History of My Employment–Vol. 1

In yesterday’s post, Steve talks about jobs in bad environments for terrible pay that his mother forced him to take. Folks, it’s as if we led parallel lives. Either that or we have the same mother. That isn’t as implausible as it sounds–with so many kids running around its possible that we just didn’t bump into each other.

As it turns out, even before reading Steve’s post, my employment history had been on my mind. Last Saturday I called Mom up to review the record. I began by letting her know that I am paid decently at my law firm and asked if I should give some of the money back. She seemed surprised at the question and asnwered “no”, a position I find inconsistent with her insistance that I not take the $3 an hour Sister Slagowski offered me for yard work when I was 12 because it was “too much”.

My first real job was working for my father. I grew up on a farm and Dad, in an attempt to teach me about money, paid me a summer salary from which I was expected to buy my own school clothes. When I started I was 10 and we agreed to $120. I wasn’t being paid to do my chores of course. Daily milking the cow, feeding the chickens, pigs, and cows, mowing the golf course we conservatively called a lawn or weeding the garden that produced enough to can hundreds of quarts a year was all gratis (or as my mother put it–“earning my keep”. Chores were expected–I, along with my older brother, was paid to run the farm. We threw siphons, pulled head-gates and dug cross-dikes day and night when it was our water turn and eventually grew two crops of alfalfa and a few thousand bushels of wheat from the stubborn Idaho soil. At the end of the summer Dad called me into his study to reckon the books and cut me a check for $60. He was bishop at the time and scrupulously honest, but in money matters his memory was notoriously bad, so I ended up wearing Toughskin pants for another year instead of the more expensive Levi’s I had fantacized about.

The next year, having no better offers, I again worked for my father. The controversy from the year before had been put to rest by his promising to pay me $120 this year. After we had cut and baled the hay and harvested the grain, I met again with Dad in his study where he sold me my first investment. He would cut me an $80 check and I would use the other $40 to buy a pair of piglets in the spring which I could raise and then sell on the open market when they were adults. Making money never seemed so easy and I readily agreed to his proposal. Sitting in my law office and thinking back on this, it occurs to me that I should have read the fine print–but who thinks about that when they are 11.

The next spring Dad drove me to a farm a few miles from ours and we purchased two piglets. I grained and watered them every day, carried the pig slop (scraps from our kitchen) out to their pen whenever it was full and after about a year we had two large pigs ready for auction. My father proposed simplifying the transaction, foregoing the auction and buying the pigs directly. He offered me the magic number, $120. This was below market price, but on the other hand, I hadn’t paid anything for the grain and an $80 profit (tax free!) looked pretty good. So we slaughtered the pigs. Dad then explained that things hadn’t gone well with the farm that year (my entire family engaged in group-delusion by insisting that one year things would go well with the farm), but that he would pay me when he had the money. I guess he never got the money because I never got paid.

I advertised the injustice of the situation often and loudly enough that the Pig Money has now entered family lore. Now when we get together for family occasions, I sometimes ask Dad when I’m going to get paid. Trying to be philosophical about it, I comfort myself by thinking that if at age 30 the worst thing you can say about your father is that he welched on the Pig Money, you can’t complain.

It’s harder to forget the injustices I suffered at the hands of my mom–more on that later.


  1. D. Fletcher says:

    395 Riverside Drive, at Riverside and 112th St. Apt 13G

    (It’s really apartment 12AG, but no one understands this. The 13th floor is renamed 12A floor in our building. My apartment is G, on floor 12A, hence, 12AG. Don’t go to the 12th floor — they hate to get my visitors.)

    7:00 PM

  2. D. Fletcher says:

    Hey, Mathew, are you coming to the Blog party on Friday?

  3. Sumer Thurston-Evans says:

    I don’t even remember that, Greg. But I’m glad I could help. It’s too bad the compulsiveness doesn’t bleed over into my own house. (I tell myself that is why we have Luisa. You know, our “friend who comes over and helps us clean.”)

  4. I don’t necessarily agree that these types of chores are just make-work. My parents certainly didn’t have money for us (six) kids to get spending cash, so they expected us to earn anything we needed beyond the bare essentials (and I mean bare). We had chores at home we weren’t paid for either. So, I had a paper route, I gave trumpet lessons and played gigs, I did babysitting, and when I was old enough in high school, I got part-time jobs. These weren’t life lesson learning situations my parents created for me, they were necessary. I always resented my parents’ stinginess until one time a friend I grew up with remarked on how enterprising my parents’ methods had made me. I didn’t just learn to play an instrument; I learned to support my financial needs with my hobby. So, I’m always grateful that my parents turned me into a little (independent) capitalist!

  5. I think it is more a hallmark of people who have experienced hard times, or who fear they will.

    Russell Baker, who used to write for the New York Times, says this about his youth in rural Virginia:

    “I spent my growing up years performing a variety of odd jobs. These jobs were supposed to help me develop grit, a mysterious susbtance which my mother felt I lacked.”

  6. Mathew, we did have the same mother. Wonderful woman.

    Interesting how all of these completely menial and thankless tasks are just waiting out there for mormon youth! I wonder though, if it’s a hallmark of lower middle class mormons to have their kids in these types of positions. I can’t believe that Dave Checketts sends his kids out to paint Ms. Donner’s fence for $10 or something.

  7. Sumer Thurston-Evans says:

    My mother taught me that when babysitting, it was very important that the house was clean for the parents when they arrived home, in addition to caring for the children. This was the expectation for her (all the countless hours I babysat my siblings), and I of course followed suit whenever I had a paid gig. As you can imagine, coming home to a spotless house (and I really did clean thoroughly- vacuum, sweep, mop, dishes, etc.) made me the most popular babysitter in the stake. People would drive 30 minutes to come pick me up so I would sit for them. IÂ’d like to think it was because the kids loved me, but I realize now itÂ’s because I was a 2 for 1 maid.

    Now, that I’m a certified project manager, I realize the term for this is “gold plating” and it really is a bad thing to do because your customers will always expect extras for free. I guess this is one case where the super work ethic doesn’t transfer well into the business world.

  8. Sumer,

    I babysat kids too. In rural Idaho you were apparently considered trustworthy enough to take care of other people’s children by 3rd grade–an age that might seem young unless you consider that you started driving tractors on public roads in second grade. I would regularly take care of Sister Cartwright’s three children AND clean the house. Since I never put anything where she usually kept it, however, she soon began asking me to just watch the kids and forget the cleaning. Doing the cleaning herself was easier than looking through the closests and cupboards for missing items.

  9. Sumer, that reminds me. Cirila still hails and praises your name for the time you came over to our apartment on 75th street to “help us move in”, and you ended up scrubbing the floor with a toothbrush or something until it gleamed. You’ll never know what that meant to my 7-months-pregnant-wife.

  10. Yep. What’s the address?

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