Work: My odd jobs in high school — #AtoZChallenge 2023

W is for Work: My odd jobs in high school. Twenty-third of 26 posts in the April 2023 Blogging From #AtoZChallenge. Theme: Endwell: My High School Years — adding my story to the family history mix. Please join me on the journey.

To get a summer job during my teen years, I applied for my working papers at age 15 – a certificate of employment that told businesses they couldn’t work teens for too many hours after school or in the summer.

But even with working papers, part-time positions were hard to come by. So, I ended up doing odd jobs during the summers to earn some income. Here is a sampling of some of those jobs.


I started babysitting in junior high, but only for families on our street with my parents just a phone call away. In high school, though, I graduated to babysitting for families off the block – mostly friends of my parents, who would pick me up and drop me off after my sitting gig.

The customary drill was to get the children to bed after some early evening TV watching. Then I had the empty house to myself until the parents came home.

Sometimes the quiet house could be scary, though – like the house near the bowling alley where hot-rodding cars were always careening by, or pretty much any house if I watched a horror film on the Saturday night late show.

How many times did I turn off the TV to check for random noises? Too many to count! But a job was a job, and I managed to get it done every time without calling home.


In the 1960s, white shirts with a suit and tie were the work uniform for most professional men. Boys also had to wear dress shirts to school, although theirs were usually plaids or colors.

Laundry sprinkler. My grandmother was a clothes horse who taught me the correct way to iron a shirt and how to use a laundry sprinkler to get rid of wrinkles

Wash and wear fabric wasn’t a thing yet, so getting all those shirts professionally laundered and pressed cost a fortune. This created a market opening for someone who could iron – someone like me!

Through her church network, my mom found women with mountains of shirts that needed pressing – and I took in ironing over the summer for $3.00 a basket. (To put this into perspective, gas cost 35 cents a gallon then.)

My maternal grandmother Liz (Stoutner) Laurence was a clothes horse who taught me the correct way to iron a shirt, as illustrated in the video below — and how to use a laundry sprinkler to get rid of wrinkles.

With these newfound skills, I set myself up in our cool basement rec room on a tall chair and ironed away — while watching Edge of Night, The Secret Storm, General Hospital, and other daytime soap operas. Not a bad gig at all!

Altamont Fair

And let’s not forget the job my grandmother got me at the Altamont Fair – located not far from my grandparents’ home near Albany, N.Y.

Tole painted tray by Liz (Stoutner) Laurence. My grandmother regularly won blue ribbons for her tole-painted items at the Altamont Fair, where I worked several summers staffing the Arts and Crafts Building and guarding the artwork. Photo by Molly Charboneau

Boom, as we called her, was president of the area’s Esther Stevens Brazier Guild of Early American Decoration, Inc. and regularly entered her tole-painted items at the fair – winning blue ribbons in contests at the Arts and Crafts Building.

They needed young people to staff the building and guard the artwork – a job I did for a few of summers. The first time I worked there during junior high, I had braces on my teeth and felt self-conscious – especially around the teen guys who ran the spin-paints booth outside the building.

Altamont Fair near Albany, NY. Unlike my other odd jobs, my summer job at the Altamont Fair came with an official paycheck at the end of fair week!

In my later teens, though, the braces were off, my straightened hair was fashionably arranged, and I was a veteran of Friday night dances at the K of C hall. So, with Boom’s permission, after my shift I’d head off confidently to the teen dance at the other side of the fairgrounds. Plus, unlike my other odd jobs, the one at the Altamont Fair came with an official paycheck at the end of fair week!

And just like that the summer would be over, and it was back to high school – but with a bit more money in my pocket!

Up next, X is for X-ercise: High school sports before Title IX. Please stop back!

© 2023 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

14 thoughts on “Work: My odd jobs in high school — #AtoZChallenge 2023”

  1. A good choice for the W letters. I too did Babysitting, though I really knew next to nothing about looking after babies if they woke up. At university I worked in shops or had a Saturday job in my local library,mainly shelving returned books.I don’t think I had ironed anything until I left home and Mum wasn’t there to do it’for me!

    1. Mostly I babysat elementary school age kids. Parents were leery about turning a baby over to a teenager — although I would have been good at it, having two toddler sisters.

  2. Babysitting was my primary high school job, too.

    One thing that I’ve become aware of fairly recently (I think I blocked the memory) was that I was driven home on multiple occasions by a drunk man at the end of the evening since it was usually the father who was assigned to drive the babysitter home.

  3. You were an enterprising young woman.

    When we returned from our honeymoon my husband set up the ironing board and taught me to iron. I did this virtuously for 50 years and then handed the iron to him.

  4. You did have some interesting jobs. I didn’t like ironing and never even would have thought of it as a possible job. Babysitting was a common teenage girl job where I grew up. Another was working in a supermarket as a cashier – those were the days, of course, where the cashier would have to ring up each purchase manually. An interesting occasional job I had was inventory taking at a local department store. That one, for some reason, I enjoyed.

    1. I’m thinking there may have been more supermarkets and department stores in NYC than in the Endwell area. Later, when I did restaurant work in my 20s, I used one of those manual cash registers — definitely helped me brush up on my math skills!

  5. I’m sure I don’t iron shirts regulation and I’m also sure I haven’t ironed anything in years.
    My high school jobs were for family and a family business. I got my first outside job when I started college, working in the cafeteria, then the library and finally as art editor of the student newspaper. During the summer I would get full time jobs, mostly on campus.

    1. That’s a nice selection of jobs, Kristin. I continued ironing my clothes off and on until knits became a thing. Now I usually only iron when I work with cotton for home decor. But I still love ironing a shirt the way my grandmother taught me.

    1. Thanks, Janice. I added a link. Yes, my grandmother was quite the artist — she also taught tole painting, produced commissioned work as gifts for weddings, anniversaries, etc., and organized regular programs for the Esther Brazier Guild. She made the most of her empty nest years!

  6. I was relieved to see that I do know how to iron a shirt properly…however did I doubt my mother? I absolutely loathe ironing and always have so I’m impressed you did it as a job. Having some financial independence is good for growing up.

    1. Oddly, I actually loved ironing and took pride in steaming out every wrinkle. Although it certainly helped that the soap operas were entertaining 🙂

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