The Best Worst Summer Job I Ever Had
My fifteen year old daughter came home from her summer job each night whining about how tough it was to be a working girl. The kid had one of the easiest jobs in town, but she carried on as if she was being tortured on a daily basis.
Amy worked as the ticket girl at the Hillsboro Swimming Area, requiring her to sit in a wooden booth (or in a lawn chair under an umbrella) collecting the five dollar entrance fee from each car that showed up at the gate. Man, that's capital punishment to the nth degree, especially since the swimming area averages about five cars an hour.
"Oh, Dad, you just don't understand what its like," she grumbled, annoyed that I laughed at her chronic job grousing every time she came home after a shift.
"I understand that you work on your sun tan for eight hours and get to read all day, something you love to do."
"Yeah, well you sit behind a computer screen in an air conditioned office all day," she replied. "What do you know?"
"I know that's not what I was doing when I was your age."
It was a revelation she had never considered before. "Gee Dad, what did you do for a job when you were my age?"
"Come with me," I instructed, leaving my newspaper and easy chair behind.
Amy is an intelligent, personable, and friendly teenager, but like most kids her age she's clueless when it comes to the truths of life and it was my job to give my beautiful angel princess a reality check to put her own situation into perspective.
We drove to the outskirts of town and I pulled the car to the curb in front of the strip mall on Hillsboro Road.
"Pizza Hut?" she asked from the passenger's seat. "You made pizza?"
"No, none of this was here when I was a kid."
I drove a hundred yards further and turned onto Farm Road, stopping the car in front of the Industrial Park.
"You worked in there?"
"None of this stuff was here either," I said. I gestured to the "Farm View Acres" housing complex as we continued along Farm Road.
"Let me guess," she groaned. "This wasn't here either."
"Nope," I said with a laugh. "This was all farm fields when I was a kid. And we're only talking thirty years, Amy."
"I always wondered why it was called Farm Road," she admitted. "What did you do?"
"I picked tobacco."
She was surprised. "Tobacco? Gee Dad, aren't you the one who says smoking will kill you?"
"Aren't I the hypocrite?"
We stopped in front of an abandoned and decrepit old red barn, lost in a sea of weeds and tall grass. "There used to be dozens of these around here," I said. "Tobacco sheds. That's where they hung the tobacco to dry."
I got out of the car and explored the forgotten structure. Amy followed and stared back toward Farm View Acres, the industrial park and the strip mall in the distance behind us.
"This was all tobacco fields?"
"Yep," I replied. "Owned by Combined Cigar Corporation. The Good Ole CCC. They had farms up and down Blue River Valley. Grew shade tobacco for wrapping cigars."
I can still the acres of tobacco fields in my mind's eye more than thirty years after I last walked through the forest of tobacco plants that once grew along Farm Road.
"From here to Hillsboro Road, there was a sea of fields with netting made of gauge or cheese cloth, held up by wooden poles and thin metal wires." I nostalgically described the past to Amy. "The nets would blow in the breeze like tall grass on the prairie."
"What were the nets for?"
"Protected the plants from the sun and made it hotter so the plants would grow. They'd get as high as eight or nine feet and often punched up through the netting."
"And it's all gone now," Amy observed.
"People stopped smoking so much," I explained. "Didn't need so many fields. There's still a few fields south of here, but I think the CCC is out of business."
"That's probably a good thing," the health conscious Amy remarked.
"Hey, hundreds of kids had a summer job because of the CCC," I told her. "It was cheap labor for them."
"More like slave labor, I bet," Amy theorized.
"We were just happy to have a summer job."
"It must have been hot under those nets."
"You bet," I confirmed with emphasis. "But only one kid can sell tickets at the Hillsboro Swimming Area. The rest had to do something else."
"What was it like to work tobacco?" Amy asked, leaning against the side of the car and I knew I'd never hear her complain about her job after I gave her the low down of my summer memories.
"It was the best worst job I ever had," I grinned as I took a seat on the hood of the car.