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The hardships of youth build character

Life in Our Mountain Town, Katie Shaffer

My older daughter passed through several rites of passage this summer including landing her first job, getting her drivers’ permit, and buying her first car.

Just after she was hired last spring, I found myself standing around with a group of parents, waiting for a kid’s soccer game to begin. We went around the circle sharing with each other what our first jobs had been: stock boy, waitress, paper route, burger flipper.

There’s something nostalgic about those early experiences in life, especially when you compare them to where you are today.

My daughter worked this past summer at a neighborhood pool. She wasn’t old enough to be a lifeguard, so instead she took on the lowly job of working the pass office and the snack bar.

There was an element of amazement on my part when I would hear about her day spent scrubbing tables and making change. This is the same kid who does not think to bring her finished dinner plate from the table to the sink unless asked.

A few times, it was my daughter’s job to fish out of the pool a floating piece of human feces. This seemed to happen periodically.

According to my now employed child, the pool staff always hoped it might be a candy bar, but upon inspection by my daughter and her coworkers, it would turn out to not be a candy bar, and the pool would close early for the day.

One of the things I liked best about her job was that she could ride her bike to work. The only problem with this was that she disliked riding home. Even though it’s a mere two-mile climb uphill, she would often call for a ride at the end of her shift.

One afternoon, she did walk home, almost the entire way. It was one of those days when she left work early. I was out of town and my husband was working on a piece of heavy equipment on our property and was unreachable on his cell phone. So she headed home on foot. As it turned out, my husband had left one of our vehicles at the bottom of our gravel road with the keys in it.

I realize that I shouldn’t advertise this fact. Therefore, if you ever happen to be walking past my house, do not expect a car to be sitting there, unlocked, with the keys in it!

Anyway, this was the case on this particular day. As the story has been relayed to me, my husband was in a backhoe clearing out some brush, and all of a sudden, he saw our 14-year-old daughter, who was supposed to be at work, driving by.

She has since turned fifteen and now has her permit to drive, but at the time, she was not remotely qualified to be driving past and waving casually.

I’ll admit, she wasn’t a complete novice since we had let her drive on a few occasions, on private dirt roads. In her mind, it was probably all swell, because she was after all, on our property, and the car with keys in it looked like a lot better way to get herself up that last half mile.

One thing I’ve discovered about my daughter is that she is determined to be driving promptly, and legally, on her sixteenth birthday. Still, this incident surprised me because she tends to be a rule follower, not a rule breaker. Maybe I’ve shared too many stories with her about my days of rule bending as a teenager, and she’s decided to break out of her role as the reliable kid.

Anyway, after earning money all summer, and then getting her permit, my daughter set out to purchase her first car. Her initial idea was to buy a fairly new Volkswagen Jetta, until she found out how much they cost and that they lack four-wheel drive. As the summer wore on, she had to set her sights a little lower.

I urged her toward a more realistic purchase with comments such as, “When I was your age, all my friends drove beater cars.”

She finally settled on a 10- year old Subaru, which has been very well cared for. It doesn’t really qualify as a beater car at all, and maybe it never will be. My daughter seems to be taking her new role of car ownership seriously, not allowing any of us near it with food or drinks.

When she and my husband brought the car home, I found myself asking, “Does the heat work, and the defrost, and the windows?”

These questions crept out of my past. Just as everyone should have a first job in which you wipe down tables, likewise, your first car should present some kind of hardship, like having to roll down the window in order to open the door.

Everyone, I think, should experience humble beginnings of some sort, so that you can appreciate what follows.

Katie Shaffer is a Truckee resident. Life in Our Mountain Town appears weekly in the Sierra Sun.


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