It’s summertime and the living is easy… unless you’re a kid trying to make a buck. In that case, a summer break from school means you get a tiny taste of the “real world” as mom and dad put it. Exchanging your free time for money isn’t always an easy decision, but sometimes a serious want is all the motivation needed. Vehicles probably top the list. Many a dollar made through summer employment has been exchanged for title to a car or truck. But other desires — from money to spend on food you want, buying hobby supplies and all the way to helping out with upcoming college expenses — are also reasons adolescents look for income beyond an allowance.
The benefits of employment are sometimes difficult to reconcile with the tradeoffs. But sacrificing some sleepy early mornings, sunny golden afternoons with friends at the lake and summer nights of fun are worth more than the money made. Young people with summer jobs learn the meaning of responsibility both for the job performed and money earned. It’s a lot harder to blow money on useless junk when you know exactly how many hours of your precious life it takes to earn it back. Then there’s that feeling of satisfaction and pride in those first tentative steps toward independence. It’s your money. So if you want to buy useless junk, you can.
In the next few pages of this issue we take a closer look at summer jobs. We visited with teenagers of today as well as teenagers of yesterday. We talked a little about job responsibilities and reasons for seeking summer employment. And we discovered a surprising common thread woven into the fabric of these stories. Making money was, of course, the prime motivation for filling out applications, knocking on doors or calling about a job. Learning responsibility was part of the experience, too. But if a teenager makes the effort to get a job it’s a safe bet the sense of responsibility was already there. What ties all of these stories together is the attitude that a summer job is an exciting and fun leg of the journey to adulthood. Yes, exciting and fun. You could see it in their eyes, both youngster and adult, as they talked about the experience.
So here’s our tribute to summer’s teenage workforce. Enjoy the stories and photos, and maybe reminisce about your first foray into the working world.
Lifeguarding and teaching swimming lessons was the enviable summer job for most aspiring teens. They had the sunglasses, the power and let’s not forget the whistle. Cool kids were lifeguards, and that’s plenty enough reason to want the red swimming shorts and sunblock-slathered nose as your own.
But Russellville residents Todd Sweeden and Rebecca Partain, although certainly lured in by these irresistible symbols of cool, ended up getting something much sweeter out of the deal.
“I hadn’t decided what I was going to major in in college, or what’d I would do with my life when I started lifeguarding my senior year,” said Partain, who’s been the principal at Community Christian School for eight years. “It was through teaching those classes that something clicked in me that said, ‘I love teaching.’ I love seeing a lightbulb come on and seeing a kid do something they didn’t think they could do. I think that job is the one thing that sparked in my mind that education was going to be a big part of my life.”
For Sweeden, it was a chance to pay forward the swimming lessons he’d received at 8-years-old from Eula Holbrook, who he said taught about half the kids in Russellville how to swim.
“Even though she was a staunch teacher who decided if you were proficient by making you swim either the length or width of the pool, you left her classes knowing how to swim, and that’s something that’s always been important to me,” Sweeden said. “Everyone should learn how to swim.”
Sweeden said he copied Holbrook’s method almost to a tee, minus her strong-arm scheme of tossing stragglers in to expedite the learning process via sink-or-swim.
Decades later, with the red swimming trunks and sunblock put away, Sweeden is still surprised at the impact he had on the community’s youth when he was only a kid himself. While at dinner one night recently, he said a former student of his came up and told him how she remembered his summer lessons—and more importantly, how to swim.
Aside from providing the impetus to her educational career, Partain too is still seeing the effects of her stint as a lifeguard.
“To this day, if I’m at the pool, I’ll almost yell out ‘Please walk, no running!’ I probably said that five-thousand times each summer. I also can’t pick up a whistle without twirling it.”
But at least the work was worth the pay, they both agree. Partain said she made minimum wage, which at the time was about $4.25. Sweeden, who was working solely to put gas in the brand-new car his parents bought him, said this chunk of change was more than enough to suffice.
“At the time, gas was so cheap you could go a long ways on the money you made from your summer work,” he said. “Plus, it gives you responsibility. You may be someone’s only chance if they’re drowning. I took it serious, but probably not serious enough. It was cool to be able to do the lifeguard thing. You have authority, and kids not much younger than you are looking up to you. And there you are, sitting up there with a whistle and in charge.”
