Work History — Tommy Purser

I was rummaging around through some old issues of the Ledger and came up with a column I wrote 35 years ago. It brought back a lot of memories. Here it is:
These days around these parts, it seems every youngster in town is either “workin’ in t’bacca” or wishes mighty sorely that he was …. or at least wishes mighty sorely that he could find a job making that much money. I didn’t have the good fortune to grow up in a tobacco growing region, so I can’t reflect, as many of my friends can, about the ol’ days when they sweated and toiled through a summer of work in the tobacco fields of South Georgia. I did, however, have the good fortune to grow up in a rural, agriculturally oriented Georgia county and remember well my days of sweating and toiling as a peach checker in the peach fields and as snap bean foreman at the pea cannery. The going rate of pay in the peach fields some 20 years ago was 25 cents an hour, which, according to my parents, could be classified as big money compared to what they made when they were youngsters. Best I can recall it seemed to me like a mighty tidy little sum of money at the time but I can’t imagine much, if anything, I’d do nowadays for such a pittance. The pea cannery paid a lot better …. $1 an hour, as I recall. I made too much money at the job, however. Don’t get me wrong …. I wasn’t getting rich, I was just working too many hours. I would have been happier with less money and more time to enjoy my boyhood but, like the pea cannery boss said, “Them peas don’t wait. We gonna get ’em in the cans if we hafta stay here all night.” And that’s exactly what we did. My first job ever was selling cold drinks and peanuts at a Cincinnatti Reds farm team’s games in Palatka, Fla. I got a penny for every cold drink I sold and a penny for every bag of peanuts. I soon discovered that I could make more money chasing foul balls where they paid a quarter for every ball returned after it had been fouled out of the stadium. The competition, however, was stiff as 20-30 youngsters gathered up outside, jumping at every crack of the bat. I also worked as a salesperson in a men’s clothing store, a life guard at the city pool, a farm hand, an elevator operator and a math tutor. When I got my first college connected summer job (I was an engineering major at the time), the plant manager, thinking I was a spoiled, college kid, informed me that he was going to teach me what it was like to work hard. So, that summer, I worked as a laborer, a pipefitter, a millwright and a welder. I eventually made it to the engineering department for a couple of summers and even authored a book which covered, in detail, the making of kraftboard paper at Continental Can Company’s Augusta, Ga., plant. I may not know much but, through three months of working on that book, I acquired a reasonably accurate working knowledge of how to make paper. Later on, I spent a year as a high school general mathematics teacher and another year as head of the math department teaching Geometry, Algebra II, Advanced Algebra and Trigonometry. I also was a football and basketball coach. All of this, of course, led to my becoming a newspaper editor. Some things just don’t figure, do they?

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