The summer I turned thirteen I earned my first real paycheck. My dad worked at a small press that printed educational materials and marketed them to schools and when they needed some extra help, I’d go with him. My job was to shrink wrap the packets of materials, which was super fun for about the first five minutes until I burned myself. I also got to count things like toothpicks and safety pins that went with the packets and somehow taught important lessons about self-esteem and honesty.
Obviously child labor laws in Idaho are a little less lenient (at least 25 years ago they were) than in some other states. And clearly the job sucked. But, man, that paycheck did not. I think I got paid about $1.25 an hour and when the secretary handed me that first check for around $90.00 after I’d been working for two weeks straight, I asked her to make a copy of it so I could keep it forever.
The paycheck wasn’t the only good thing about that job. I’d ride with my dad from Burley to Twin Falls every morning and he’d tell me what the different crops were as we drove past field after field. I remember being amazed that he knew so much, even though I was on the cusp of believing he didn’t know anything. Once we got to work I didn’t see much of him until lunch time. Then we’d go to the Arctic Circle where I tried a mushroom burger for the first time and the curly fries were to die for. Sometimes we’d eat there but most of the time we’d eat in the car and listen to Paul Harvey on AM radio. I fell in love with Paul Harvey that summer.
Usually I was the only kid at the office, but one day two other girls showed up. Their mom worked there too, but since they lived in the big city of Twin Falls and I lived a whole thirty minutes away, I didn’t know them. That didn’t stop us from becoming fast friends and comparing how different things were in our respective cities/towns and schools. We talked about Girls Camp, complained about the boredom of counting small objects and took turns at the shrink wrapper.
Then summer ended. I bought my own school clothes and felt very proud. My dad got a new job and my work friends were forgotten. I can’t even remember their names now. And maybe I would have forgotten them all together if not for what happened a few years later.
One morning I opened the newspaper–because even in high school I enjoyed reading the paper–and there on the front page was a story about my two friends. To put things into perspective, this wasn’t the front page of our local paper The South Idaho Press. This was the front page of the Boise paper, The Idaho Statesman, which my parents still took even though we hadn’t lived in Boise for many years, but they, too, loved the newspaper.
The story went as follows:
The girls were home one day when they heard a gunshot. Their dad had shot their mother (the article made sure to point out he had been a Mormon bishop only a few years earlier). Then he came for them. One of the girls called 9-1-1 and as the operator listened to the girls pleas for help, he heard another shot. The pleas stopped.
When the paramedics arrived at the house they found the mother and two sisters dead. Their father was sitting in the bathtub with his wrists slit open. But not enough to kill himself. He survived.
I read the article in shock because I knew these girls. I pointed it out to my mom asking if she remembered them. “I know,” was all she said. Until I asked her why their dad would do that to them. She knew that too. She knew the accusations he was too cowardly to face.
And then I remembered the day their dad came to the office. We had been laughing, but they stopped when he walked in. I didn’t get why they wouldn’t even look at him. He made silly jokes and looked goofy in his socks and sandals, so I chalked it up to embarrassment that he was their dad. I got that. But it still didn’t explain the tightness in the air and their relief when he left.
The day I read that article was the first day I had any inkling that being embarrassed because my dad made me put on a life jacket in front of a bunch of older, popular boys before I could ride on my cousin’s boat, wasn’t the worst thing a dad could do.