Before I started my full time career as an attorney I had several part time or summer jobs. Most of them were fun including being a camp counselor for a few summers, working at the “Green Giant Cannery” for another, delivering dry cleaning another. But the one I remember best was the summer I worked as a rod man for the South Carolina Department of Transportation.
My father got this job for me the summer I was eighteen. I had just finished my freshman year of college and was home for three whole months. My stepmother was complaining that I should get a job somewhere where I wouldn’t have to live at home, but my father held firm and I stayed at home. This meant I would not have to pay rent and I could bank most of the money I earned.
The man I would be working for was named Mr. Hill. His assistant was a guy named Rick. They were a surveying crew and I was the person who was hired to hold the rod as they surveyed. Mr. Hill would pick me up in his truck every morning and then we could go pick up Rick and head toward the site of each day’s work.
Mr. Hill was a very kind and soft spoken man. He never fussed about anything and never got frustrated. He just did his job calmly and efficiently. Rick, well he was a different story. Rick knew a million stories to tell, which fascinated me. He also knew a thousand jokes. Some were a little off color but when he would get too extreme Mr. Hill would just say “Rick” and the jokes would get milder.
On the first day I asked Mr. Hill if we could stop so I could get a Pepsi and a pack of potato chips since I hadn’t had any breakfast. That automatically became part of our routine. At lunch time Mr. Hill and Rick had brought sandwiches to eat. Since I didn’t have anything Mr. Hill allowed me to take the truck and go get something to eat. The next day when it was lunchtime he said Mrs. Hill had packed some extra for me in his lunch sack and that continued all summer long.
It was a wonderfully hot, cloudless summer. My uniform was khaki shorts and a tee shirt. Most of the time I just wore the khaki shorts, and while I held the rod I got the best tan of my life. Since we walked from one area of surveying to another, except for moving to a new location, I also got in the best shape of my life.
When it rained the three of us would sit in the truck and wait out most showers. Rick would tell stories and Mr. Hill would add in a word or two. Me, I mostly just listened. I have always been fascinated by other people’s stories and I absorbed all they said like a sponge.
During that summer I was dating the cheerleader who I had been dating for a couple of years. I thought I was in love and maybe I was. At least I was for that summer. We saw each other just about every night and I actually had the money to pay for gas for my car so we rode and rode and rode. We also went to the movies or to parties with some of our friends.
Everybody needs a perfect summer like this one in their lives. It was something I definitely needed. I had been through some bad times since my mother died and this summer made me see that life still had some good spots.
I don’t think I ever saw Mr. Hill or Rick after that summer ended. The next summer I got a job in Washington State which pleased my stepmother so much. I was definitely out of the house. The cheerleader and I eventually broke up. The perfect summer lived on only in my memory.
There have been good times and bad times in my life. I have had some near perfect moments but that golden summer when I was eighteen stands out in my memory. It still brings me pleasure just to think about it.
Jackie K Cooper is the author of six books, the latest being BACK TO THE GARDEN. He also writes for "The Huffington Post."
Jackie K Cooper