A checkered career in the North Country

People tend to define themselves by the work they do. These days I tell people I’m a web guy at NCPR.

But in my family everybody has pretty much always kept the nose to the grindstone. Mom was a farm girl who started paid work in a WWII defense plant and worked full time almost the whole time she was raising three kids as well as after we had flown. My dad worked a vast number of sales jobs after the war until he settled into teaching in the 1950s. So I got my working papers as soon as I turned fourteen and have been beavering away in some kind of gainful employment continually over the last half century.

Photo: Nick Youngson, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Photo: Nick Youngson, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

In true North Country fashion, however, I have done a little of this and a little of that, patching together a living with whatever kind of work I could lay claim to. In one of those fifty-year summing up moments I thought it would be fun to make a list:

  • Newspaper carrier
  • Babysitter
  • Lawnmower
  • Drywall and mudder
  • Paper hanger
  • Floor refinisher
  • House painter
  • Warehouseman
  • Mover
  • Roadie
  • Short order cook
  • Busboy
  • Dishwasher
  • Cleaner
  • Pizza driver
  • Letterpress job printer
  • Small press publisher
  • Printshop owner
  • Offset press operator
  • Printshop manager
  • Publication designer
  • Copy editor
  • Graphic artist
  • Website designer
  • Web manager
  • Web editor
  • Feature writer

And that’s not to mention such one-day gigs as poetry performer, guest preacher, and one long cold night doing surveillance like a real private eye.

So if you have been wondering what a B.A. in English might qualify one to do, the possibilities are endless.

What are some of the things you have done over the years to keep body and soul together? Let us know in a comment below.


9 Comments on “A checkered career in the North Country”

  1. Daniele says:

    I’m not very exciting. I have been a babysitter, house cleaner, dishwasher, busser, deli worker, fry queen, camp counselor, sweater maker, tour guide, traveler, teacher (with all the subdivisions that go with that) and the best one of all, a mother. This is with a degree in French and Education.

  2. David Kvam says:

    Loved your list. As a college graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in English, my first job out of college was as the #1 peeler in a potato chip factory run by Shuler Foods. I parlayed that into a job as a waiter (I knew a lot about potato chips) then as a banker and finally into a 33-year career in public finance before I retired. To this day, I credit my writing skills for my success, although I was pretty good with numbers too. But if you ever want to know where burnt potato chips come from, my lips are sealed!

  3. Connie says:

    Don’t we all have these lists? I must say, though, yours is more varied than most. Mine begins with public library desk work, baby sitter, dishwasher, waitress, part time office work (publisher), coat check girl, bar piano player, house cleaner. The worst was house cleaner in Denver for a guy who ran a sod farm. Laundry involved many pairs of jeans and my first week I did 6 loads of dirty dishes. I lasted 2 weeks.

  4. Kate says:

    I always describe folks in the North Country as having 2-3 jobs. But this takes the cake! I worked as a room cleaner at Days Inn and at retail for minimum wage with a PhD and a law degree. So much for execution of life plans! Your list and the comments are heartening in a “this is life” kind of way.


    Mail room/mimeograph/addressograph operator, Central Supply Clerk, college registration worker, Western trip supply, Central Supply Head, AA – Administrative Assistant, college building security, concert security, outdoor equipment sales, executive assistant, Legislative Director, Executive Director, Student Liaison Officer – U.S. Office of Education, conference organizer, Youth Caucus Director, Domestic Policy Lobbyist, Associate Director, Director of Administration & Finance, Senior Associate, Supervising Associate, registration clerk, construction worker, server, bar-back, District Clerk, library worker, gift shop worker, Town Justice.

    Wow! that was a stroll down memory lane.

  6. Jim Benvenuto says:

    And I thought I had a wide-ranging resume! Cobbling a living is how it’s (generally) done in the North Country. Retirement is sweet.

  7. Chelle says:

    My “favorite” gig was literally proofreading the telephone book.
    zZzZZzz !
    My list rivals yours as well for length and variety, imagine for the younger folks who will live only in the “gig economy” – they probably won’t even be able to keep track!

  8. Robert Ivy says:

    I drove a cab in Philadelphia, PA, worked two summers in a pickle factory, carried bricks for a mason, milked cows, picked cabbage, washed dishes, delivered office furniture, worked the US census, painted apartments, cleaned metal working machines, provided taxi service to Amish neighbors and did corny voice-over tv ads for local GM dealership.

  9. Amadee French says:

    summers + (10-18) the fab 50’s…paper route/lawn mower/car washer/apple and sweet corn picker/auto body work/trapper..then military school(2 yrs) then US Navy…..THEN- truck driver/scrap dealer/car sales/trader/trapper/pipeline construction/maint..pipeline area mgr….propane gas cylinder business…chauffeur(catskills) -supt of services(catskills)..THEN..off to Miami….service of gas/steam/electric cooking equipment in Bahamas/Central& South America…..then business owner in Las Vegas……then Taxi owner in Miami….then off to California- real estate flipper in LA & service company owner….then CANTON,NY ! Whew….I found a home….still work……nationwide parts sales to fed/state facilities ( cooking equipment )…and find/sell older deisel powerplant parts/engines…….and dabble in antiques(off and on during60’s-90’s-present day )….makes me tired just reading this…I quit !

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