Read an Excerpt
By Susan Beth Pfeffer
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1977 Susan Beth Pfeffer
All rights reserved.
This is about how I found my true calling.
According to my father, I found it pretty young in life. (I'm eleven going on twelve.) He didn't find his until he was in college. He's a lawyer for labor unions, and he doesn't like my true calling at all. If he'd had any say about it, I might never have found it.
I guess my mother's most responsible for it. Mom found her true calling when she was in college, too. She majored in sociology and got her degree, but then she married Dad and had my sister Carol and me. When I was eight, and Carol ten, she went back to school and got her master's degree. Last year she got a job as a social worker in the city. She really enjoyed the work, and I didn't mind not having her home too much. Things were going pretty well until this summer, when Mom got laid off.
"Municipal cutbacks," she told us one evening after supper. It was the very end of June. Carol and I had been out of school for less than a week, and we'd both been looking forward to summer at home. I hate camp, and Carol said she'd outgrown it. Besides, she'd just gotten a job delivering newspapers. She'd been waiting for the job for months, and when there was finally an opening, she wasn't about to give it up for a summer of archery and leathercrafts.
"We've known for a couple of weeks," Dad said. "We were hoping there might be some last minute rescuing of the program, but now it's too late."
"Today was my last day," Mom said with a sigh. She looked really depressed about it.
"What're you going to do now?" Carol asked. Carol is very practical.
"I'm going to look for another job," Mom said. "I don't know how much luck I'll have, but I'll give it a try."
"You'll find something," I said.
"Thanks, Janie," Mom said and smiled at me.
"In the meantime you can get unemployment insurance," Carol said.
"What a cheerful thought," Mom said. "Well, I guess it'll keep the wolf from the door."
"There isn't going to be any wolf," Dad said. Dad's family didn't have much money when he was a kid, and he's a little sensitive about jokes like that. "It was nice having your mother's salary coming in, but we can do just fine without it. After all, we did up until last year."
"So we'll keep going just the way we have been?" Carol asked.
"Absolutely," Dad said.
"And Janie and I'll get those ten-speed bikes you promised us?" she continued. Carol can be positively ruthless at times.
"Of course," Mom said.
"Now wait a second, Meg," Dad said to Mom. "We're not going to starve, but I think we should be careful before we spend our money on luxuries."
"My bike is not a luxury," Carol said. "I need it for my paper route."
"And what about the bike you already have?" Dad asked.
"I've outgrown it," Carol said.
"Maybe we should get Carol a new bike, and give Janie Carol's old one," Mom suggested.
"Mom!" I shouted. "You promised me a new one, too."
"But that was when I had my job," she said. "Oh, I don't know."
"You'll just have to make do," Dad said. When he gets that tone in his voice, firm and no-nonsensy, I usually give up. Not Carol, though.
"I have an idea," she said. "If you have the money for one new bike, why don't you give half of it to me, and half of it to Janie. Then we'll each come up with the other half, and we'll both get new bikes without it costing you so much."
"Matching funds," Mom said. "That's a very clever idea, Carol. What do you think, Art?"
"Where do the girls think they'll come up with their ends?" Dad asked. "Apply to the Ford Foundation for grants?"
"I already have my half," Carol said. "Or pretty close to it." She smiled triumphantly.
"That's not fair," I said. "Then Carol gets her bike and I don't."
"It's not my fault I save my money," Carol said and sneered at me. Carol always saves her money, and I always spend mine. That's a sore point between us. When I buy comic books, she reads them, and then she doesn't buy any of her own. She used to play with my paper dolls too, and I'd catch her coloring in my coloring books all the time. That way she didn't have to spend a cent of her allowance and she put it in her savings account. Last year she started babysitting, and now with the paper route too, she'd been able to save up lots of money, while I kept spending mine on comic books. And now all that thrift was about to pay off for her. She always said it would.
"It's not fair to prevent Carol from getting her bike just because Janie doesn't know the value of a dollar," Dad said. Dad really admires thrift in people. "I think we should see about splitting expenses on a bike with Carol, and then if Janie ever manages to save up her allowance, we can do the same for her. In the meantime, she can use Carol's old bike."
"That sounds fair to me too," Mom said. You could see that, as far as they were concerned, the conversation was ended.
When you're the youngest in the family, you get used to having conversations ended by everybody else even though you haven't finished. But this time I wasn't about to put up with it.
"Wait just one second," I said, trying to sound less like a kid and more like an injured party. Mom and Dad both have a lot of sympathy for injured parties. "I'd have to save my allowance for a whole year to raise that kind of money. Maybe even longer."
"Longer," Carol said, computing my allowance and the cost of ten-speed bikes.
"A whole year without anything," I said. "No comic books, no bubble gum ..." "How heartbreaking," Dad said.
