“Well, I’m gonna raise a fuss, I’m gonna raise a holler
About workin’ all summer to just to try to earn a dollar
Every time I call my baby, to try to get a date
My boss says, no dice, son, you gotta work late
Sometimes I wonder what I’m gonna do
‘Cause there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues”
– “Summertime Blues”, Eddie Cochran, 1958
As we end the school year and head into summer, I’m assuming that students of age still scatter out starting or looking for employment during the next couple of months. I do know that, back in the day, that’s what you did: if you were lucky enough to go to college, then you dang sure needed to find a summer job to help defray school costs and put a little spending money in your pocket. If you didn’t do it yourself, your parents were usually more than happy to line you up with some form of gainful employment.
So, recently, I’ve had discussions with friends about the summer gigs we encountered coming up. Some were fun, some were interesting, some were pretty brutal, but they all were formative in some form or fashion for our lives going forward. In this column, we shall take a look at my resume of those positions, which will perhaps remind you of similar experiences you had. Forthwith, here is the Richard Lucas Summer Job Record Book, in chronological order, starting with the summer after I finished high school and continuing the years I was home from college.
- 1966: The County Gang. This was a group of young guys who were employed by the Jackson County Board of Supervisors to patrol the undeveloped areas on the outskirts of Pascagoula and perform mundane maintenance tasks (pay was $1.50 an hour). Every morning, we’d pack into a couple of trucks and head out. Our straw boss was Johnny Woitt, then a star defensive back at Mississippi State and later head football coach at PHS.
We were set up to be a kind of cleaned up version of the “Cool Hand Luke” road gang—shoveling, cutting weeds, and so on. Thing is, we spent most of our time goofing off and hanging out in the remote venues where we were sent. Hey, we were young. Irresponsible kids with “one of us” as supervisor.
- 1967: Figuring out and noting the work style and ethic from that first summer post, my father stepped in to kick things up a notch. He got me a job with Shook and Fletcher Insulation Company, a major contractor for Ingalls Shipbuilding (and still in business locally). The pay was much better, and the work was a lot harder. We had a four man crew: me, Jimmy Askew (still a good Pascagoulan), and two guys from Grand Bay, one of who was the son of Shook and Fletcher’s president and would be the job’s straw boss. This fellow was Bobby Strickland, who went on to become an All-SEC linebacker at Auburn. Bobby and I got to be good friends that summer; I hate that we’ve lost track of each other.
Our main task was delivering insulation to ships and warehouses. This mostly came in the form of 85-pound bundles—to say that I was in good shape by August would be an understatement. The only downside was, that stuff would stick to you like crazy—had to take about a 30-minute shower when you got home It was a good run—tough work, four guys who enjoyed each other, solid cash.
- 1968: This year, I was in the shipyard proper at Ingalls, Warehouse #10 to be exact. Summer workers (two or three of us) were thrown in with the permanent crew and had to assimilate into the daily grind, with various assignments in the warehouse and the vessels under construction. Man, it was hot as Hades down inside those ship hulls. Got to see up close and personal what the life of an everyday shipyard worker was like.
- 1969: Have to really give my dad props on this one. I was heading toward a BBA/personnel management degree at Ole Miss, and he was able to get me a job as an instructor trainee in the Industrial Relations Department at Ingalls. Wore a shirt and tie to work, learned a lot, and formed relationships that would last a lifetime. Even got to give orientation talks to new employee groups, which would be predictive of my future career. My boss was the late Don Massengale, who I would always consider a valued mentor. Super summer.
- 1970: No summer job. Recovering from mono the first month or so, went to summer school the late semester at OM (that was a blast; maybe a column on that one day).
- 1971: OK, this was interesting. By now, I was in graduate school, and my father decided that, hey, I should be able to find my own summer job. My good friend Martin Hegwood was in a similar spot, so we went looking for a gig together. We had waited kind of late (might have been a beach trip in there), so pickings had become sparse. After a couple of days of no success, we decided that we needed to take innovative measures.
We both knew Pascagoula Police Chief Owen Davis pretty well—we’d grown up with his son, our parents knew him. Chief Davis was kind of a Southern godfather around town—he’d been Jackson County Sheriff previously—and we thought maybe he could help us. Sure enough, after we told him our situations, he picked up the phone, called City Clerk Leona McGinty, and said, “Leona, I’m gonna send two boys over that need summer jobs—find ‘em something to do”.
We reported to City Hall and met a bemused Leona, a very sharp, sweet lady. She said,” I’m not sure what we can figure out, but Owen sent you, so we’ll make this happen”. She did have one specific project—the city record room was in pretty significant disarray, so she asked us to reorganize it. In three days we had that area looking like a top flight service center. Fine, but now what? Leona, bless her heart, sighed and said,”look, just show up every morning and we’ll take it from there”.
The rest of the summer, we wrote reports, handled the mail, visited with the mayor, and basically just created our own workload, such as it was. We gave all the City Hall staff psychological profile tests we made up (hey, we had taken Psych 101), visited all the various departments and chatted people up, helping where we could.
Best. Summer. Job. Ever. OK, not the most responsible or instructive position (plus, can you say “featherbedding”), but, boy, did we have one heck of a time.
So, there you have it, the RBL Report Card of Summer Labor. After that, it was off to the real world, job-wise, for the next 44 years. Again, I hope this missive will jog your memory of similar roads taken. I definitely have to say that all my different summer jobs, with varying degrees of difficulty and substance, taught me a lot, allowed me to learn about a wide range of people, and helped me move forward toward my career. I’m pretty sure, and hope, that my dad, hard-core shipyard workers I met, and Leona McGinty would all agree with that assessment.