Friday, August 11, 2017

What Did You Do?

 When I was a child my family had very little money. Sometimes we received an allowance. It depended on my father's job.

I remember when he was the town marshal we got 25 cents on Saturdays. We were responsible to save 5 cents for the collection plate at church on Sunday. The rest was ours to spend as we pleased.

We also did odd jobs. We weeded gardens, mowed lawns, shoveled snow, and just about anything else someone wanted done around their house. We were never paid a lot but it was spending money.

I was 11 years old when I had my first "real" job. By that I mean I received a paycheck. Taxes and Social Security taxes were withheld. I began paying taxes when I was 11 years old.

What sort of job would pay an 11 year old child you may ask. I set pins at the local bowling alley.

This was before automatic pin-setters like the ones that reset pins today.

If you are not familiar with bowling it is a game. There is a long wooden floor called an alley. On either side of the alley is a sort of ditch called a gutter. At the far end of the alley are the pins.

The pins are oddly shaped. They have a flat base. Then they flare out to become wider in the body. The tops are narrowed and long, rounded at the top.

There are ten pins for most bowling games. They are arranged in a triangle with the tip of the triangle toward the beginning end of the alley.

The purpose of the game is to roll a ball to try to knock down as many of the pins as possible. Each person has two tries per turn.

If all ten pins are knocked down it is called a strike. If they are not all knocked over with the first ball the second chance is used. If the remaining pins are knocked over it is a spare. Each strike and spare gives a chance at extra points during the players next turn. If they are not knocked down in the two tries each pin is counted once toward the final score.

Not many people want to run to the end of the alley to retrieve their ball. They also would not like to have to place all ten pins in their formation for the next bowler. So there are pinsetters.

A pinsetter goes back behind the area where the pins are. It is called the pit. Anyone in the pit is not seen by the bowler. The job of the pinsetter is to place the ball on a return duct so the bowler can bowl again.

As far as the pins we had automation, sort of. We pulled a cord and the machine lowered to capture standing pins. When it raised them another piece swept from front to back to clear fallen pins from the lane. Then it set the standing pins back down in place for the second try.

At the end of the second try the pinsetter pulls the cord again and sends the ball back to the front. All pins are picked up quickly and placed into the machine which lowers them down into the correct formation. It must be finished before the machine lowers or not all the pins will be there.

The pits are filthy and dark. At the end of our shifts we would come out looking like we had been digging coal.

Usually we were in charge of two lanes at a time. Between tries we sat between the lanes on a part of the ball return so we would not be hit by the ball.

That does not mean we were completely safe. One time someone threw his ball especially hard when he hit the pins they flew hard too. One of them jumped up and hit me in the leg. Thankfully after being taken to the doctor we found it was not broken.

League nights were the worst. Bowling leagues are groups of people who form teams and meet usually weekly to play against each other.

League nights were quite the social event in our little town. There was a men's league and a women's league.

Not everyone on a league was courteous. Sometimes they were so busy gossiping that there were long lulls between play. We were hot and bored back there. Then there were the impatient bowlers who released their balls before the machine was finished. The balls would slam into the machine.

The wife of the chiropractor was my least favorite bowler. You have possibly seen the type. She was short and extremely overweight. She was loud. Her make-up was overdone. Her eyebrows looked like they had been applied with a paint brush.

When she bowled she simply waddled up to the foul line and set her ball in the alley. It was only the slope of the alley that made the ball roll ever so slowly to the pins.

Several times her ball was stopped by the pins. I hated that. I had to crawl out from the pit in the gutter that ran beside the lane . I had to be careful not to knock any of the pins over. I would retrieve the ball and send it back to her after I crawled back into the pit with it. All the while she would laugh that awful high pitched cackle she had.

A line is the ten sets of tries a player uses to get a final score. We were paid 10 cents for each line we set. It was pretty good money for a kid. Most of the setters were teen-aged boys. It was good money for them too.

That was my first job for which I paid taxes. What was yours?


  1. My first job after finishing High School was in a Chocolate Factory. Not bad at all (though chocolate lost its appeal for a while). First thing I bought: a beautiful pink & black straw-hat.

    1. My dream job! I suppose chocolate became a little much after a time but I would love to see how long it would take.

  2. My first job was working for a dry cleaner. I was glad to be done and off to college.

    1. Did you do counter work or cleaning? Could be interesting.

  3. The first job where I was paid a check and had taxes and social security removed from my pay was at a greeting card factory. I packed boxes with cards to prepare them for loading on trucks. It was the Norcross greeting card factory.
    I learned a useful skill, packing many items into small spaces.

  4. Oh, you have reminded me of my first job that I ALMOST had! I applied for a job at Ice Cream World (a shop in Moultrie, GA.) when I was 16. My friends there told me that there was no way that I could get the job, as there were TONS of kids who applied for it and I didn't have a chance. Thinking that, I went 200 miles away to stay with a friend. You know they called me and said I had the job, but I couldn't get home to accept it and they hired someone else! I still have dreams of working in that sweet ice cream shop!

  5. If memory serves I was a busboy in one of the original-style Internstional House of Pancakes. It was disgusting and sticky work. I lasted about one pay period before I quit. I also was a counter guy and soda jerk for about three months in a teenage hangout that was a combination burger joint and dance hall. Sometimes Mr. Curry, the proprietor, would have to throw guys out physically for coming into the place drunk. My first real, longer lasting job was as a stenographer-typist for the GCSF (Gulf Coast & Santa Fe) railroad in both Fort Worth and Dallas. Finally I joined the Air Force and received training to become a computer programmer way back in 1962. I bet you don't know that the first punched cards were used in tabulating the 1890 census.

    1. Indeed I did not know that.You had a colorful employment history.

  6. I helped my mom packing nuts into a small plastic bag and sealed it using a candle.
    We were paid in piece rate.
    I was 10 years old.

    1. That is unique. I am certain you and your mother were closer because you worked together.

    2. My first job was in London UK working in a chocolate factory as a packer. I was twenty one and married and was thrilled to bring home. Sixteen pounds after taxes. It was a great feeling . This was in 1972

    3. We certainly did not get rich then did we?

  7. Interesting background about your first job, Emma. While I did know about manual pin setters, I still enjoyed your post and more so as you related it to your own personal experience. That chiropractor's wife did remain in your memory. My first job was working at an S.S. Kresge when I was in high school. It was before I had a driver's license and my mother would take me to and from work. I recall that one of my duties involved cutting shades. By the time I got a license, I was working in an A&P supermarket, first in produce and then the deli department.

  8. Inspiring story dear Emma!

    You wrote it so nicely as now i got the whole view of the game ,the pins ,the setters that loud laughing lady which did not like either .

    How wonderful to get job in such little age and pay taxes!
    I feel proud of you Emma ,i Love and adore people who rise through their tough times with their courage and credibility .

    I got my first government job after my matriculation in age 18 as govt teacher .
    How awful that i could not continue it because i had to get marry and transfer for newly appointed from one province to another was impossible

    1. I am not surprised to learn you are a teacher. I thought in reading your posts you would be an inspiring teacher.