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Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times

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First Job
(Part 3)
Thousands of college graduates are beginning or seeking their first "real" job while high schoolers scurry about hunting for part time work and a little extra spending money.

Many have gone before them in a fledgling quest for their place in the world. Mobile Bay Times sought the recollections of a few veterans of the working life.

"The first job I ever earned money at was shining shoes. I'd take my father's shoe shine kit and waylay any male relative who came to visit, forcing them to give up their shoes so I could polish them for a dime. Now this was paste polish, not that liquid mess. Even at seven, I put a very nice buff on a wing-tip. It was a bit awkward for my male cousins and uncles, though, because they'd end up sitting around the living room in their socks.

I also mowed lawns with my older brother when I was a bit older. Andy had a terrific business because he did a good job and was reliable. If it was a really big yard, he'd let me help. We had push mowers, which my father maintained for us, so we could earn money to save for college.

I also worked for a florist watering plants and making bows for funeral wreaths, and the ultimate job was clerking at the Hospital Pharmacy after school and on weekends.

My first really important job was a 'cub' reporter for the George County Times in Lucedale, Mississippi, when I was a senior in high school, and I was also a radio disc jockey at the local AM station, WRBE. I was a fair reporter and a terrible DJ. I was very shy and didn't like to talk. I played a lot of records.

I had a lot of work experience before I got out of high school."
-- Carolyn Haines,
novelist, whose recent titles include Fever Moon and Penumbra

"At 16, I worked at the A & P Grocery Store in Andalusia, AL. What an experience since there were only a few of young employees along with the full time staff. I worked there through school on weekends and summers until the summer of 1964 when I went to college. I started at $1 per hour, and was happy to get a 5-cent raise each six months. I remember being really disgusted when the minimum wage went up in 1964 and they hired people at $1.25, 5 cents more than I was making even with by then three years experience!"
-- Bill Tunnell,
executive director, USS Alabama Battleship Park

"I grew up on 140 acres northeast of Baton Rouge. My father was a professor of agronomy at LSU and we maintained a wholesale flower nursery on our land as a means of supplementing the meager income of a college prof.

From the time I was around 9 or 10-years-old my father paid me to work in the nursery. I think my first hourly wage was 10 cents per hour for as many hours as I was willing to work. My sister was older and was paid somewhat more. 

My jobs were to go to the lath houses (houses where gallon cans containing azaleas and other shrubs were grown so that sun and shade alternated through the day) and to weed the cans to prevent the shrubs from being crowded out by the weeds. I did that most mornings during the summer months when the work was needed.
In the heat of the day I would join the two full time employees (Steve and Celeste Washington) in the 'potting shed,' where we would transfer rooted cuttings from the hot house into 12 oz. cans (mostly beer cans obtained from local establishments).

That was my favorite work on the nursery for several reasons: the shed was protected from the sun and seemed to have a breeze that was directed through the shade of the shed;  I loved the act of planting new plants into their own 'home,' knowing that a year later I would transfer them again into gallon cans for placement in the lath house; and I loved Steve and Celeste, a relatively elderly black couple who had worked for my father for over a decade. Our conversations covered many topics -- I viewed them as wise, parental roles in my life -- and they did have a wisdom that comes from working hard and observing life over many decades.

When my father gradually sold out the nursery as I approached high school I was both disappointed and relieved. I missed the times with Steve and Celeste in the potting shed, but I did not miss the heat of the July morning sun in the lath houses!

I suppose it's ironic that I have always worked in nurseries on young and dependent parts of God's Creation. I just moved from plants to newborn babies."
-- Dr. Keith Peevy,
neonatologist, University of South Alabama Children's and Women's Hospital

"The typical stuff as a teenager -- cut grass, anything I could do to make a buck.

In college, I worked several part time jobs. I was the runner for Sirote & Permutt law firm working for (the late Circuit Judge) Bill McDermott, (current Probate Judge) Don Davis and (former Lieutenant Gov.) Steve Windom, etc. (that probably had a lot to do with sparking my political interests). At the same time I was the 'doorman' at T.P. Crockmiers on the weekends and worked week nights as the 'stock boy' at The Limited in Bel-Air Mall (great gig -- I was the only male employee!)."
-- Jim Barton,
state legislator

"My first paying job was when I was in the fifth grade. I simply garnered enough courage to ask the owner of Jackson Theater in Flomaton, Alabama for a job at the theater -- and, I got it.

The job was distributing show bulletins announcing coming attractions at the theater -- the pay was getting to see every movie free.

Very soon, however, I moved on to ushering at the theater, working at the concession stand (popping and selling popcorn as well as candy and fountain drinks), taking up tickets, etc. -- this brought in a little money along with seeing every movie free.

