Quote of the Day:
Among the signs of my advancing age is bafflement at hearing younger parents talk about what their teenagers are going to do over the summer. Some mention internships with documentary filmmakers. Others say that their offspring will spend the hot months building latrines in distant corners of the developing world. A few speak of expeditions to measure the disappearance of glaciers or a period of reflection at an ashram in Tamil Nadu.
—Dave Shiflett in today’s Wall Street Journal
After inquiring, “What on Earth is an ashram?,” Shiflett goes on to wish these young people well, hope they build the finest latrines Guatemala has ever seen, and wonder whatever happened to traditional summer jobs that “taught generations of teenagers important lessons about life, labor and even their place in the universe—which turned out to be nowhere as close to the center as we had imagined.”
Shiflett points out that the summer jobs of the past were not glamorous and did not take the teen-aged worker to exotic corners of the world. But they did afford the youths a chance to make a first step onto the first rung of the economic ladder by doing construction work, delivery, and other jobs that required grit.
Not that a stint in an ashram doesn’t enlarge one’s horizons, but Shiflett writes eloquently about how a job on a construction site could be just as culturally beneficial. Young people got to meet people who could teach them a lot about life in the summer jobs of yesteryear:
This was our first close encounter with the melting pot—our version, perhaps, of joining the military, which had introduced wartime generations to the demographic rainbow of America. The older workers didn’t take us young bucks very seriously, but if we paid attention, we could learn a few things from them, including something about the dignity of common labor.
While prospects for job advancement were slim to none, many of the full-timers (lifers, as we called them) took pride in a job well done. And while you didn’t run into many prima donnas in that warehouse, there were world-class good people whose enthusiasm for life was as great as any king’s. I will never forget the day our foreman’s grandson graduated from high school—a first for his family, as memory serves. You would have thought the lad had found the cure for cancer and the common cold too. The foreman’s name was Percy. I assume he’s dead by now.
I urge you to read this column by one of my favorite writers (and, dare I brag, a sometime contributor to IWF’s old Women’s Quarterly).
What it reminds me of is not just the good old summertime of the past but of the lost sense of intrinsic value of work and the people who do ordinary jobs.