"No pens," I said. "No pencils. No sketch pads. No intellectual reading matter. Nothing for a solid year. I'll die of culture shock."
"That is asking a lot of her," Mom said. Mom likes the idea that I draw. I'm not very good, but I enjoy doing it, and she keeps hoping.
"No birthday presents for anybody else," I said, looking mournfully at Carol. I make a point of getting her really good presents every year. That way she's pretty nice to me for about a month before her birthday and a week after.
"I'll have a regular deprived childhood," I concluded. "Just the kind I thought Dad didn't want me to have."
I overshot my mark there a little. Dad got angry-looking and said, "I didn't know the lack of bubble gum constituted a deprived childhood."
"Janie's overstating it," Mom said. "But she has a point. The only way we can do matching funds is if she can earn some money for herself, the way Carol's been doing. That's how Carol can afford to do it, after all."
My parents don't seem to realize that Carol hasn't spent a penny voluntarily since birth. That's why when I used to complain about her using my coloring books and paper dolls and comic books, I never got any sympathy. "Carol lets you share her things," Mom always said, not understanding that Carol didn't have anything to share. On our parents' birthdays, she gives them something she made, a picture she drew (with my paper and pencils, usually), or some clay thing she made during art class in school, and Mom and Dad always seem to appreciate it even more because she made it. She gives me presents that she was given for her birthday the year before and never used. Carol carries stinginess to unheard-of heights.
I realized then that Carol must really want the bike a lot if she was willing to put up some of her money for it. I wondered if that might give me some room to negotiate.
"Maybe I could take over Carol's paper route," I said thoughtfully. "That way I could earn the money really fast."
"You cannot," Carol said. "That's my route. I waited for months for that opening, and I'm not about to give it up to you just because you can't save anything."
Next year I'd give her a handmade gift for her birthday, I decided. Let's see how she liked that.
"There are lots of jobs Janie could do besides a paper route," Mom said. "And she does have the whole summer to earn some money."
"What kind of jobs?" I asked. "Do you think I could babysit?"
"Maybe," Mom said.
"Hey, that's not fair," Carol said. "You wouldn't let me babysit until this year. You said I was too young."
"Janie is too young," Dad said. "She's too young for any kind of work."
"I am not," I said. "There are lots of things I could do."
"Sure," Carol said. "Name one."
I couldn't. I knew there had to be things I could do, but I couldn't think of a single thing. "I help out here a lot," I said lamely.
"Considerably more than Carol does," Mom said. "Janie is a very good worker and a very responsible girl. All she has to do is let people in the neighborhood know that she's available for odd jobs, and I bet she'll get plenty of work."
"What kind of odd jobs?" Dad said. "I don't think Janie should go around asking for handouts of any kind."
"This wouldn't be a handout," Mom said and sighed. "Honestly, Art, I know you grew up in the city and all that, but believe me, there's nothing wrong with Janie helping people weed their gardens, and things like that. She can run errands for Mrs. Edwards down the block, for instance. That poor woman finds it so hard to get around these days. She'd love it if somebody came over every day and asked her if there was something from the shops she wanted."
"That's a good idea," I said. I liked Mrs. Edwards; she was a nice old lady. "Do you think Grandma might have something I could do?"
"I wouldn't be surprised," Mom said. "As a matter of fact she was talking to me just the other day about cleaning out her attic. Janie could help her move the stuff and throw some of it out. Actually, I'd prefer if Janie did help. I don't like the idea of Mom all alone in that attic too long during the summer. It gets awfully hot in there."
"I'll advertise," I said. "I bet before too long I'll have thousands of jobs to do."
"Advertise?" Dad said. "What do you want, commercials on television, or will full-page magazine ads do?"
"I'll put a sign up in the grocery store," I said. "That's all I meant."
"I'm still not sure I like the idea," Dad said.
"I think we should let Janie give it a try," Mom said. "It's always possible nothing will come of it."
"I'll get lots of jobs," I said.
"I certainly hope so," Mom said. "Now if that topic's exhausted, I'd like to check out the newspaper want ads for jobs for myself."
Carol and I both got up. I had the feeling Dad wanted to talk to Mom some more about it, but I was pretty sure Mom would convince him. Mom can be very convincing when she wants to be.
I followed Carol upstairs, then went to my room and got my sketch paper and magic markers. I walked to her room and knocked on her door.
"Go away," Carol said.
"I've got to talk to you," I said and went in anyway. Carol always tells me to go away, but I usually don't pay any attention to her.
"What do you want?" Carol asked. I could see she was checking out her savings account book to see how much money she had.
"I was wondering if you'd do the lettering for my sign?" I asked. "You're such a good letterer."
"Okay," Carol said, putting the book down. "I guess I'd better cooperate or I might not get my bike. But you can't have my paper route."
