Living Columns & Blogs

His ‘gap year’ included nine jobs – and World War II

My 18-year-old granddaughter Charlotte is taking a “gap year” between high school graduation and enrolling at the University of Vermont. She’s using a website called Workaway to find hosts who will let her and a friend work in exchange for free room and board. So far she has visited six countries and has been a chamber maid in Riomaggiore, Italy, and a desk clerk at a youth hostel in The Hague, Netherlands.

Charlotte lost her passport in Berlin while booking a train to Paris. But on her way to the American embassy for help, she stopped at a local police station and discovered the passport had been turned in.

However, the delay caused her to miss her train to Paris and the next train was sold out. She was advised at the train station to find the conductor when the train pulled in and offer him cash to see if she could sit behind him in an extra seat. She did so and had a front-row seat for the 10-hour trek.

After spending two hours on a bus to reach the ferry that would take her nine hours across the Atlantic from the Netherlands to the United Kingdom, she learned that even though the boat didn’t leave for 25 minutes, there wasn’t enough time to process her passport. She had to wait 10 hours for the next one leaving at midnight. She called her mother in tears.

“I can’t read anything on my phone because I dropped it and the screen is broken and now my tears are filling up the cracks,” she lamented.

She is now in Birmingham, England, checking people in and out of a hostel and cleaning bathrooms.

Let me tell you about my “gap year” between high school and college. Thanks to an older brother’s “connections” and persistence, I held nine jobs during my “gap year.’” They included:

▪  Walking door to door slipping free detergent coupons under doors in Winston-Salem.

▪  Sitting in front of a mountain of dirty, smelly and sometimes bloody linen at Camel City Laundry, separating sheets, towels and pillow cases. I quit three hours later without collecting my pay.

▪  Repairing public school textbooks so they could be re-used. (I lived for the mid-morning snack wagon and a Moon Pie along with a Big Orange “drank.”)

▪  As stock boy at W.T. Grant’s Five and Ten in Greensboro, I was stuck all day in a hot attic stacking merchandise on shelves.

I asked off early one afternoon to see “Gone With the Wind” as the trolley to my house didn’t run at night. The boss said “No.” While he was out of town, I saw the movie. Someone squealed on me. As he was profanely chewing me out, I told him what he could do with that job.

▪  At Cone Mills commissary, I made ice cream all day. Only vanilla. Two weeks of vanilla was enough. I’m easily bored.

▪  I loved being a soda jerk at a local drug store. But my mother, convinced I was headed for Hell in a hand basket for working on Sundays, prevailed upon me to quit.

▪  My brother was desperate. Spotting a newspaper ad for clerk-typists to work in Washington, D.C., he borrowed a typewriter and planted me in front of it until I could type the required 35 words per minute. Next day, I was on the bus to D.C.

As I just said, I bore easily. And I was homesick. When I called my brother to tell him I was coming home, he yelled, “Don’t you dare!” and hung up on me. I knocked on his door next morning. He tried to close the door in my face.

But within days, he found a job for me at the Burlington Industries’ commissary, doling out pairs of precious, hard-to-get nylons to female employees. I was very popular.

I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion my brother called the draft board and pleaded, “Come and get him. Now!”

Two weeks later, I was in uniform. After basic training at Keesler Field, Miss., and six weeks at an administrative school outside Denver, I found myself in the bottom of a troop ship headed for Destination Unknown. Seventeen days later, our ship docked at the edge of the jungles of New Guinea. But that’s another story.