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What I Learned from Some Unusual Jobs

May 18, 2019

Another Way for week of May 17, 2019

What I Learned from Some Unusual Jobs

Everywhere it seems I see signs shouting, “Job openings.” The newspaper heralds that unemployment is the lowest it’s been in 50 years. This summer should be a good time for kids to find summer work that not only pays steady money—jobs are ripe learning opportunities for all who take them seriously, even if it’s babysitting, cleaning, waiting tables, or painting walls. Like many girls or women, I have done plenty of each of those.

But here are ten of the more unusual jobs I’ve had. I’m so glad I took the time to write down the odd jobs I had from about age 12 until I took my first permanent job at 24. (And when I say permanent—I stuck with that job for almost 44 years until I retired two months ago—although with many changes in assignments.)

Draftswoman at Mobile Home Factory. My dad, a farmer all his life, went into business with three other men manufacturing mobile homes. They needed someone to sketch blueprints from other previously made plans, so I pretty much copied them, making small changes Dad or others requested. It was a hoot. What if I had taken that up as a career? I was always a doodler, and this job felt like getting paid to doodle. Made $1.80 an hour.

Double click on this to enlarge and you should be able to read more details about my job working in a lumber mill. Written as a fictional short story. Most of the details as written were true. I don’t remember now whether I worked one night or two.

The Worst Job I Ever Had. In a lumber mill taking plywood out of a hot air dryer. On the night shift. In a Florida summer. Pay: $2.05 an hour. No bathroom breaks. No lunch breaks. The other women said you just had to “get ahead enough” to dash to the bathroom or grab a bite to eat. I quit after two nights, the only job I ever quit so soon. I told myself, “There HAS to be a better job than this.”

Ever wonder how those shirts get folded so neat and concise and filled with all kinds of straight pins? Humans did the job (1973) with the help of a gadget or machine or two.

The Shirt Factory. I applied the next day for a job packing shirts in a shirt factory. All those pins they put in men’s packaged shirts? I did that over and over. Pay $2.00 an hour. I learned about people’s marital affairs, cussing, gossip, and having each other’s back—even if there was occasional backstabbing.

Clerical Work for the School Board. I filed financial records and learned what everyone in the educational system earned, from janitor to superintendent. My pay: $2.10 an hour. A bonus was losing weight by taking long lunch hour walks after scarfing down a sandwich.

Party Prep. My fun Aunt Arlene was also a great party thrower (they go together, right?). She had a large house; I cleaned and helped get ready for parties, which I loved. Making everything pretty, watching her arrange flowers, beautiful tablecloths, napkins. She and her husband ran a home decorating store. Pay $1.25 an hour.

Dress Alterations. As a college student one year, I advertised my services for cooking, baking, sewing. A doctor’s wife who had an unusual permanent swelling reaction in her arm after breast cancer, needed someone to remake all the sleeves in her clothes to accommodate the larger size on one arm. Pay: $2 an hour.

Ironing. Yes, it was a thing back then. Women spent whole days or at least half days ironing everything from sheets to underwear to shirts. I advertised that I would iron. Pay: $1.50 – $2.00 an hour. I actually enjoyed it, making clothes neat. Today I have a son-in-law who irons.

Picking up Pecans. These last three jobs were all for the same man, Fred, in north Florida: a single dad with three children close to my age, but he needed help. Paid 10 pennies for each pound of pecans picked. (Say that real fast three times.)

Picking Up Leftover Corn in Field. Farm help for Fred. Great exercise and it helped me pay for three new/remade outfits I needed when I was elected to the homecoming court as a high school senior in north Florida. Pay: $1.50 an hour.

Pruning Shrubbery. Somehow, there was never enough time for this farmer to also prune shrubs. I didn’t mind the outdoor work: better than cleaning. Pay $1.50 an hour.

What are your job memories and stories? I would truly love to hear.

What was your worst job? Best ever?

What did you learn? Earn?

Or, just for fun: do you iron? How often? Inquiring minds want to know! Comment here on any or all of the above.


For a free booklet “Work Therapy,” write to me at or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.  


  1. Wow – what variety! I found your dress alterations most intriguing: remaking all the sleeves on a woman’s clothes to accommodate the larger size on one arm. Pay: $2 an hour.

    Three jobs come to mind though I don’t recall the precise low pay: packaging in a bologna factory, working in the dementia unit at a retirement home, and functioning as a farmer’s wife doing housework, gathering eggs, and feeding steers as the “real” wife prepared for twins.

    One of my developmental editors thought these details were extraneous and didn’t deserve a place in my memoir. Picking tomatoes in our family field did make the cut.

  2. Well your list is very interesting as well. Thanks for sharing. Bologna factory in Lancaster County: probably alot like my shirt factory summer. But hmm, I just realized that none of our daughters had the experience of doing housework for others–but my mother worked cleaning homes many years both in Florida and Indiana. I guess I followed in Mom’s footsteps on that (even though I didn’t focus on that in this post.) One daughter met her future husband in one summer job in a government warehouse. 🙂 Always a nice outcome!

  3. Ah, the memories this post evoked. My first job (besides babysitting) was as a senior in high school – filing charts and lab work in the doctors office my mom worked in. Two hours a day. $2 a hour. I thought I was rolling in the big bucks!
    I enjoyed the snippet from your short story too! thanks for sharing it with us.

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