"That was a dumb idea on my part," I agreed. "Thanks, Carol."
"Sure," she said, and took the paper and markers. "You really think you'll save any of the money you'll earn? I bet you spend it as soon as you get it."
"I will not," I said. "I'll save it all until I have enough money for my half of the bike."
"Good luck," she said. "Now what do you want this sign to say?"
"I don't know," I said. "I guess it should have my name and phone number on it, so people'll know who to call."
"It's going to need more than that," Carol said. "You're going to have to say what you do, or else nobody'll call."
"But I don't know yet what I do," I said. "I'll do whatever people hire me to do."
"Then you need some sort of all-purpose name," she said. "Something catchy that people'll notice."
"Like the AFL-CIO," I said.
"That wasn't quite what I had in mind," Carol said. "You need a name like the stuff they sell in stores."
"I refuse to be called Fab or Tide or Swanson's TV Dinners," I said.
"All right, we'll wait on that," Carol said. "You need a slogan, too."
"I figured one out already," I said. "'No job too big or small.'" "That's not bad," Carol said, "Especially the small part."
"I'm serious," she said. "You should let everybody know you're just a kid. People pay kids less. It's called child labor, and you don't have to give them minimum wage. That's one reason Dad didn't like the idea."
"What should I charge then?" I asked.
"A dollar an hour," Carol said. "Unless they want you to do something really hard. And your name should have something about being a kid in it."
"Kid Power," I said. "No job too big or small."
"Perfect," Carol said. "Kid Power it is."
And that's how it all started.CHAPTER 2
First thing next morning, I put my Kid Power sign up on the supermarket bulletin board. I knew people looked there a lot, and I was sure plenty of people from the development where we live would notice it. I went home and called Grandma next. She said she'd be delighted to have some help with the attic, so I took the bus to the outskirts of town, and then walked the rest of the way to her house.
I helped her for three hours, carrying boxes out of the attic and helping her decide what to keep and what to throw out. It seemed almost criminal to ask for money, especially since she gave me lemonade and cookies, and showed me Mom's baby pictures. We spent more time just talking than actually cleaning, and I carried practically as much back to the attic as I'd taken out, but Grandma claimed we'd done a lot of good work that day, and insisted on paying me my $3. I offered her a special family rate, but she said she wouldn't hear of it. She also said if she heard of anybody who needed help with odd jobs she'd recommend me. I had one last cookie, kissed her good-bye, and walked back to the bus. I didn't get home until pretty late in the afternoon, and when I did, I found Mom sitting in the kitchen, circling job ads in the paper.
"There you are," she said. "You got a phone call."
"Who?" I asked. "Lisa?" Lisa's my best friend, and she calls me all the time.
"No, a call for Kid Power," Mom said. "I took the woman's name and number down and said you'd call her back just as soon as you got in."
"Where is it!" I shouted. Somehow a job from your grandmother doesn't count the way a job from a stranger does.
"Calm down," Mom said. "Right here." She handed me a scrap of paper with "Mrs. Dale, 342-4456" written on it.
I called the number, and took a deep breath. That's a trick my father taught me. It makes your voice sound deeper and it relaxes you.
"Hello, Mrs. Dale?"
"This is Janie Golden of Kid Power calling."
"Oh yes," Mrs. Dale said. "I saw your poster in the supermarket today, and I was wondering if you could help me."
"I'm sure I can," I said, trying to sound adult and authoritative.
"I'm having a yard sale on Saturday," she said. "And your sign made me think it would be a good idea if I had someone at the sale just to look after the kids people bring with them. The little ones are always getting their hands on things, and without meaning to—well, sometimes they take things home with them."
"So you'd want me to look after them," I said. "Kind of day-care."
"Exactly," Mrs. Dale said. "Do you think you could fit me into your schedule?"
"I'm sure I could," I said, pretending to look at a calendar. "Yes, I'm free on Saturday. What time would you want me there?"
"The sale is scheduled to start at ten," she said, "which means the first customers will be there by eight-thirty. It's supposed to end at four, so that would be a full day's work for you."
"No problem," I said. "I'll be there at eight-thirty."
"What do you charge?" she asked.
I breathed deep again. "A dollar an hour," I said.
"Oh, that's quite reasonable," Mrs. Dale said. "I'm sure if someone is there to watch after the children, their parents will be more likely to buy things."
"There is one more thing," I said.
"Certainly," Mrs. Dale said. "What is it?"
"Kid Power is just getting started, and I could use some free publicity," I said. "Would you mind if I put up a little sign, like I have at the supermarket, at your yard sale?"
"Of course not," Mrs. Dale said. "I like an enterprising young woman. I'll see you Saturday then—120 Woodhaven Road."
Excerpted from Kid Power by Susan Beth Pfeffer. Copyright © 1977 Susan Beth Pfeffer. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.