[December 19, 2020] One of my early attempts at earning money also involved, unintentionally, filling the role of team leader. Two of my friends and I decided to “make some quarters” by raking up our neighbors’ leaves. I look back to that time, see my ignorance, and chuckle. But there were lessons to learn, and I did indeed learn them, all the hard way.
In the early 1960s, the American economy was not doing as well as one might believe. Things were tough, jobs were plentiful but paid almost nothing. For a kid, forget it. You had to compete with adults looking for work, and, of course, employers were not going to pay a kid when a man with a wife was the alternate choice.
This meant we had to put our heads together and come up with a plan. One Autumn in 1965, Randy, Wilson, and I came up with a new strategy. We would rake leaves into a nearby ditch and ask for local folks to pay us a quarter. It was up to the homeowner to burn the leaves (our dads told us not to play with matches).
While our strategy did work most of the time. Here are a few things we all learned:
- Charging a quarter was a good arrangement for the homeowner but didn’t earn us too much. We did, however, learn that hard work paid.
- There was no such thing as a tip of money, but we could drink outside from the water hose. Sometimes you’ve got to ask. If they refuse, thank them anyway.
- Say hello to everyone on the street you meet. Be polite and respectful. Tell them you are looking for a job raking leaves. This helps get the word out.
- We learned quickly which people would agree versus those who would not. “Rich” people usually turned us down.
- Bring your own rake and wear gloves. Getting scratched was part of the job.1
- Save your money. Don’t use it to buy candy or other trinkets. Don’t lend your money.
- Sing while you work and sing loudly. We sang, “I wish I was in Dixie.” We didn’t know all the words, and that was okay. The work itself became fun.
- Don’t horse around after all the leaves are raked into the ditch. Tell the homeowner, get paid, ask for a drink of water, thank them, and then go to the next house.
An interesting side note of working that Autumn. There were often girls our age nearby. We would say “hi” and wonder why we were so attracted to them. Our dads had told us to be extra polite to them, which we were. Later, those same girls were the ones we would date, and they had remembered us. At school dances, they always said yes to our request to dance.
While the Summer and Autumn of 1965 was a good time for us and for learning about adulthood, we also began to notice the war in Vietnam for the first time. We were confused about war. Local WWII and Korea War veterans would speak to us, and this is where we began to learn about the idea of honor, bravery, and camaraderie.