Farm work is a summer job that many River Valley teenagers have experienced. Hauling hay, working cattle, minor fence mending, basically all those activities that require a strong back and boundless energy. It also helps to have family in the business if want to earn some money on the farm.
Bryce Masters, a 16-year-old Dover High School student has all those previously mentioned attributes going for him, and he’s working toward owning a truck. Bryce, a strapping, broad-shouldered lad, labors for his grandpa, Jerry Masters. The elder Masters raises show pigs. No, the pigs don’t dance and sing. Show pigs are judged according to standards for the breed, similar to horse and dog shows, showcasing and celebrating the ideal form for a pig. The trend for pigs nowadays is robust. “The judges want a big, heavy structured, thick bodied pig. It’s really kind of like a beauty contest for pigs,” said Jerry.
An accurate but slightly disturbing analogy.
Bryce’s job is to get those pigs into show-stopping shape. “I feed and water,and scrape the pens,” said Bryce. He says he enjoys all of it. Even scraping the pens. “Yeah, I like scraping the pens. I just like working outside and with the animals. And I like working with my grandpa, too.” Probably the most interesting farm chore is pulling piglets from a sow that’s having some difficulty in moving the piglets along on her own . Yes, it’s exactly what you’re thinking. But Bryce doesn’t do that anymore. “His arms are just too big now,” said Jerry.
Bryce puts in the time everyday to the tune of 30-40 hours per week, with days off falling mostly on Sundays and for family vacations.
Besides work on the farm, Bryce also travels to show the pigs at locations like the World Pork Expo in Des Moines, Iowa. Travel time can be exhausting, but the silver lining is that it’s spent in the company of family. There’s a lot to be said for that. “It’s not just a job,” said Jerry. “It’s a way to do things together with family. Some kids have baseball and other sports, and the families go to the games together. Not every kid can play sports, but every kid can show an animal.”
Like most teenagers, Bryce isn’t sure about what the future holds career wise, and the pigs might be an option.
“I love doing it,” said Bryce. “If the Lord takes me that way I think I’d do it. But I’m not sure at this point.”
Working with animals is usually a recipe for the unexpected, but show pigs are relatively gentle. There have been no “Old Yeller” moments when a hog latched on to one of Bryce’s extremities. “They’re pretty docile,” said Bryce. “Every now and then one of them wants to play, that’s about it.”
Of course a 300-plus pound hog can play rough, but the only animal excitement on the farm so far has come from everyone’s favorite slithering little reptile. “My friend and I were out here moving hay one time and we found a snake and he (Jerry) threw it at us. Ruined my day.” Proof positive that it’s not a genuine Arkansas summer on the farm without a good snake story.
At 9-years-old, Johnny Brazil set out to make his fortune with nothing more than his parents’ push mower, incipient acumen as a haggler and an awesome name. At 27, he’s married and owns his own business.
Surely it was those long, hot summer days slaving away on suburban parcels that made Brazil into the man he is today. Well, maybe those days contributed at least. OK—he bought McChickens with his earnings.
And can you believe the rates those kids charged?
“We generally charged $20 as an average,” he said. “Twenty bucks was a bunch of money to me and the other three guys I started out with when I was like 9. It was definitely worth the work I did because I was buying my own McChickens and whatever else I wanted.”
He and his gang of like-minded laborers would purposefully scour the streets of Petaluma, California, in search of any random yard, preferably an old person’s, that needed a good grass cutting. Then, they’d do their darndest to make a buck.
“We’d go up to the front door, be as cute as possible and ask for our super-cheap 20 bucks,” he said. “The price went up as I got older, but it really just depended on yard size. The most we ever charged was like 40 bucks.”
The pay made him appreciate the job, he said, especially because he was designated as price setter and negotiator of his group. An entrepreneur in the making.
But his cohorts soon abandoned the sweet summertime gig for other pursuits more apropos for teenage life. One friend did stick with him, however, until Brazil moved to Arkansas at 16 and gave up lawn mowing as a career choice for a “real job.”
