"In winter I get up at night and dress by yellow candlelight.
In summer, quite the other way, I have to go to bed by day."
- Robert Louis Stevenson
Long before kids spent the summer at band camp, swim camp, sports camp or just plain camp-camp, there were plenty of things for the out-of-school set to do that were just as much fun.
Sometimes those "things" were called jobs, though I'm not sure there was any more work involved than cleaning up a picnic site or slaving over a hot gimp lanyard during craft-time at Vacation Bible School. Job may be a misnomer anyway, since our "pay" usually meant unlimited pats on the back and the annual VBS picnic - complete with the first watermelon of the year.
So when I heard about a California ruling that bat boys had to be laid off because the team couldn't afford to pay them a prescribed, under-age union wage, I thought about the summer jobs I'd have missed if my pleasure payments had been replaced by someone else's dictated, minimum wage.
"Leazer, I've come for your girl!"
My father, named for the Biblical servant, Eleazer, may have cost me my first job the summer I turned 10. Not that my parents didn't leave me alone for brief periods with my younger brothers, but baby-sitting for the rowdy family up the street wasn't exactly the entry-level position my father had in mind for his only girl. Caring for children of other, more respectable families, however, when I reached a more respectable age, even at the grand wage of 25 cents an hour or $5 for the weekend, filled my pockets with all the spending money I needed at the time.
I can still remember Janny, Patty and Genie, each in a home with a well-stocked fridge, a TV set our family wouldn't own for years and a special treat when Patty and I shared a big bag of soggy chips dipped in grape Kool-Aid every Saturday night.
Baby-sitting occupied the evenings, but days for most rural New England kids were spent on somebody's farm. Before hay balers and learner's permits, I was driving an old truck with a huge hay rake attached. Oh, the pride when I "tripped" the rake by braking at just the right time to keep the hay in straight, mounded lines across the field. No salary for working on the family farm, but no charge, either, for the driving lessons or the fun.
During harvest season we picked baskets of berries, bushels of beans or peas, and barrels of potatoes for 10 cents a quart, 2 cents a pound, or 20 cents a barrel. A picnic lunch each day plus berry snacks and bean or potato toss with my sharepicker peers were more fun than camp any day, and who paid you anything for going to camp?
I didn't last long at Daggett's Pharmacy and Fountain the summer I turned 16. I put too much filling in the sandwiches, too much sauce on the sundaes, and I never could slide the milk shake container behind the metal plate on the shaker to make it shake.
So when Janny's parents offered me more babysitting time, a nickel-an-hour raise and a week at their private camp by the lake, I waved Mr. Daggett's sundae-sandwich bar goodbye and went back to the fridge and the TV.
I have no idea what a farmhand-soda jerk-substitute mom should have made when I was underage, and I don't remember anyone turning in my employers for infringing on my constitutional child-labor rights. But my heart goes out to those out-of-work bat boys.
Robbery, I'd call it. No, not the lost wages, but the chance to rub shoulders with their heroes, be among the 5 percent of the work force who really, really love their job, and snap up the best seats in the house when the umpire cried, "play ball!"
What kind of benefit package - minimum or otherwise - is worth more than that?
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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