The Working Waterfront

Summer on the island, when work fever takes hold

Youthful work ethic in full bloom this time of year

Courtney Naliboff
Posted 2015-06-15
Last Modified 2015-06-15

By Courtney Naliboff

When I was a kid, out in the woods of central Maine, summers were a real vacation. My sisters and I swam and canoed, got ice cream at Gifford’s, tried to dam up the stream in the backyard, and picked peas and green beans out of the garden.

When we were a little older we went to summer camp, first a weird day camp close to our house where we reenacted Lord of the Flies in handmade teepees and took dance class from an 85-year-old grande dame who smoked and slammed the legs of her walker on the floor in time to the recording of “Petunia the Gardener’s Daughter” we were expected to dance to. After that we attended music camp.

Getting a job never crossed my mind. I was lucky to be a teenager of leisure, I thought, and certainly my experiences at music camp were vital to my musical life and ultimately my career.

The first job I ever had was while a freshman in college, and I was a pretty poor employee. I was hired as a research assistant for an insect lab, and my sins included being late, getting heat exhaustion in the grasshopper room, inadequately cleaning cage screens, and failing to prevent the grasshoppers from escaping their single-sex dorms and reproducing with impunity.

North Haven kids have idyllic summers, too. They roam the island in packs on their bicycles and four wheelers, they eat ice cream and burgers, and many of them attend camps at Waterman’s or off-island. But underlying their recreational pursuits is an eternal hustle, a desire for work.

The posters start sprouting from the bulletin board in time for the Memorial Day crowds: mother’s helper available, safe and responsible; errands run; house cleaning; crabs for sale; stumps ground. The old classic “will wait for a line number, $20” is sadly passé since we switched to a phone system (which is superior in every other regard).

There are kids in all the restaurants, kids at the farm, kids at Waterman’s, working with kids too little yet to work (give them a year, tops). There are kids working on lobster boats, and even kids with their own lobster boats, working to make payments to their parents/backers.

Even the kids too young for these jobs find ways to make a few dollars. The farmer’s market is a perfect venue for underage entrepreneurialism, from cookies and muffins to an elaborate soda cart. And on North Haven, the roadside lemonade stand is alive and well, along with bouquets tied with ribbon, shells, sea lavender and homemade room spray.

I learned quickly, after moving here, that the single most valuable attribute a North Haven resident can possess is a healthy work ethic. I know few people with only one job. Teachers are cooks, fishermen are caretakers, daycare providers work at the store. Even if it’s not a career per se, the pagers on the belts of a number of islanders indicate their commitment to the fire and EMS crews. Most adults serve on one board or another, from the Zone C lobster council to the board of selectmen.

With these role models, of course there are 12-year-olds with their own boats. And whether the kids out here stick around and join the fishing fleet, start their own business, come back after college to work on island, or leave us for good, they all have a foundation that will help them become excellent employees wherever they go.

Courtney Naliboff lives on North Haven, where she teaches music and theater, works on the island EMS service, and is a new mother.