Most of us have had summer jobs during our school years. I would wager that none of them ever were confrontational though.
How many of us can recall a summer job that challenged our wits and made us consider our options, fear the consequences and wonder if we would be punished or fired?
One summer during grammar school, I worked as a truck driver’s helper for an ice plant and carried blocks of ice to customers’ houses.
Many houses still had iceboxes — not refrigerators — and they had to have a constant supply of ice: 15-pound, 25-pound and mostly 50-pound blocks of ice.
The busiest time of the year, of course, was in the summer.
Carrying a 50-pound block of ice was a tough, toilsome task, especially for a kid not big enough for the job.
The ice plant had two classes of routes, city routes and rural routes. I chose the rural route because it was more relaxing and cooler out in the country.
There were always two helpers on an ice truck. The truck driver was not required to carry the ice.
One house on our route was located at the top of a high hill, and the customer always wanted a 50-pound block of ice. We had to carry the ice up a long path, and the other helper and I would flip a coin to see who would go — I lost.
Looking at the white farmhouse from the road, I could see the path winding up and around the hill for about a quarter mile.
The homeowner had called for ice and put 35 cents on top of the icebox about 10 days earlier before he and his family left on a vacation.
I had to psych myself up to hump that 50-pound block of ice, on my back, up that path.
After arriving at the top of the hill, huffing and puffing, I looked down below at the ice truck and barely could believe the distance.
After taking a five-minute break, I turned to deal with the task at hand. Looking at that top-loading icebox, which stood about level with my shoulders, was depressing.
It was routine to remove the ice bag from my back, pull the block of ice out with the ice hooks and hoist it to the top of the box, grunting and snorting, and then gently guide the ice block into the top of the icebox.
Loading ice onto the top of some iceboxes took skill and know-how. The block of ice, weighing 50 pounds or more, could damage the entire icebox if its weight was not controlled while I set it into place.
On this particular trip, however, it wasn’t the task of hoisting the ice that was daunting. It was the face-to-face meeting with my wits and almost gagging that confronted me.
I couldn’t use my skill and judgment to set the ice gently into place. The stench coming from the icebox was nearly paralyzing.
I think it was coming from decaying meat; and it was enough to cause a California condor to back away.
It was like performing a daring circus act as I hoisted the ice to the top. I closed my eyes and turned it loose.
The ice hit the bottom of the first level, the second level and then the third, crashing to the bottom and taking everything with it.
Lucky for me, the homeowner was not present.
I couldn’t take time to check for damage. I grabbed the 35 cents off the top of the icebox along with my bag and ice hooks and dashed to the rear door for my next breath of air, then continued racing down the hill.
The moment I made it to the truck, the other helper wanted to know the reason I was out of breath.
I said nothing; I was too concerned with the damage I had done to that man’s icebox.