What We Did on Our Summer Vacations


Summertime and the living is … boring?

As much as kids (and adults) long for the warm summer months, the complaint of “I’m bored” is a common one, especially as those kids become tweens and teens.

And once you get to your teen years, there’s the expectation — or at least there used to be — that you should be working, if only to have a little cash in your pocket and occupy some of those seemingly endless hours.

So I polled the staff and asked them how they occupied their teen summers. Of course, some of those teen summers occurred many moons ago, so memories might be hazy.

That said, here’s what we remember.

Andy Gotlieb:

May as well start with myself.

For three years, I did that teen-guy mainstay of mowing lawns.

Although I can’t convince my teen son, cutting lawns is the best gig a teenager can have. I set my own schedule and charged $16 per hour — and this was back in the early ’80s when the minimum hourly wage was $3.35 — a sum that undercut the professional lawn services. All those upper-middle-class folks in Newtown Square and Broomall were happy to pony up.

When I went off to college, I had to give up the lawn-mowing gigs so I turned to that college-kid staple of camp counselor. For the next two summers, I worked at Camp Nock-A-Mixon in rustic (read: lots of neighboring rednecks) Kintnersville.

Although I went from perhaps the best-paying teen job to one of the worst (under $500 for eight weeks, with no tips), it was a lot of fun.

I worked as the overnight hike counselor. One of the first rules I was told was “don’t scare the kids.”

Of course, my mature 18- and 19-year-old brain interpreted that as “scare the kids.”

My favorite prank was played on a bunk of 10- and 11-year-old girls. I had their counselor tell a story about an ax murderer. While she told the story, I snuck off, grabbed an ax and headed into the adjacent woods.

The counselor wrapped up her story with, “The ax murderer hasn’t been seen for more than 20 years, but people around here still claim they hear the chop, chop, chop of his ax in the night.”

The moment she finished, I began smacking a downed tree with the ax and letting out assorted grunts and groans.

I don’t need to describe the girls’ reactions.

Another time (I set this up but wasn’t there), after a boy recounted what happened in all the Friday the 13th movies (Jason kills everyone) — the bunk decided to play truth or dare.

One kid took a dare and was tasked with walking onto the small bridge across the creek and daring Jason to appear.

What the kid didn’t know was that a counselor was under the bridge wearing a hockey mask and holding the same ax. So, when he called for Jason, Jason appeared.

I don’t need to describe the boys’ reactions.

Jon Marks:

What could be a better job in the world than selling ice cream in the summer? Who wouldn’t say that?

But as it turns out, driving the truck and selling Mister Softee was, well, let’s say difficult.

Especially the part where for 10 to 12 hours a day you’d have to listen to that unmistakable jingle. And trust me, more than 40 years later, I still cringe when I hear it.

It’s one thing listening to that song when it comes into your neighborhood while the kids line up for their favorites. It’s another hearing it endlessly through each block, each neighborhood, hour after hour, day after day, week after week.

Actually, my ice cream-selling career didn’t last all that long.

Somewhere between getting robbed, having stuff thrown at my truck, working six-day weeks from noon until past midnight and being taught by my boss how to rip off kids by putting the ice cream on the side of the cone and letting it drip down rather than go down the middle, I decided this was not for me.  

Yet there were some nice perks to the job, like being able to park in my driveway for dinner, then filling up with enough soft ice cream to last the week. Of course, you wouldn’t want to eat too much, which cut into your profit margin. But at 18 percent commission — no salary — it turns out no one’s getting rich there.

Sadly, I left Mister Softee behind after that summer and tried something else: Willow Grove Park, where I soon found out that life wasn’t such a lark when working 12-hour days and weekends for a below-minimum wage $1.35.

Marissa Stern:

Like any good Jewish kid, I spent a lot of my summers growing up at camp.

From day camp and eventually maturing to overnight camp, a lot of my summer memories are filled with free swim, mosquito bites and unfortunate arts and crafts projects. Hey, I tried, OK?

But as a teen, my summer experiences shifted a bit. I still went to a camp, but it was different. I spent four or five years at the Young Performers Theater Camp run by the Department of Parks and Recreation, putting on musicals from Pirates of Penzance to Into the Woods in six weeks — and they came out really well, I’ll have you know — and spending every day with my best friends.

But of course, staging a musical didn’t bring in any income for when I wanted to go to the movies or the beach, so I had to get a job. One year I was a sort-of C.I.T. and made some money at the end of the summer by passing out lunch during the day, but that wasn’t quite enough.

So for a few summers from high school through college, instead of singing on stage, I was folding jeans at Old Navy.

On July 4, I wore my shirt with the trademark, obnoxiously large American flag on the front and “STAFF” emblazoned on the back so I couldn’t avoid the mobs who came in for their $1 flip flops, leaving havoc in their wake. (They’re $2.50 regularly, people.) But aside from the obnoxious customers you’ll encounter no matter which retailer you work for, I actually had a blast.

I probably spent more on clothes than I got back from my paycheck, as I would find items I liked for myself and hide them so I could buy them after my shift was over. And now I have the bad habit of fixing shirt displays wherever I go.

Rachel Kurland:

I’ve had many run-of-the-mill summer camp jobs, ranging in versatility from camp counselor to camp director.

When I was 18, I led the 4- to 6-year-old group at an outdoor aquatics-oriented Florida summer camp, filled with twigs (the code word used over walkie-talkies if you see a snake), logs (alligators) and slushies (a drink composed of far more sugar than a 40-pound toddler can handle).

But if there’s one lesson I learned that summer, it took form in lead class clown and anti-napper, 5-year-old Jack.

Jack, who had no concept of an indoor voice — though we were outdoors all day; sometimes you just need a break, right? — and was notorious for whipping fishing poles so hard hooks would get stuck in his swim trunks, loved to spend his nickels on candy at the concessions booth, specifically bubble gum.

As we were playing in the grass one day, a bright blue blob fell out of his mouth and into the dirt.

Before I could finish saying, “Jack, don’t —” the gum was pressed firmly between both palms and spread apart like a neon accordion.

I asked, “Why did you do that?”

“I don’t know,” he pondered.

Jack and I spent the rest of the afternoon scrubbing bubble gum globs off his sticky hands.

So what was the lesson I learned? Removing bubble gum is easier with peanut butter. Oh, and don’t work at summer camp.


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