My father, Vern, was a traveling salesman for a company based in Boone, Iowa, named Rolfes Aeration. He rumbled down umpteen dusty county roads in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio in search of large grain elevators that popped out from the flat, fertile midwestern soil. I learned to spot them from five miles away.
Vern would pull up, firmly shake hands with the person in charge, talk about the weather, explain how the moisture might harm the farmer’s stored grain and inquire about the apple pie at the cafe down the road. Then Vern would explain why his aerator was the perfect solution for the farmer’s elevators.
I’d watch from the car, blending in with the shirts and sports coats that hung from the aluminum rod stretched across the back seat. Sometimes I’d get called out to perform. I had been taught to provide a big grin, look the farmer in the eye and say “yes, sir.”
In less than an hour, Vern and I always asked for the order. Sometimes, we got it.
Sherry worked at her father’s IGA store in Cimarron, Kansas. She watched her father greet customers and walk them to the right aisle, often pulling the exact requested item off the shelf. Little Sherry learned to count change at the register, making certain the one dollar bills all faced the same way. She handed out carts, swept the floor and straightened the canned goods so they were lined up in neat rows.
Larry worked at the corner Shell station for his uncle in Western Springs, Illinois. He pumped gas, wiped down windshields, rotated tires and got dirty. Larry learned about cars before he knew the difference between an adjective and an adverb.
These examples come from years past, when many children were expected to pitch in and help get a job done while under the watchful, sometimes critical, eyes of caring adults. Children learned quickly that the world did not revolve around them. There was a job to do, a responsibility to be met and, if all went well, they might receive a pat on the head and a dollar in their pocket, and that was really cool.
Are part-time jobs for kids under 16 old-fashioned? Are there even jobs like that around? And today, do weekends embedded with organized sports and birthday parties provide better alternatives? I don’t know, but I still keep my eyes open for grain elevators when I travel through Iowa, and say “yes, sir” when the moment calls for it.