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Bob Bader Why we need more children to do more labor

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Bob Bader

Posted: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 12:00 am

In a conversation I had with a young Thornton civic leader named Mike Stokes the other day, the subject of child labor arose. We were talking about lethargic teens and the need for some of them to engage in employment that would empower them in two ways: 1.) They'd earn money; and 2.) They would learn the value of an honest day's work for a logical day's pay.

Mike is from a wonderful family that isn't afraid of hard work, and he learned as a kid what that's all about. And he doesn't agree with the California legislative nerds who are goofing things up in the child labor arena.

Will Rogers said, "When Congress makes a joke it's a law, and when they make a law it's a joke." Or as Molly used to say to Fibber, her husband, "That ain't funny, McGee!"

Being from city folk, my first real job contract was with the back fence neighbor lady, Mrs. Zink, who looked 90 the day we met and got older from there.

She was little, had a little beehive of stark white hair piled on her stubborn little head and she had a small, neat yard on east Walnut Street. Her lawn was kinda spindly and she demanded that it be cut east and west, north and south and diagonally. Her lawn edger was a large, one-piece scissors only you older folks would remember; it was a big, old, single unit that was a spring with blades. My hands were too small so it took both of them to squeeze down on the unit, and it was really hard to cut Bermuda grass with it.

As it turned out, I ended up with the grip of a muscle-bound milkmaid by the time I was 10.

The lady had a cute little toy collie that was an ankle biter, so I learned to cut the lawn and dance at the same time.

Moving right along ...

In the 1930s, Henry and Karen Hansen founded the Richmaid ice cream business here in town. They were "parents" to a few hundred Lodi kids, but they had none of their own. When we were really little, we used to pick strawberries for them to use as flavor for their marvelous ice cream. Our wages for that work was measured in silver quarters, and to have four of them at one time was big-time wealth complete with bragging rights. We were paid "piece work," so our average hourly wage was in the 25-cent range.

They didn't have child labor law issues in those days, because our working hours never reached, much less exceeded, five in one day. Besides, it wasn't stoop labor 'cause we were so short we didn't hafta stoop to pick the fruit.

The job had lotsa perks: All the strawberries we could eat, treats several times a day and free root beer floats whenever we showed up at their restaurant on Oak Street, down the block from Lincoln Grammar School.

What brought up the subject of child labor was talk of another incredibly stupid labor law enactment by the highly touted California Legislature (they have about a 6 percent approval rate). I do have to digress here in discussing California politicians, or you will come away with the feeling I have lost my touch when it comes to joshing those jerks.

Sometimes I write these articles while staring at the ceiling looking for a subject you might like, and the other night I reminisced about my highly diversified work experiences. In high school I worked in a dime store (now called a dollar store — shows ya what happened to the dime). A silver dime can bring as much as a couple thousand bucks if it is rare enough; otherwise it is only worth the silver one could melt from it.

At the 1940s rates, a dime paid for an hour's labor, whether I was shoveling what the cow left behind or removing a few tons of grape pumice out of winery fermenting tanks that seemed as big as the Fleischacker swimming pool over at Ocean Beach in San Francisco. Fermenting pumice, besides making one light-headed from the fumes, has a nice feature on a cold fall day: The stuff gets hot, and one's feet are soon feverish. It is a perfect medium in which to grow a heroic case of athlete's foot.

As young high school kids showing off how fast we could load a truck with lug boxes of Zinfandel, there was never a time we wouldn't have cause apoplexy in politicians' brains (especially the kind of Sacramento do-gooders we have now, who even frown on a toy that takes two active thumbs and 16 drops of brow sweat a week to operate). What we did there would be paramount to abject slavery in the minds of the numb-nuts who are running things these days.

As Tiny Tim said in those days of yore: "God bless us, one and all."

Bob Bader can be reached at bobbyo@softcom.net.

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