In the winter of ’79, I was ten-years-old. If snow was forecast for a weekday, I was excited for the chance for a snow day.
For me, a snowy day began around 5 am. I would race down to the kitchen to turn on the radio and listen closely to the long list of cancellations to see if I had school or not.
This was LONG before text messages, auto calls from the superintendent’s office, or even watching the ticker at the bottom of the TV screen.
In those days you listened to the radio while the poor disc-jockey read through the list over and over again at 15-minute intervals.
If your school was not listed early on, you listened until the very last possible moment before you had to rush out the door to get to the bus stop in time.
My bus didn’t make door to door stops. You walked a block or two in all kinds of weather, and you stood outside waiting for the bus. I don’t think I recall a parent standing there with us …ever! There was a crossing guard…But that had nothing to do with the bus stop unless you needed to use her crosswalk to get to the stop.
Once school was canceled it was time to get to work! There was money to be made, but for me, only after I took care of the responsibilities at home.
I’m not sure how old I was the first time I picked up a snow shovel but soon after, it became my job to make sure our front steps, back walk, and driveway were cleared out. After that, I was allowed to shovel neighbors out for spending money.
As I got older, I was allowed to go door to door as far as I was willing to walk, to find shoveling jobs. One of my customers was nearly a mile away.
I learned a lot about responsibility and the business world from my experiences shoveling snow.
The first thing I learned was that labor had value. My folks were custodians in the Bath school department, and with 6 kids in the house money was tight, so I never got an allowance.
My stepfather was the one who encouraged me to shovel snow for money. When he was a young boy his father passed away, and he was required to make money to help support his family. Shoveling was one of the many odd jobs he had.
When I first reached out to neighbors, I was shy and nervous about asking for money for the work I was doing. I was raised to help out where I could. Asking for money to do something neighborly didn’t really feel right to me.
My neighbor Mr. Plummer put that thought to rest for me, though. He was cleaning up after one big storm and offered to let me finish up for all the money in his pocket. I was blown away! I didn’t have ANY idea how much he had, but I was certain it would be a lot!
I worked my little butt off! His walkway was shoveled down to bare tar and was cleared a shovel’s width on the sides to allow room for drifting or melting. The snowbank in front of the driveway was cut wide to allow room to pile more snow from future storms.
I was just a kid, but no man could have done a more thorough job. Mr. Plummer said so himself. I was proud. I couldn’t wait to see how my hard work would be rewarded!
Mr. Plummer reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of change. I don’t recall how much was there, but it was less than a dollar. I could tell he felt bad because I had done such a great job.
Looking back, I am certain he knew that the lesson I learned was far more valuable than a few dollars I would have blown on sweets and other nonsense had he paid me what the job was really worth.
Mr. Plummer taught me to be sure I knew what was expected of me before I started any task, and to be sure I knew what the compensation would be ahead of time.
I added that knowledge to the fact that I liked to shovel snow, along with the fact that I was good at it, and the fact that I didn’t feel the need to get rich off my neighbors.
I set a price of $5.00 or less for a driveway and walk. If I had elderly customers, I let them pay what they wanted.
In one case a customer paid me what she thought was a lot of money. Her driveway was by far the longest, and her standards were by far the toughest, and although she only paid me $0.75 she always had something hot for me to drink, and something fresh from the oven for me to eat.
My younger step-brother taught me the harsh reality of competition. When I first started shoveling for money he was too little to make any problems. As he got older he decided he liked the idea of shoveling for money.
Since it had been my chore to clean up our yard for years, he had the advantage over me, and he would hit the road long before I was finished.
He would go to my customers, and tell them I had sent him. Being younger than I was, and less experienced, he often did a poor job, and I would lose the customer.
On the other end, being younger and smaller, a few of my customers hired him over me to give him a start. I never told my customers he had lied when he said I had sent him, I simply found new customers.
Since my prices were so low, I never had any trouble finding new customers, and since my work was so good, I almost always made double what I asked.
I was reminiscing about this almost 40 years later, as I nosed my snowblower with a 26-inch clearing width, into a 3-foot deep snowbank at the end of my driveway.
I recalled how as a kid, every Christmas I asked for a new shovel. My shovel from the previous year was always worn down from the hard work I put it through.
I was also thinking how for the first time in quite a few years there was a pile of snow deep enough to build a snow fort, and how some of the snow forts in my neighborhood had been so extravagant that they had extension cords running to them for lights, and a radio.
I was recalling how we would use the one-way street next to us for sledding. It was a steep hill with just a few houses on it, and with somebody watching for traffic at the intersection, it was our own private slope, where we reached terrifying speeds in no time!
My son, 11 years old, was nice and warm in the house. The automated dialer had notified us around noon time on Sunday that there would be no school. William stayed up late playing on his laptop and lounged around the house all day in his pajamas.
He has no desire to build a snow fort, and the nearest sled hill is two towns over.
I don’t think he has ever used a snow shovel in his whole life. Because we live in a rural community, he will never know the trials and triumphs of turning snow days into a business opportunity, and that is a shame. But from what I am told, not many kids in urban areas do either, and that is sad.
If you have an 8-year-old kid, do them a favor! Teach them to shovel snow. When they get older, take them to a neighborhood and help them find somebody who is clearing their driveway with a shovel, and let them negotiate a deal to finish the job! Help them learn that the $20-$60 you give them for video games, or a trip to the movies with a friend had to be earned!
Maybe one day they will thank you for it!