Summer break wasn’t always bleak, but sometimes ...

Summer break wasn’t always bleak, but sometimes ...

My summer jobs involved one of two skills.

Either I was mowing something or painting something.

They had two things in common.

It was easy to see the progress you were making, which was good, and they paid next to nothing, which was not, though at the time I didn’t really mind. After all, there was no way I was going to punch the time clock at a factory, even though I had friends who did precisely that and built up significant summer savings.

And then there was the fact I didn’t need much to survive on because I was living in the basement at home and paid no rent, which meant all I really needed was enough to have fun, just playing ball and driving around town, with the occasional summer romance thrown in to remind me there was more to life than double-headers played in cornfields, great music on the car radio, pizzas and subs outdoors shared with friends after dark with the occasional adult beverage adding some lively effervescence.

So I relied on mowing and painting to get me through. When you’re home from college and it’s summertime, you can’t simply do nothing, so you do the next best thing. You work for nothing.

It builds character, and if you’re smart and frugal, your checking account grows just enough so that when you go back to school in the fall, you’ve stashed away enough to buy your very first component stereo system — speakers, turntable, receiver, tape deck and headphones — which makes you a dormitory/roommate star.

Notre Dame had its own post office, which, when those boxes of equipment began arriving from San Luis Obispo, almost shut down.

Some real heavy lifting, so to speak, with a little help from my friends.

But there was one summer job I had that fit neither the mowing nor painting paradigm but did, ironically enough, involve heavy lifting.

It’s not something I can recall with any precision, which means I’ve had to reach out to friends and family in recent weeks, trying to repair the tumble-down condition of my memory, hoping for some specifics to patch the gaps in my memory-lane foundation.

Alas, all I can offer are my unreliable recollections. Such is life when you treat your brain cells, to quote Frances McDormand in “Almost Famous,” like confetti. So bear with me as I wander back.

There was a drug store downtown, one of three, which in addition to filling prescriptions and selling magazines, candy and baseball cards, offered a service that made it stand out from the competition.

Hospital beds, the kind that featured adjustable angles for heads and legs, would be delivered directly to your door and set up wherever and whenever they were needed. This kind of convenience was a novelty in the mid-’70s, at least in my little town, but how I happened into that job still mystifies me.

It wasn’t as if I possessed superior strength or stamina. At 6-feet-5 and 175 pounds, I was better equipped to hang balloons at a child’s birthday party or unclog pool drains with my freakishly long arms.

And yet I retain vivid memories of riding shotgun that summer, checking the clipboard for correct addresses, and the driver — who must have been very experienced in that kind of work — and I made our way around town, setting up convalescent beds where needed.

Again, I wish I could remember who captained that ship or how or why I came to be enlisted in that enterprise at all, but I promise you it did happen. As to how I got paid, it was straight cash.

Most of our house calls involved things like broken limbs or recovery from routine surgeries, nothing too dramatic, and I remember being welcomed warmly when we arrived, toting in the various segments of the bed and its attendant as-needed add-ons, things like walkers and crutches and the occasional oxygen tank.

But then there was this one visit, the one that has stayed with me.

When we arrived and were ushered into the house, there was little chitchat, just specific directions of where to set up the stuff. There also was very little sunlight, despite the summer afternoon hour, and every downstairs window had shades and curtains drawn tight.

We were about to set up, quite literally, a person’s death bed.

When I think back, what I’m proudest of is that I did my job well.

The family seemed genuinely pleased with the service we provided, and the nurse offered nothing in the way of complaint, merely nodding her head when it came time to move the person to the bed.

The shadows seemed to lengthen, even in that shuttered room, and I remember thinking that what was about to transpire there would leave indelible memories on those about to witness something sad.

But we all owe a death, don’t we?

That’s the price we must pay for having been given life.

Take a look around and remember all that is good — that’s my advice — because sooner or later all our candles will be extinguished.

Mike Dewey can be reached at or 6211 Cardinal Drive, New Bern, NC 28560. You also can join the fun on Facebook.