They didn’t do this for fun, you know


‘Summer jobs I did not have. But I swear I did not make them up, either’

When I was a kid, a summer job was babysitting. Or working at the 5-and-10. Pumping gas. My best friend Norma had the coolest job of anyone I knew. She worked at the Dairy Queen. One of the perks was you could eat as much DQ as you wanted, which sounded pretty sweet until she told me she had a hard time even looking at a banana boat after the first couple of days.

But these jobs absolutely pale in comparison to the gigs scored by my personal family members in their respective college years. The Child spent one summer working with computers. ‘Yawn’, you say. Well, these computers were located here:

The Child's workplace one summer. She had her own apartment above the stables. Very Thomas Hardy-esque

The Child’s workplace one summer. She had her own apartment above the stables. Very Thomas Hardy-esque

That’s Wadhurst Park, a 900-acre estate in East Sussex. Which is in England, folks. It’s owned by the second-richest guy in Sweden. (Makes you wonder where the richest guy in Sweden lives.) Oh, and here he is, Hans. The Child said she was invited to tea with him and his wife once while she was there. The conversation was less than lively. Not sure if she met the dog.

Hans Rausing, The Child's Boss and the second-richest man in Sweden.

Hans Rausing, The Child’s Boss and the second-richest man in Sweden.

Incidentally, Hans’ dad made the family fortune by inventing the milk carton. Honest. Oh, besides owning that dog in his lap, Hans owned pigs. That’s one of them pictured at the top of this post making friends with The Child. (In addition to working with the estate computers, she performed various livestock-related duties. Including, sometimes, a bit of pig wrangling. And mucking.)

She must have inherited the Fabulous Job Gene from her dad. Let’s scroll back a few decades to the summer he was visiting a college buddy who lived in Hawaii. (My college buddies were all from places like Skokie. See this funny anecdote involving one of them.)

Anyway. The Dude was visiting this guy Kevin, who mentions during the visit that he has a job all lined up teaching tennis to really rich girls at this tennis camp on the Big Island, but alas he can’t take it. Makes you wonder what job was better than that one, doesn’t it? So, would he (The Dude) like to take this job in his place?

See, The Dude didn’t have a summer job lined up yet. But he was an amazing tennis player. He had been a scorekeeper at Forest Hills, where they used to have the US Open. (This was one of his Dream Summer Jobs in high school). While he was working there he’d sometimes bat a few balls around with guys like Ken Rosewall and Roy Emerson.

The tennis camp in question was run by this guy named Dennis Van Der Meer. I googled him, and bless his heart he’s still running those camps, with the help of a daughter who must be around The Dude’s age. Well, whatever. The Dude ‘auditioned’ for the job, demonstrating his swing, which was what Dennis really cared about (‘I want those girls to leave here with a beautiful swing‘) and The Dude was in.

His duties? He taught tennis in the mornings, then took the girls to the beach in the afternoons. And got paid actual money for his services, people. (Think about that when you’re detasseling corn.)

Alas, I have no photographic evidence of his stint as tennis-pro-to-the-daughters-of-stars, those being the days way before every detail of one’s life was captured on a device. Which was probably a good thing, if you think about it. But here is a pretty cute photo of what His Dudeness looked like at this time in his golden life:

Oh, interesting side note. One of the girls entrusted to The Dude’s care happened to be one of Debbie Reynolds’s step-daughters. Now, if you happen to be more The Child’s age than The Dude’s, you might not know who the heck Debbie Reynolds is. Click here for help, but basically she’s the really cute blonde in ‘Singin’ in the Rain’. (If you don’t know what ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ is, god help you. Oh, okay. Here.)

Well, this girl liked The Dude. (Who wouldn’t? He was hot.) So she invited him to visit when next he was in Beverly Hills. Which happened. The Dude was actually in Beverly Hills, and went to visit this step-daughter, who was living with Debbie, their parents being still married at the time.

Well, Debbie was not shy, and thought The Dude was pretty cute too. So she proceeded to entertain him. With singing and piano playing and dancing. Again, let’s all be grateful that Steve Jobs hadn’t sprung into action yet. No photographic evidence of any sort survives, much less a selfie.

One last note before I get back to my Tuesday morning coffee. That job on the estate The Child had one summer? She almost didn’t take it. She had submitted her application and, while waiting to hear whether she’d been accepted, she had lined up a backup summer job waitressing in New York City (which is where we live, so it’s actually not as glamorous as it sounds).

When she found out the Wadhurst Hall gig was hers, she was conflicted. And she actually sought my advice: ‘Mom, what should I do? I know I can make good money being a waitress, and I’ll be able to see my friends too. What if I take that job in England, get stuck over there all summer — and hate it?’

