There weren’t a lot of job opportunities in Burlington mid-century. Essentially, Burlington was located at the perimeter of farmland. So, for the most part, we kids got jobs on farms.
One summer, I got a job picking raspberries nearby. Oh, what fun. My school chums and I worked our way up and down the rows of raspberry bushes doing our best to fill those baskets. Of course, it took us longer than it should have because we popped a lot of those raspberries in our mouths. Pretty soon, we started popping the berries into each other’s mouths. Needless to say, we missed a lot. Yet, despite all that, we still made pretty good money for as long as the job lasted because when the bushes were empty, we were done. We then had to look for something else to do.
While others went to camp, I worked. Don’t feel sorry for me. I wanted my own money even then.
The summer I turned thirteen I tried picking cherries. Mother drove me to the orchard and a kindly farmer outfitted me with a basket and apron. Each full basket earned me two dollars. He brought me to a tree and gave me a stepladder. I climbed up, determined not to let my fear of heights deter me.
Working on the tree next to mine were a couple of boys about my age. I minded my own business and picked my cherries and emptied them into my apron. Each time the apron was full I’d climb down and drop them into the basket. I might add picking cherries was not my forte. I was slow. I was afraid of heights. However, I persevered.
All this time the boys were trying to make conversation with me. I tried to ignore them but they continued teasing and talking about my pronounced bosom. I had worn a knitted top but wore a plaid bush shirt over it. I guess I couldn’t hide my femininity no matter what I tried. And, believe me, I tried. Most of my girlfriends had not yet developed. I felt embarrassed.
Next thing I knew, the boys were on their second tree and then their third tree. I was still working on my first. After a while, one of the guys parked himself under my tree and watched me pick. There he was lying in the grass, his arms folded behind his head, watching me. I continued to pick. He said, “I understand girls like to have their breasts fondled. I think I’d like to fondle yours.” My face turned red and I nearly fell of the ladder. I got so flustered, I could barely concentrate on what I was doing. I fell way behind. My tree was only half done and this fellow was distracting me.
It didn’t take long. All of a sudden, I saw the farmer walking towards me. He called me down from the tree. He asked me to come with him. Once inside the barn, he told me he didn’t think I was cut out for cherry picking and I should call my mother to pick me up.
I was so disappointed. I was so embarrassed. I was ashamed to tell Mother I had been fired. I called her. She came and I told her what happened. At least I made $5.00 for my efforts but I felt like a failure. I had not flirted with those boys, yet I’m the one that got the boot. Not fair. In retrospect, had I been the farmer, I’d have done the same. The boys produced. I didn’t and I was a distraction.
The following summer I got a job I thought was pretty OK. It was baby sitting an eight year old boy. He was quiet and easy to deal with. His Mom was the spitting image of Elizabeth Taylor. She was really lovely. His father was a pretty good guy too but boy, could he drink beer. He had a case sitting beside his lazyboy chair while he watched TV. He’d reach down to get out a bottle, guzzle it back, put the empty bottle back in the case and take out another. It was really something to see.
Tom (my charge) and I went to the movies quite often. Of course, they were always matinees. Despite the theatre being mostly empty, we’d no sooner sit down, then some old guy would sit next to me and after a minute or two, I’d hear the heavy breathing and feel a hand sneaking over to touch me. I’d move my arm or shift my leg but the hand would follow. That’s when Tom and I would move to another seat. Tom never whined or questioned me on why we moved so often. It wouldn’t take long and either the same man or another would park beside me and we’d go through the heavy breathing, fingers touching my skin, us moving, man following. This would go on until the movie was over. We’d then leave and head home. I made good money there all summer long. It was a pleasant job apart from dirty old men in movie theatres.
The next summer, I got a job with a dressmaker, Anna, watching her toddler while she sewed. As it turned out, she sewed for one Mrs. Ellen Fairclough, who was a Member of Parliament. In fact, I believe she was the first female Member of Parliament.
Anna made all her clothes for special occasions. Whenever my charge was sleeping, I’d watch her work. She was just amazing. Anna was a tiny woman who had no breasts, I didn’t think. I believe she wore “falsies” as they were called then. Falsies were foam inserts you put in your bra. The reason I’m mentioning this, she used her “falsies” as a pin cushion. The first time I saw her push a pin into her breast, I was shocked but I eventually got used to the sight.
Anyway, to get back to her craft, for very sheer dresses, she would line them with diaper material. Cloth diapers were made with a double gauze-like material. She’d peel off one layer and cut the lining from it. She made wonderful clothes. She remarked on the slimness of Mrs. Fairclough stating it was like making doll clothes. Interestingly, watching television a few weeks later, I saw Mrs. Fairclough on television wearing the same dress I’d seen Anna making. I believe it was for the queen’s visit. I remember it as being a wrap-around. When the breeze blew, it would open slightly, revealing a lining in contrasting material. Not diaper material, I might add.
Watching the toddler wasn’t half as much fun as watching Tom but the money was good and I learned a lot about sewing.
The summer I turned seventeen, I got a job as a car hop at A&W Drive-In Restaurant. That was probably the best job. I made lots of money in tips. It was wonderful. The night shift was my favourite. It was cooler then. During the days, the asphalt became very hot and I’d sweat buckets. To demonstrate how times were different then, I’d walk home from the A&W at midnight and never feel at risk. You wouldn’t do that today. Or, perhaps I was just naive and my folks didn’t see the danger or didn’t care. Either way, that’s the way it was.
And so the years passed. I finished school and got my first real job in the cash department of the Bell Telephone Company of Canada, as it was called then.
Summer jobs, real jobs, careers, gains, losses. It’s been a roller-coaster ride. I look back and I have to say, I don’t regret a single thing. I guess you can’t ask for much more out of life, can you?