Lyn Messersmith

I wonder if there are kids who still get an allowance. I first heard of such a notion when I was in high school, and it seemed pretty silly to me. None of the parents I knew had any extra money lying around, and youngsters were expected to do simple chores like helping around the home, or ranch, just because we put our feet under the family table.

Beginning in junior high, my dad taught me to manage a checking account and paid me summer wages for checking pastures and doing barn chores. That income was designated as my college fund. Spending money for movies, treats, and school supplies came out of the cream check, which was turned over to me because I did the milking when I was at home on weekends or vacations. It generally amounted to a couple or three bucks a week, which was plenty for my tastes, and the occasional fiver, put me in hog heaven.

This strange year has revived the custom of summer wages for rural young folks. I don’t know how it is in town, but my grandkids are busier than ever. A year ago, high school rodeos, football and basketball camps, and other activities took up most of their days. During haying season they had steady pay, but the rest of summer was catch as catch can for parents to plan work around days when helpers were on hand.

In 2020, many high school kids are day working for neighbors. Only the larger ranches can afford to keep year-round help in the present economic situation, so day work has become the norm, and good day workers are as busy as well men and plumbers. You have to plan quite a while out to get one hired. All of a sudden, we have a plethora of available and willing helpers, because all the activities that parents and schools previously planned for kids are on hold. Ranch work is getting caught up, and long put off projects like cross fencing pastures or building windbreaks are in progress. 

I’m sure my grandkids miss the activities they enjoyed in other summers, but I haven’t heard them complain. They’re busy all the time, and even get to see classmates in work situations where groups of them are hired. Back to basics has been a good thing in many ways. Families are realizing what a drain the school schedules put on finances. This, for some, may influence future choices.

The question in my mind concerns the possibility of a new normal when schools begin again. Will we see a willingness to downsize the extent of extra-curricular activities so some semblance of family life can be revived? Or are the egos of parents and school officials so invested in competitive events that they’ll gradually return to owning every minute of student’s lives? We’ll know when we know, I suppose, but for now a new kind of summer training camp focuses on personal accountability, and pride in a job well done. It’s just sad that a tragic situation had to be our wake-up call. 

A few words from an old cowboy song are stuck in my head. I can’t recall the name of the song, or the artist: Ian Tyson, perhaps. It mentions summer wages with a sense of acceptance and satisfaction that has almost disappeared. May that mentality somehow prevail as we go forward.

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