Well. I don’t know if you have kids. But if you do, you know that you never ever want to give them advice, even if they ask. Because then, of course, if things go wrong, guess who’ll get blamed?

So I go ‘Hmmm. You have a point. But picture yourself this fall, back at school. Do you want to be the girl who waited tables in New York City? Or do you want to be the girl who took a job on an estate in England and absolutely hated it?’

End of discussion.

And that’s the end of this post, my faithful friends. Enjoy your nice summery week, whether you’re waiting tables, babysitting, detasseling corn, or just ramping up for 4th of July visitors, like me.

Amagansett, New York. June 2015

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16 thoughts on “They didn’t do this for fun, you know

  1. My “summer” job was my year round job. The first one was working as a cashier in a pharmacy. The second one was working as a Nurse’s Aide in a convalescent home, complete with washing people up from head to toe and also trying to wake up someone who died. I was 17.

    • OMG. Jennifer, my dear. I certainly hope my meant-as-funny, yet-perfectly-true stories haven’t offended you. Believe me when I say that most of the people I knew growing up also spent their summers ‘trying out’ the jobs they would have year ’round. The fact that I went to college and had a ‘summer job’ at all made me one of the Lucky Ones indeed. In fact, my family was considered somewhat exceptional where I grew up. But then the The Dude’s was, too, where he grew up, which was in a Long Island suburb. Of course when we had The Child and raised her in New York, all bets for comparison were off. (One of her nursery-school pals’s mom’s ‘had a couch in her bathroom’, after all.) You sound like you were indeed an exceptional 17-year-old. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  2. Norma

    Time heals and I’ve recovered from my aversion to ice cream! That summer job put me through college. I thought your job at the Banner was the luxurious jig! So much so that you were able to go to “Toppers” for a stylish HS wardrobe! Love your stories!

    • OMG! Topper’s! The height of sophistication, and all the way over in glamorous Downtown Centralia. What a memory you have, Miss N! I wish I still had the lime green pleated skirt and coordinating sweater that I bought there. And yes, those summer jobs were way important. Mine earned me a whopping $32.50/week, but boy was I glad to have it. (So glad you learned to like ice cream again, and thank you so much for the comment — and the memory!)

  3. I really enjoyed this post. When you mentioned detasseling corn memories came back that I had forgotten. I personally did not have to detassel corn but there were countless farm chores that I did do. The memories that came back to me were when I was teaching. Some big seed corn farms hired kids by the dozen to detassle corn. They sent a bus to my town each day for the 25 mile ride to the farm. Then those kids slaved under the hot sun and high humidity. For many of them it was the first time they earned their own money. Many stuck with it but many others were finished after just a day or two. A great story from down memory lane.

    • Thanks for the great anecdote! My mom was the one who detasseled corn–she too remembers the incredible heat and humidity, and how the corn ‘silk’ would stick to sweaty skin. And yes, it’s wonderful to earn your own money at any age. But your first earned money is a special memory, isn’t it?

  4. Another great one, Alice! Oddly, I also have a family member who worked for the Rausings–well, Tetrapak, anyway. My Swedish cousin Karl-Frederick worked for the company his whole career and just retired.

    • Now that is one crazy coincidence, Jim(!) We are both Swedes (well, me, mostly Svenka). And we both have family members who worked for Hans. I don’t know about you, but I feel a trip to Sweden coming on. Thanks so much for your comment, and your continued support!

    • Thank you! I too am continually amazed by my Golden Family(!) And no, I have never seen James Taylor and The Dude in the same room at the same time. So there’s that.

  5. Funny that you mentioned “corn shucking” beacuse I worked for an agricultural consultant for 14 years as a summer job. I got work outside essentially by myself all day. Plus all the tramping through corn, potato, and pea fields. The greatest perk was that I got all those vegetables for free straight from the field!

    • Wow, that sounds like a very cool job indeed. I would love to be able to work outside (tho I bet some days were somewhat less delightful than others!) And I love that you got all the fresh vegetables you wanted. Excellent perk. Better than DQ, in fact!

  6. Ruth Meisenheimer

    My dear Alice … I fondly remember a summer job you had at our local newspaper. We both know it was not a complicated or glamorous one, but you were so competent I could take the summer off! Didn’t have to hire a babysitter, which, if you weren’t doing anything else, would have been you! No wonder you were my favorite teenager!!

    • Aw shucks, Ruth (!) Notice I don’t slam babysitting. Though most of my gigs were definitely not as rewarding as when I ‘sat’ for your delightful children. I’ll never forget how they would let me kiss them goodnight. Plus, you never ever made me chart their poops. (Someone else in town actually did this; I won’t say who.) And the job at the Banner will get its own piece eventually, since it was what started me on the road to Journalism School–and beyond! Thank you so much for reading, for commenting, and for being just pretty darned all-round cool.

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