Last Day of School No Vacation

The final day of school for me was no respite. It meant sweat labor in my dad’s coffee shop.

We had a deal, my father and I. In school, I was on vacation. Once inside the working establishment, I earned my keep.

I’d be singing a happy tune on one end and a requiem on the other. How’s this for a song?

“No more pencils, no more books,

No more of the teacher’s dirty looks.”

It got me in trouble a few times.

“Oh, excuse me Mrs. Banks,” I’d lament to my Grade 5 teacher. “I didn’t see you behind me.”

I could have drawn a detention for that remark, but on the last day of school, everyone is hightailing it out the building, including teachers, principals, and the school nurse.

The job was waiting. Burgers on the grill. Sawdust on the floor. Sundaes and shakes. I covered the gamut with my brother. The only reprieve I could muster was to find another job. Dad was a stickler for diversity.

“Go work in a factory if you think this is hard,” he used to tell me. “They don’t offer you ice cream on a production line.”

My cousin worked in a mill and offered me a summer position. It was my first job outside the luncheonette. Piece work, not “peace” work. We manufactured suitcases.

I was a sander. When the item came to me by conveyer belt, I used a sanding machine to file the edges and rims. If you weren’t quick enough, you’d keep the others waiting and the production would pile up, drawing rebuke from the regulars.

“Hey, boy,” they used to say. “How do you expect us to make a living when you’re napping on the job?”

Don’t get me wrong. I was happy to find a summer job where my parents weren’t on my back. Even when I started college, they made me commute so I could tend to business during my free moments. The “Mom & Pop” side of the store had “sons” built into the contract.

My second job, as I recall, was doing yardwork. If you wanted your lawn mowed or hedges trimmed, I was your guy. The five bucks I earned was divided proportionately. Half for my parents and half for me.

“If you live under our roof, you must contribute something to the upkeep,” they mandated.

I knew better. The money didn’t go for food. They owned an eatery. Instead, it went into the bank for my college expenses. At least I contributed to an education.

Back then, Boston University was $1,250 a semester. No dorm life. I commuted. My library was a hangout, not the pub. The girls were friendly but I kept my mind on my studies.

My third summer job was working at a camp. This was a blast but I had to make off that it was difficult work.

“Taking care of 50 kids is no picnic, believe me,” I told dad. “I’m responsible for their welfare. “

Of course, there was the down time when you went swimming and pigged out in the lunchroom. It was an ethnic camp and I met friends that have stayed eternal to this very day.

I won’t tell you the details of my fourth summer employment except that I got replaced two weeks into the cycle. Suffice it to say the encyclopedias I was selling door to door didn’t sell. My stint as a traveling salesman landed me on the pavement.

Everything I’ve ever done with my life, every single job, became a learning experience for me. At the time, you’re beguiled by drudgery. What you don’t realize is the inevitable. The School of Hard Knocks often presents an education you do not find in a classroom.

Book power is one thing. Practical experience is another. Together, they shape an ideal mind. One without the other would be a liability.

Even inside the luncheonette with years of customer relationships and propriety, I didn’t fail to understand and scrutinize the human psyche. In every job, I got to associate with people of all walks. The rich. The poor. The complainers and the compassionate.

The same could be said about the hardcore teachers I’d face every year. The one who pushed my buttons the most was to be most respected in the end.

I pretty much covered the gamut with my summer interludes outside the coffee shop. One vacation was spent picking apples in an orchard. Another attending summer school to repeat a subject I needed.

There were always three parts to summer when my own children were growing up: the anticipation, vacation, and recuperation. My personal favorite?

Taking the children off to campus tours for their higher education. That’s when it all pays off.


Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.

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