Later, I began operating the projectors -- this was during World War II and both projectionists and even the owner of the theater had been drafted in the army. This left me, an eighth grader, to receive the films, do the splicing of the ads, operate the projectors, and prepare the films for shipment once they had completed their run.

After the war, the owner returned from the army as did one of the former projectionists and some time after that I was made Assistant Manager in which position, I remained until graduation from High School and entrance into the United States Air Force.

My first job out of college was with TCI (Tennessee Coal & Iron -- a division of U. S. Steel), Birmingham, Alabama. I began as an Accounting Trainee and worked up to a Department Analyst position before departing for employment with International Paper in their Accounting Department at Moss Point, Mississippi."
-- Ed Kennedy,
retired, International Paper Co.

"I made my first money shining shoes. Two or three of us would go along the bars and shine shoes, often getting a $5 tip for a 25 cent shine.

I had a 'legit' paper route for the Jersey Journal but then I discovered you could make more money on a nighttime New York Times/Daily News route, again going bar to bar (papers came out the previous night).

But my first real job was as a bicycle messenger for Western Union working 40 hours a week riding a bike in Jersey City and New York City. I made nearly $9 per hour, time-and-a-half for anything over, double on weekends. This was 1962.

I learned the value of unions at that job. While it was good money, it was worth every bit of it, as we had to make deadlines, dodge traffic and bottles from neighborhood toughs, dogs, etc. I finally quit when I came back to the street and my bicycle had frozen solid in the few minutes I had been upstairs delivering my telegram."
-- Dom Soto,
criminal defense attorney

"My first summer job was hiring out as a field hand for $5 a day to a share cropper that farmed the excess lands of Merrily Plantation of South Georgia (lands owned by Bill Flowers of Sunbeam Bread).

Those long, character-building summers I cropped and strung tobacco from dawn to mid-afternoon and personally hung the tobacco in the 110- degree-plus heat in barns at day's end.

I hung on the side of a combine and sacked peanuts, cut and baled hay and threw it over my head into the barn lofts, picked cotton and pulled corn. When I got to drive the tractor in year three I felt like I did when I received my MBA at the University of South Alabama. That job made my after high school 3 p.m. until 10 p.m. job at Winn Dixie Grocer seem like a white collar job.

My last full time job was picking up the City of Mobile’s trash and garbage. I continue to progress.
-- Mike Dow,
former mayor, City of Mobile

"My first job really involves my first two jobs when I was growing up in Drexel Hill, PA.

As you know, it snows quite often in Pennsylvania. Drexel Hill is Upper Darby Township which is in Delaware County just outside of Philadelphia. I say this because it is a busy place and highly populated which means many sidewalks and driveways. Hence many potential customers to shovel snow.

My first two jobs -- a newspaper boy and a snow remover.

The newspaper route consisted of approximately 100 customers. I delivered the newspaper once a week to the houses of my customers, door to door. This was all year. I was 12 years old.

I had to get up at 3 a.m. and go to the drop-off spot where the newspaper truck left the papers in bulk wrapped in wire about five blocks down the hill from my house. If it snowed, I pulled a sled to bring the papers back up the hill. If is was dry, I pulled a wagon to bring the papers back up to hill to my house. Then I would cut the wire and fold each newspaper in such a way that it would not come undone when I threw them from my bike to the front porches of my customers.

If it snowed, I threw the papers from the sled I pulled across snow covered lawns of my customers who were also my neighbors. I had to be perfect in my throws or the neighbors would complain to my parents.

If it rained, I had to fold the papers and then put them in a makeshift plastic bag since the rain often got on to the porches.

The folding was interesting because I could not afford rubber bands since the money would dip into my profits. I learned to fold them where they would not come apart. The whole process took about 3 hours before I caught the school bus to school on Thursday mornings.

Then, once a month, I would go door-to-door to be paid for the four weeks of deliveries. That took more time than one would think because my 100 customers were never home at the same time which meant I had to go back time and time again.

For all of that I made big money -- approximately $30 a month. However, I did receive tips for Christmas.

While that was going on I actually made more money in less time during the winters which would last five months while using my snow shovel.

Sidewalks paid a dollar and driveways paid $5. However, it was hard work. Many of the older folks were afraid of snow shoveling because of heart attacks and strokes. The weather was cruel and the work was hard while at the same time they had to get out of their houses and go to work. In other words the kids in the neighborhood were sought after to do this particular job and all of us wanted to do the jobs to get extra money to go to the movies etc.

It also wasn't unusual to have snow drifts that were 15 feet high. I can remember drifts being next to my second floor bedroom windows. That was always good because we knew the buses couldn't run and that meant no school. A full day off working to get money by pulling out my old snow shovel.

Those were the days my friend, I thought they would never end."
-- Bob Campbell,

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