaking work and I can remember laying on the front lawn trying to crack my back into place as the potatoes were being washed with the garden hose.
The summer I was 13, I dressed in my best T-shirt and shorts, tied my hair back in a ponytail, shoved it up under my black and white Flamboro Downs hat and mustered up the courage to pedal my bike down our concession road, just over into the next county, to ask Doug Arthur for a job. And for some strange, mysterious reason (I think it was the hat) he gave me one. The Arthur’s bred, trained and raced Standardbred horses. And I LOVED horses. I decided that summer the best job in the whole wide world would be to shovel horse shit and clean water buckets while surrounded by huge animals that liked to bite and kick you. I had experience with horses but not horses like these – pampered, spoiled, temperament divas who were coddled and had zero stable manners. My first day I had to be rescued from a rearing stallion who had managed to pin me in the back corner of the stall I was cleaning. I loved every minute of it.
Unfortunately the barn manager didn’t love me. I was fired after one week and told to come back when I was older – and faster at shovelling shit. I cried all the way home. But in my pocket I had about $300 in cash, the most money I had ever earned in a week. And I learned another important life lesson – sometimes it’s hard to make a buck in this world. But it’s really easy to spend it.