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October 23, 2021

Kent Bernhardt: You gotta start somewhere

It was the summer of ’69, the same summer that gave us a man on the moon and Woodstock. What it gave me was my first job and my first paycheck.

I had been raised to believe that a job well done was its own reward, but I wanted money, and as much of it as I could get my hands on.  That’s why my brother and I snapped up the chance to be interim custodians for a couple of months at my home church.

My parents saw this as the perfect opportunity for two young boys to learn about service to the Lord and grown-up responsibility.  We hadn’t yet conceived such notions.  But, we would perform our tasks outside of their supervision, and that was just fine.

The pay was fifty dollars a week, split right down the middle.  It was a king’s ransom to two teenage boys eager for some folding money in 1969.  My previous income had been a meager seventy-five cents a week allowance, barely enough for an occasional fountain Coke and honey bun at the soda shop.

The job was a cinch.  All we had to do was thoroughly clean the complete church buildings and mow and trim the grass outside.  How hard could that be?  How long could it take?

The tools of our trade were located in a small utility closet in the bowels of the basement.  I recall an old canister vacuum cleaner with frayed wiring, hungry for the opportunity to electrocute one of us.  Metal and wire, the perfect storm.

There were dust rags that came over on the Mayflower and various cans of cleaners that had been there since the Eisenhower administration.  Nothing looked new or effective, part of a teaching experience for me in how churches operate.  Even the smallest expenditure requires massive amounts of prayer and several committee meetings.  So there could be no new vacuum cleaner until the good Lord said so.

My philosophy was to make a game of every chore so that nothing would seem like actual work.  Dusting the wooden pews became a race, complete with mouth-produced motor noises.  Vacuuming the sanctuary was much the same.  The emphasis was not on how well the job was done, but how quickly.

We soon realized there was more to this job than we had been led to believe.  Window washing day in the educational building was a massive endeavor, given the structure was made mostly of glass.  There were windows everywhere.

But the chore that drove me to the door was an edging project – trimming the grass away from what seemed like miles of sidewalk in the days before weed eaters.  Our tools were hoes, shovels, and hand-held trimmers.  In the hot August sun, I felt like part of a prison chain gang.  I began to dream about the start of school and the end of my sentence.

Fortunately, that end came sooner than expected after a rash of congregational complaints about restrooms insufficiently cleaned and lights left on in the buildings.  The facilities committee decided, after much prayer and discussion, that a larger degree of janitorial experience was needed.  We were graciously let go.

In my early years of employment, I had only one other job that got the best of me.  I spent a large part of the summer of ‘75 working for a moving company.  With no moving job on the calendar one day, the owner enlisted my help in moving his mother’s outhouse to a new location on her property.

I began a new job search the next day.

Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury.

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