Metro-East Living

Summer jobs can provide life-changing experiences, or not

Being a YMCA camp counselor can be a rewarding experience.
Being a YMCA camp counselor can be a rewarding experience.

Fewer teens are working this summer, according to news reports.

There are fewer jobs available for teens. More adults are working jobs once saved for teens. And many teens’ schedules are not flexible with an increase in organized activities, including summer school and sports.

That’s too bad. I didn’t work a lot of summer jobs as a teen. But I learned lessons about myself from my early summer jobs.

A bunch of horse manure

My first summer job was between my junior and senior years of high school. For $10 a day, I woke up at dusk and drove to Smithton with a few friends to clean stalls at a horse ranch.

I chose ranch work over working nights at the SkyView Drive-in. The drive-in’s manager told me to get a haircut because the little uniform hat would not fit on my big, red hair. I chose horse poop over a haircut. Even at a young age, I had my priorities.

The hardest part was not shoveling manure in hot, sticky, summer temperatures. It was the horseflies, which were big enough to be birds.

2020 Terry Mackin

We shoveled stalls for about a month. Then we came up with creative excuses on why we had to retire for the summer. Car problems. Summer school. We slept late and played a lot of afternoon Whiffle ball until football season started.

Lesson: I am better dishing it out than shoveling it.

YMCA camp

The next summer, I was a counselor at the Bi-County YMCA Summer Camp. Every morning, I’d get on the blue YMCA bus at the old Y facility off Lebanon Road near East St. Louis. Many youth campers met us at the YMCA building. We picked up campers along West Main Street in Belleville. Every morning, we stopped at Reeb’s Dairy on West Main for jugs of juice for camp lunch.

Every weekday for two months, I chaperoned as the campers fished, swam, canoed, played kickball and Frisbee.

Most memorable were the two weeks with campers with serious illnesses. I was counselor to a boy who had cancer. Every morning, his mom cried because she had to leave him for a few hours. She’d hug me and told me to take good care of her baby.

I took good care of him. He got tired on hikes so I’d give him a piggyback ride back to the camp. I paddled his canoe for him and purposely threw the kickball across the field so he got a home run every time.

I was 17 years old. Clueless. But it sure felt good when he laughed. I’ve forgotten his name, but not his laugh. His mom hugged me goodbye after two weeks. He cried. I told him I’d see them again next summer. Neither one of us made it back to camp.

Lesson: It feels good to help others.

Better player than umpire

The next summer, I was an umpire for youth baseball and men’s slow-pitch softball. Youth baseball was fun. Pitchers loved me. I had a wide strike zone. You had better swing the bat, son. If it’s close, it’s a strike.

Men’s slow-pitch softball was a different story. I was 18 years old and arguing balls and strikes with dads and a few moms sitting in lawn chairs behind the backstop. I kicked two guys out of a game one evening for foul language in a church league. Dads heckled me. Wives wanted to fight me.

Lesson: I never argued with an umpire again.

Lame duck

One of my favorite jobs ever was when I was attending SIUE. I was a clerk at the old Lame Duck Records in Belleville. Basically, I got paid to listen to music, very loudly.

Crank it up. The Police. Journey. Paul McCartney. Springsteen. Supertramp. Tom Waits. Southside Johnny. Tom Petty. Neil Young. Asia. So loudly it made the storefront’s windows rattle, literally.

When you work in a record store, people think you know something about music. What I knew was that I liked to listen to music loudly and couldn’t dance to it. I’d offer an opinion occasionally to customers like, “Buy it on cassette. Then you can listen to it in your car, too.”

“Wow. Thanks man,” was the standard reply.

The best thing about working in a record store was when it wasn’t busy, I could get homework done, with the stereo blasting, “Born to Run.”

Lesson: You don’t have to be an expert to be considered an expert.