The finest job I ever had

Published 8:31 pm Monday, June 3, 2013

By Myrtle V. Thompson

Maybe I was born with an entrepreneurial spirit.

Daddy had a flower nursery. In summer when the flowers were in bloom, he prepared bunches and let me walk around the neighborhood to find buyers. We charged 5 or 10 cents a bunch. At the age of 10 or 11, I could make 25, 30 or up to 50 cents in one Saturday morning, and I could keep the money.

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I grew up in a small house on Route 17, in the village of Deep Creek, just past the bridge going south. Mr. and Mrs. Sawyer lived between the bridge and our house. She was an elementary school teacher.

“Mr. Billy” owned the gas station at the end of the line. It was the bus stop to and from town. People could buy a world-class homemade barbecue sandwich and a bottle of pop at the gas station.

During those post-Depression years, money was at a premium. My parents lost their home and their income. Sometime in the mid-late 1930s, the Navy Yard started hiring. Daddy got a job as a molder. They found a five-acre plot across from the Deep Creek Canal.

We had a big family, and Daddy believed the young’uns ought to have something to do. He started a small nursery. We children helped with the work. I was a “Daddy’s girl,” and I loved walking behind him, watching, asking questions and learning the names of the flowers and bushes. It became a valuable asset, my first job experience.

Brother Jack had been taking care of Mrs. Sawyer’s yard, but Mr. Johnny needed someone to drive the ice truck and deliver ice, so he hired Jack. That left Mrs. Sawyer without anyone to take care of her yard.

I saw this as my opportunity. I was 12, and little brother Bennie was 9. We applied for the job. Mrs. Sawyer, looking a little askance because of our ages, asked if we could use the push mower, pull out the weeds and not ruin the flowers. I really wanted that job. I did the talking and said, “Yes. Daddy has taught us the difference between a weed and a flower, and we can mow grass.” She knew Daddy would supervise us.

First, however, there was a bit of business to talk about. Mrs. Sawyer had paid $1.25 a week. I said we needed $1.30 so we could each have 65 cents. She smiled, agreed, and we were hired.

Each Saturday, we mowed the grass and pulled the weeds. She was pleased with our work. We always asked if we could do anything else.

She cooked the barbecue for Mr. Billy. Sometimes, she would tell us to wash our hands and help pull the pork. Afterwards, she gave us a plate of barbecue and a roll.

Across the road, Mr. Tommy’s store sold pints of strawberry sherbet for 10 cents.

We headed for our treat. He would cut the box in half and give us a small spoon. We enjoyed the fruits of our labor.

Saturday night was family shopping night. With 60 cents apiece left, we would buy a coke and a Mars bar or Dentyne gum.

Fifty cents was always saved for school lunches — 10 cents a day for a chicken-salad sandwich and milk, or soup with crackers and milk.

Economics 101. No need for a plastic card.

I have had many jobs since, but I think this one the finest ever.

Myrtle Virginia Thompson lives in Suffolk. Email her at