As a kid my first summer job was weeding onions in one of the large fields of a truck farm just south of Racine. I was about 13 years old, and I recall going on my knees up and down the (seeming) endlessly long rows of onions, wielding a bent old butter knife in my right hand and cutting under the weeds which seemed to sprout almost overnight in the fields. It certainly was lots better than sitting in a classroom!
We never thought that we were living in the suburbs because the word wouldn’t have been used then, and the homes were modest. Racine city limits were a mile to the north and the farms stretched south and east of our neighborhood. During the year, I attended a superb little public grade school where the teachers were as strict as any “nun stories” I’ve ever heard … perhaps ever stricter!
That summer I rode my bike to the farms a few miles from home early enough to begin at about 7 in the morning before the summer sun became too warm. We kids worked side by side with some very kind elderly European-born grandmas who enjoyed the fresh air of the fields and the opportunity to make some money for their families.
They were hard working wonderful women who always had a soft spot in their hearts for kids willing to do a bit of work … and they covered our backs when the farmer-owner field-marshal hoed the rows behind us.
Kids my age were paid a dime an hour in those years of post World War II economy. I say that, not to complain, but to acknowledge that I probably wasn’t worth much more that that.
We worked hard, at least by our standards, but we knew that the grandmas worked harder, were paid more and deserved every bit of it.
At noon, we had a home-packed lunch of sandwiches, fruit and cookies which always tasted better than the stuff we had during the school year (even if the menu was in fact identical).
It was an adventure then, and has become a fond memory in more recent years … a chance to make a bit of money for ice cream, a job in which our parents knew that we were being supervised even if away from the immediate home neighborhood and a way of learning to appreciate the importance of work and the value of money.
Of course, there were always the cool waters of Lake Michigan a block away for a swim on the way home. The trouble we got into was minimal and usually harmless.
Now in formal retirement, I think of those years amid friends of my age with fondness. Once again I have the freedom to keep busy doing what I want … helping out in parishes on weekends and certain days of the week as needed, complaining about the darn rabbits in the backyard, reading some wonderful books, enjoying each new season without the pressures of office duties and exploring a bit of travel as the budget allows.
Autumn and winter and spring are great gifts, but so is summer. The beauty of creation seems endless … as are the opportunities for volunteer help, gratitude and praise.
PS: This space had initially been reserved for a column co-written by our local Muslim / Catholic Dialogue group, but the text has not as yet been finalized to our common satisfaction; so I quickly substituted this bit of nostalgia. A healthy summer to all!