How did he and his friend’s venture into the lawn mowing business go, you may ask? For Brazil, not too bad. He kept the Petaluma McDonald’s lights on. For his friend? Let’s get it from the horse’s mouth who witnessed his buddy’s flourishing career:
“I was mowing a yard with my friend—it was a bigger yard, probably one of the 40 dollar ones,” Brazil said. “He was mowing over a grassy driveway that had gravel in it, and a rock shot from the mower and tore a chunk out of his shin down to the bone. It was truly disgusting. It had to have been a good two inch by half inch gash. He started crying and hollering, and I ran over there to help, of course. We had to take him to the hospital, get stitches, the whole bit.”
So mowing isn’t for everyone. But an adolescent Brazil made quite the career out of it.
Maybe his parents should have let him use the family’s riding lawn mower to make even more profits, right? Actually, his parents did let him use it to mow their own yard. He flipped it on top of himself. “Ran up a hill just a little too steep,” he said.
A mere smudge on Brazil’s extensive working record, among which lawn mowing still remains one of his favorites.
“From nuclear security, to cooking, managing a website, outdoor retail, bicycle mechanic and lawnmower mechanic, gun salesman and now owning and operating The Wall, I’ve pretty much done it all, and lawn mowing is still close to the top of the list. I was young, with no responsibility other than mowing lawns—if I wanted to that day. What more could you ask for?”
At first, babysitting was simply a way for a teenage Teesha Warren to pay for her cheerleading uniform, camps and other expenses that come with active high school years. Now an adult and therapist, Warren operates her own private practice, Providence Counseling Center in Russellville, and those subtle skills she picked up early on never left her.
“It taught me a lot of life lessons that I didn’t realize at the time would be life lessons, but babysitting planted the seed to have a good work ethic and communicate well with people,” Warren said. “I’m a lot better of a therapist now than I was a babysitter as a teen. But I think that comes with growing up and learning. In a different capacity, I still take care of people. I don’t babysit, but I help children, teens and adults.”
Warren described her high school self as a strict youth who did everything in her power not to commit a babysitting blunder, like the time her 2-year-old sister got into the butter, ate some, and dumped the rest over herself from head to toe. Don’t worry, Warren was only 9 then and was being babysat herself by a cousin with a child-tending resumé obviously inferior to her own.
She said she now has a better understanding of the proverb “work hard, play hard.”
“Whereas when I was younger, I did what I was supposed to do, and I worried about the little things that didn’t really matter as much when you reflect on it. Now, I try to find joy in everything I do.”
From the time Warren was babysitting family members at age 12 until she began college at 18, she said her biggest problem was that she didn’t know how to play. She focused more on watching over the kids and making sure everything was taken care of—and the butter stayed out of reach.
“It was more of a job to me then, but I think I would enjoy it more now than when I was 16. When it got to be too hectic, like when I was babysitting four small kids who were rowdy, I’d tell them to kiss their elbows, and that’d keep them occupied, but only for a little while.”
All it took was a master’s degree and a successful career in therapy, and Warren has finally learned the value of play time. A lesson any 7-year-old has no problem grasping.
But with a daughter of her own now, she still makes time for worrying. Her 16-year-old, Madeline May, who works in a gift shop as well as the occasional babysitting gig, has taught her to look at some of her early experiences in a new, understanding light.
“When I was 16, I would drive from place to place with the kids I babysat, and a grandmother criticized the mom for letting me drive them because I was only 16,” Warren said. “She would say ‘She has no business driving these little kids around!’ I remember being insulted that she didn’t think I was a good driver. But now that I’m the mother of a 16-year-old who is learning to drive, I can totally understand her concerns.”
A summer job of umpiring at the ball park sounds like a dream come true. The smell of popcorn and fresh cut grass. Unlimited suicides at the concession stand between games. And then of course you get to carry that minuscule broom in your back pocket and the keep track of strikes and balls with that neat little clicky thing called a pitch counter. It’s a summer job that slides right next to lifeguard on the cool scale. But it’s not all Skittles and Sprite.
There are two crucial ingredients needed if you want to be a teenage umpire: A love for the game and hide like a rhinoceros. Both umpires selected for this feature story have a surplus of these ingredients.
