Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: First Jobs
Dad used to tell of his first job when they moved from Marion to Harrold in 1928. He was ten years old, big for his age, and needed to help the family earn some money. A rancher had a herd of sheep he summer pastured in the “Pocket”, the big bend in the river straight south of Harrold about twenty miles. He needed someone to tend the sheep during the day and pen them at night, then stay close by in a sheep wagon for the night. Grandpa Heintz got that job for my dad. It went alright for a few days while he learned the routine, tending rather than herding most or the time, then penning the sheep at night. It wasn’t long and he was homesick, and one morning after turning the sheep out, he pointed his horse toward Harrold and home, traveling at a high trot most of the way. He pulled his lathered horse up In front of the butcher shop where Grandpa Heintz worked, fully expecting him to feel sorry for him and let his stay home. Instead, Grandpa jerked off his belt and gave Dad a hard strapping and put him back on the tired horse, sending him back down to the Pocket and the sheep. My dad spent the summer with the sheep, earning a respectable wage, and learning the fact that he was expected to do a man’s work as soon as he was big enough, and he wasn’t going to be looked at as a man until he proved he could work. It was a good, hard lesson he never forgot.
Dad wasn’t quite so hard on me with my first job. He bought a portable shoeshine stand shortly after setting up his barbershop in Harrold. It was on wheels and could be moved outside on the sidewalk on nice days. He spent a day showing me how to polish and shine shoes, emptying the shoes out of our closets for me to learn and practice on. The stand was a novelty, especially when it was parked on the sidewalk. People walking to the grocery store, the drugstore or the post office would stop and talk with me and once in awhile I shined a pair of shoes, being careful to not get polish on the wearer’s socks.
Most of the business took place in the barbershop, with customers in the barber chair getting a haircut. It worked well, and Dad could keep an eye on my work while cutting hair. I had to move around as the chair was rotated, usually to the amusement of the customer and Dad. I don’t remember how much I usually got paid, whatever the customer wanted to tip me. I put my earnings in a jar, saving up for my first bike.
My second job was also in the barber shop. Dad did leatherwork, belts, billfolds, purses and holsters, and Christmas time was always a busy time, trying to fill orders before Christmas eve. He would do the carving, cement the linings in, punch the holes for the lacing, then while he cut hair he sat me on a stool beside the barber chair and taught me how to lace. He watched as I pulled the lacing through, making sure it was flat and tight, stopping to splice in a fresh strand of lacing, or helping me lace around the corners on a billfold or purse. He made sure I made every stitch even and smooth.
Both of those jobs were learning experiences, and I don’t remember ever getting tired while doing them. I do remember being proud of doing something my Dad taught me to do. That feeling of accomplishment has stayed with me all my life, and I thank Dad for instilling it in me. When I was growing up, boys felt that doing a man’s job was a sign of maturity. Work was a badge of honor, and we boys wore it proudly, bragging about helping brand, mow, haul hay, drive the tractor or run the combine. We seemed to be in a hurry to grow up. That was a testament of the need for family members to contribute at times, and the example of parents, especially our dads, and the men of our community gave to us. It was a time when learning and being able to work took the place of play, and we young boys relished in being looked at as young men, doing work of value and being counted on to do our share. That mindset seems to be disappearing in our nation, but thank goodness not in western rural areas where being able to do work is a badge of honor our young people still wear with pride.
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