Several weeks ago, I did a retrospective on the paperboys of yesteryear, largely through the remembrances of Dan Dickman, who toted 80 or so copies of this very newspaper, rain or shine, seven days a week, for more than four years of his grade-school and junior-high life.
In the emails I received reacting to the piece and the conversations I had with several readers, who wanted to share their own recollections of their boyhood jobs that provided them opportunities to earn, what Rich Sutton referred to as “folding stuff, not the stuff that jingled,” I got to thinking about how, over time, the labor landscape has changed considerably for children.
The more I read of nostalgic emailed reactions from those who used to tote the hometown paper and listened to the memories from those to whom I spoke, the more something became abundantly clear, and that is, once upon a time, even beyond newspaper deliveries, there were so many more opportunities to earn for enterprising children who at the same time were beginning to learn all those work-related lessons upon which they could later draw as adults.
Tom Thiedick, one of my, shall we say, more mature friends, remembers his youthful moments when Benny Goodman made his musical bones with all that jazz while he was earning cash working for the county, swinging a scythe to and fro to knock down tall grass and weeds that sprouted along Allen County’s rural routes.
He also remembered a short while later showing how adept he was using the scythe’s kissin’ cousin, the sickle, to tidy up the non-fairway portions of Shawnee Country Club some three and a half decades after Shawnee began welcoming golfers as one of Ohio’s first golf courses in 1904.
Denny Gallagher also remembers his times growing up in the 1950s in the shadow of St. John Parish, a time when children were able to work at a variety of jobs. Said Gallagher, “A lot of people criticize kids today for being lazy, but is some of the reason for what we see as their inactivity the fact that adults have taken over paper routes and so many other jobs that kids years ago once mostly did?”
Once upon a time, there were legions of youngsters who earned some money mowing lawns, and the images of those youthful mowers of yesteryear comes sharply into focus, images of 12-year-olds pushing their mowers down the street with one hand while carrying a gas can in the other.
Now, try driving down Cable Road and, when not admiring those recently poured sidewalks, count the number of landscaping-company pickups that pass you with their Dixie Choppers strapped down on trailers.
As for what my sister and so many other girls once did almost every weekend, baby-sitting, well, child care operations run by adults have largely assumed those duties.
Decades ago, on wintry days following a storm, there were so many 12-year-old boys, with clothing bundled as they trundled, with snow shovels shouldered but at the ready for the next driveway job they could secure. Nowadays, the same landscaping companies that have so reduced summer mowing opportunities also have largely taken over that snow- removal niche, that is when there is measurable snow, which hasn’t been all that much the past two winters..
At local golf courses, where once upon-a-1960s-time, boys sat perched on a bench behind the first hole’s tee box, awaiting the call to caddy, and hoping for a double bag, now there are none to be found, as we’re now in an era where there seems to be fewer golfers, as well as an era when what was once considered a luxury, a golf cart, now has become commonplace.
And, so life, at least in the collective opinion of several guys who’ve been around for quite a while, has indeed changed. Maybe those who cast their aspersions at children and their alleged reluctance to exchange some toil for some financial gain, might want to think of what opportunities that once existed in abundance for children now are so much harder to find, opportunities that a young Rich Sutton seized once upon a time to line his jeans with some folding stuff, not that stuff that jingled.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.