Those not so lazy days of summer

Published 5:08 pm Monday, June 28, 2021

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In telling the stories of my summers as a youth, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how I could afford the comic books, sweet summer treats, Highlights for Children Magazines, Bingo, Chinese Checkers and other fun games.
At age 12, my first summer jobs didn’t pay at all.  To earn our allowance, my sister Lena and I first did chores around the house. When they were done, we had to volunteer our services to the neighbors; sweeping and raking leaves in their yards, going to the A&P and Colonial grocery store or going to the Post Office for them.

Some days we rendered free baby-sitting services to earn our allowance. We had to find something that involved helping others. I often felt like I got the short end of the stick. Some of our neighbors would ask our mother if we could run a simple errand for them and that morphed into hours of dusting their furniture or pulling weeds in their gardens.

I decided I would find something else with better benefits.  I began to volunteer at P. S. Jones School cafeteria for the summer school program.  My job was cleaning tables in the lunchroom and sweeping and lightly mopping the floor. That was so much better than walking downtown in the hot sun to run errands for neighbors.

I ate the most delicious free lunches and I took cinnamon rolls, cake slices and sandwiches home when I was done.  One of the teachers noticed what a good worker I was and offered me my first paying job.

She paid me ten dollars a week to work from 8:30 to 4:00 watching her three-year-old twin daughters. As a bonus, I got to work in air-conditioned comfort with meals and snacks included.  I loved that job!

Well, until I learned my friends were making thirty-five dollars a week working in tobacco.

I had never done it and when I was told I could get a job “topping”, or breaking off the flowers on top of the plant, I figured that would be a piece of cake.

I would be with my friends; we could sing along with a transistor radio, laugh and talk as we worked and get paid!

I told my mother I was quitting my babysitting job to work in tobacco. She warned me it would not be fun despite what my friends said, but I insisted.  The tobacco truck driver picked me up about 5:30 A.M. We had a great time talking and laughing and even as we arrived at the mile long rows of tobacco, I still thought it was fun and went to work breaking the flowers off.

Then the sun got really hot about ten A.M.  The plant sap starting sticking to my fingers and clothes, the mosquitos turned me into a walking buffet and my allergies kicked in.

By 2 P.M. I seriously wanted to go home, but was told I had to finish the day which ended at three.   I did, and went home exhausted vowing never to go back.  My mother insisted I had given my word that I would work for five days and told me I would be going back. I did not rest well that night.

The next morning, I was back on the truck on my way, but I wasn’t singing, laughing or telling jokes.

I am not sure how I made it until 1 P.M, but my eyes were swollen shut from my allergies, and I couldn’t stop sneezing. I laid between the rows of tobacco until it was time to go home.

My mother made me an appointment to see Dr. Larkin and he prescribed medicine for my eyes and allergies, which cost every dime I made working.

I tried to get my babysitting job back to no avail and I spent the rest of the summer volunteering to do chores for my allowance money. So much for hot fun in the summer time.


Leesa Jones is a Washington native and the co-founder and co-executive director of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.