Seventeen-year-old Kylee Morris is an Atkins High School student, and sixteen-year-old Peyton Golden attends Russellville. Umpiring for these two is an extension of their athletic pursuits. “I enjoyed playing softball,” said Kylee. “So when I got this opportunity it was like, ‘yay’.”
A fun job is it’s own reward, but still, making money is the primary reason for seeking employment. Both teenagers are using that money to buy some independence. Kylee’s money is, “going toward moving out” and taking care of herself. Peyton’s cash is spending money with which to buy whatever he wants. Whatever he wants? “Well, yeah, I can spend it on whatever I want… most of the time.”
Kylee has longterm plans that include a big move. “After graduation I plan on moving to Dauphin Island Alabama,” she said. Kylee wants to attend the University of Southern Alabama and then on to medical school.
Peyton’s future plans involve baseball. “I hope to play college baseball somewhere,” said Peyton. His ultimate goal would be to don the orange and white of his beloved Tennessee Volunteers. As his distinctive first name implies, Peyton has been corrupted by Vol loving parents Jason and Daranda Golden.
The second ingredient, thick skin, is just as important for a young umpire. Getting yelled at is part of the job, and it tops the list when asked about exciting moments behind the plate. Peyton is very laid back about it. “Yeah, I get yelled at some,” he said. “But that’s just part of it.”
Kylee’s perspective is a bit different because she teams up with her dad, Brandon, for umping duties. For her, disagreements on the diamond can come not only form the stands and coaches, but also from family. She recalls one play in particular. “I called her out, I saw the tag,” she said. “And none of the coaches saw it. All the coaches were mad at me. So Dad made me meet him in the middle of the field and talk it over, and I told him what I saw. Everyone in the crowd was saying ‘little blue is in trouble’.” But Kylee hung on to her convictions just like she was taught to do. “One of the first things we learned in one of the classes before you can become an umpire is even if you flub a call you stick to your guns.”
Sticky sweet syrup and shaved ice go together like… well, there’s probably not a better combination of anything on a hot summer day. A big part of snow cone charm is that, most of the time, you can buy them only from seasonal huts or trailers. For many kids, the opening of the snow cone stand was the real sign that warm weather was probably here to stay.
Emily Cooper, age 18 and a 2015 graduate of Russellville High School, works in a snow cone stand. When asked about her official title she giggles. “Well my dad calls my job a snow cone engineer, but I just tell people I make snow cones.”
Emily has a family connection to the business. “Brandon, the owner, is my uncle. He posted on Facebook that he needed help, and my mom was like, ‘hey you should go talk to him,’ and I was like ‘okay,’ and he was like, ‘yeah, I could use your help.’”
This is Emily’s second summer in the snow cone stand. And though she originally took the job just to make a little money, she has decided to focus her income on contributing to her education. “Now I’m using it to help pay for college,” she said. “I promised my parents I’d put $500 toward tuition for this first semester.” Her college plans include a double major in sociology and Spanish. “I want to be an admissions counselor for college and be able to translate for Spanish speaking students.”
Success in the snow cone business is directly tied to high temperatures. As the sun and mercury climb higher, the demand grows exponentially. But Emily’s job is probably the most comfortable of the bunch.The trailer is air-conditioned and her Harry Potter books keep boredom away during business lulls. No snakes under bales of hay. No screaming baseball or softball parents. Excitement comes in the form of snow cone flavor requests. “Sometimes weird people come by and ask for strange flavor combinations,” she said. And then of course there is the potential for riding out an Arkansas thunderstorm in a tiny trailer. “One time I was here during a big storm and I thought the trailer was going to tip over. And I was like, ‘can I please go home?”
Summer jobs are like summer breezes. It seems as though we wait an eternity for the chance to be our own person and make our own money while still hanging on to the security of mom, dad and home. And then one day we wake up as adults and the warm winds are gone. The summers of work by choice are over and adulthood is here. The memories of those carefree days will always be there, though, in the smell of sunscreen, gasoline, toddlers, baseball mitts, hay bales and snow cone syrup. And in the lessons learned about what we can accomplish when we roll up our sleeves and get to work.
Stories by RYAN SMITH & JOHNNY SAIN JR.