A warm daytime job
I was 17 in the summer of '53. I had my first regular paying job, a job my dad got for me. He and Bob Drake, who ran Drake Lumber, were good friends, and Bob Drake needed a yardman for the summer. My pay was $1.35 an hour.
The first day I was given the task of washing the family car. I had never washed a car before, so I was sure I was going to screw up my job on the first day. But I guess it turned out all right. Washing a car is not too difficult.
A regular feature of the summer was cutting grass. The mower was a good-sized tractor that towed a grass-cutting attachment. This cutting accessory was not very reliable, and I spent a lot of time fixing it as well as sharpening the cutting blades. Bob Drake was on the Kelvin Grove school board, and I would get sent over to cut the school's field every once and awhile.
The worst task I was given was to dig a drainage ditch. It was near the end of the summer and the temperature was over 90 degrees. My association with the drainage ditch ended before it was completed. I was saved by the school bell.
Nighttimes with friends
My small group of close friends that summer was Daryl (or Darrell) Strong, Manny Mickel, John McCray and Eddins McNealy. That summer of '53 was special because my friends and I for the first time had access to our parents' cars. Often, after supper, Manny, John, Eddins, Daryl and I cruised to Webber Dairy in Joliet for milkshakes. Typically, we would try to get there without using the brakes…and usually succeeded.
We often went to the movies, and, being teen-agers, we had to test some limits. Drive-in movies were popular then, but nobody paid full price---we rationalized. You were charged according to the number of people in the car, so on the way we stopped the car and two or three of us got in the trunk. Or, sometimes one or two of us merely laid down on the floor in back.
The Rialto Theater in Joliet was a great place to go for a movie, partly because it's a nice theater, but also because you could hand the ticket taker a quarter to get in. You just hung out until he nodded and then walked on in without a ticket. One night we saw someone get caught by the manager. The poor guy was hurled at the door with such force that he crashed through the glass and got cut up pretty bad. And there we all were, standing there gawking…not a ticket among us.
Another thing we did regularly that summer was "break in" to the high school at night. A certain window was always unlocked. We of course never did any damage nor did we take anything. Sometimes we made our way up to the roof, and one night…and only one!…we climbed the 90-foot smoke stack all the way to the top. I can't believe I did that, because I don't like heights. But it was a case of one more rung, one more rung. No one ever suggested doing it a second time.
The jeep was a catalyst for nighttime exploits. One night we drove it into Freddie's Sweet Shoppe, with Freddie's permission. My dad heard about it from the cops the next morning. As in, "You should talk to your son." Another time we dared Bobby Charleton to try to follow the jeep with his father's car. We took him through some pretty interesting fields and gullies. And then one night we took a life-size dummy my sister had made and laid it out in the middle of the highway on the Route 7 curve at the edge of town. We hid in a gully and pretty soon a car came along. There was loud screeching of tires. Well, that was enough excitement, so we put the dummy in the back of the jeep and headed back to my house on 12th street. Interestingly, we passed a police car on the way. Arriving home, we tossed the dummy out on the parkway and parked the jeep in the driveway. Before we could do anything else, the police arrived. Funny how they knew where to come. "That your dummy?" they asked. "Uh, no," we answered (truthfully, since it was my sister's), "We found it laying out on the highway." (Also the truth) "Well, then, you won't mind if we take it with us," the cop said. The casualty of the evening was that my sister lost some of her clothes.
Being seventeen is a special time. You're not a little kid anymore. You can do things like dig ditches, climb a smoke stack, and drive to another city without your parents being in the car. But you're still a year or two from the onset of any real maturity and therefore any real responsibility. Realistically, you're still within your parents' cocoon, but you try not to act like it. It's a sweet time. One night when I was getting into my friend's car, my mother opened the upstairs window and called out, "Yoohoo, Jimmy, where are you going?" "Nowhere," I replied. "When will you be back?" she asked. "Sometime," I said. This went on in front of my friends, and I was really annoyed. I remember the feeling.
Having raised three kids, I now know that my mother's questions were reasonable. If you're living at home, parents need to know when to start worrying.
You can only get away with being seventeen for a little while, and it's nice while it lasts.