Summer Jobs, Summer Memories

For some reason, while I was enjoying my morning coffee on the porch and watching the lake begin to come to life the other day, I flashed back to all of the summer jobs I’d had down through the years and tried to categorize them within the correct time frame of my life. They were critical points in my summers (1968-1972) after high school and through my Kent State years, and I found it rather enjoyable taking a nostalgic memory trip back to the experiences, people, and places provided each summer. Today’s post will focus on that wonderful summer of 1968, when I was just eighteen, and the world was my oyster (whatever that really means!).

After graduating from high school in Ohio in June of 1968, I moved to Chicago where my dad had been working at Hunt-Wesson Foods for a couple of years. Mom and my younger sister would come along later in the summer once we found a place to live. As would be the case for the next few summers, my dad was able to land me a job at “the plant” where he worked.

My initial job that summer was in the Quality Control lab where I was surrounded by all kinds of scientific instruments and other gadgets and doo-dads that I had nothing to do with, other than to wash the zillions of test tubes, beakers, and various other lab paraphernalia. I spent many an hour standing at the sink and steam table/washer and basking in the humidity of it all! All I can say is the pay was good and the work was not back-breaking.

As luck would have it, my “career” as Bottle Washer was short lived. A week or so into my “washer” job, an opening down in the Shipping Department had cropped up, and I jumped at the chance to make the change, even though I knew nothing about shipping, receiving, bills of lading, or other such things. But I would learn as that summer played out. I moved down into the bowels of “the plant,” and hooked up with a kindly old gent named John White. He was new to the job himself, so it was a case of each of us figuring things out as we went. He and I got along well, despite our vast age difference. We didn’t screw up too many times, and it was a fun job for the rest of that first summer in Chicago.

Interesting characters came and went—truckers mostly—and I will never forget much of the colorful language they’d throw about as they made a pick-up or delivery. Many enjoyed teasing me and calling me “College Boy” and giving me a rough time because I liked the Sox instead of the Cubs. They were good guys, and I wonder how many of them are still alive today. Despite the fact that my formal college education would begin in September, the stuff I gleaned that summer was just as important, I realize now in retrospect.

For anyone who is old enough surely remembers what a chaotic summer 1968 was. Beginning with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy shortly before I moved to Chicago, the turmoil was constant. The Viet Nam “conflict” was raging and escalating and becoming more and more unpopular every day. There appeared to be no easy way out.  President Lyndon Johnson and the other politicians managed to mangle things at every turn.

Summer ’68 in Chicago was also the venue for the Democratic National Convention, the one that has come down through time as the one where the cops are battling the long-hairs and “anarchists” out there in Grant Park and its streets and avenues. It’s the one where the protests and “anti-everything” America took form, the same theme I’d hear time and again while a student at Kent State. It’s the one that would offer up Hubert Humphrey, a good man, to run against Richard Nixon in November. We know how that all turned out!

I still remember feeling so far from home, a stranger in a strange place, and fighting, daily, that gnawing homesickness and heart-broken misery as I yearned for the love of my life back in Ohio. I couldn’t wait for Friday afternoons to roll around, so I could get in the car and on the highway that would take me out of Chicago, across Indiana, and back to Ohio.

The soundtrack of that summer was highlighted by Stoned Soul Picnic, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Grazing in the Grass, and José Feliciano’s Light My Fire among many others. And Journey to the Center of the Mind by Ted Nugent’s Amboy Dukes still echoes around in the old memory vault, recalling those many late-night drives in our Corvair back to Ohio.

It’s not always easy trying to remember things that occurred so very long ago. But, then again, there are places and moments that are vivid and real and fresh all over again. It’s good to think and remember and realize just how important the summers of my life have always been and the role they have played in my life and of those whom I love.

Summer ’68 was a starting point for the rest of my life. At the time, I never realized the twisting and winding course my life would take. Next…summer of 1969CortlandWriter

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