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Jawbreakers, bubble gum & molested chickens

World War II was over—the bombs had eradicated Hiroshima and Nagasaki and large segments of their populations, and neither my stepfather’s carpenter talents nor my talent to deliver newspapers were needed in Tennessee. The modular homes were being disassembled and the areas where hundreds of families had been living would soon revert to the wild. We left Happy Valley, Tennessee and returned to Mississippi because my stepfather had recently bought a 40-acre farm, complete with a skid-mounted grocery store with one manually operated gasoline pump, a small house, a large barn, a chicken house and an adequate outhouse.

His purchase included one milk cow, one white mule, one brown mule and a motley flock of chickens—White Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds with a sprinkling of speckled hens. The flock was serviced by one lone rooster, a Rhode Island Red, hence his name Red.

Oh, and one more item concerning the chickens. Several of the hens were in poor physical shape. I learned soon after we moved to the farm that the hens had been—ah, had been subjected to—uh, ah, okay, I’ll just come right out and say it—they had been sexually molested, presumably by that dolt of a teenage farm boy in the family that previously owned the farm.

That was a presumption voiced by my stepfather, except that he didn’t use the term sexually molested—many of the words he used to explain the physical condition of the hens and to express his displeasure were limited to only one or two syllables. I’ve often pondered on that presumption, wondering and speculating on whether he arrived at that conclusion from reading, from other conversations or from experience—my stepfather grew up on a farm in Alabama.

I never knew, and I definitely was unwilling to question him. I’ll get back to you later with more information on that, so stay tuned. Until then, I’ll close that portion of life on the farm by saying that my stepfather put the hens out of their misery with blasts from a 16-gauge shotgun, after which the carcasses were buried far from the house, feathers and all, except for those that were scattered by the pellets.

There were no cats, an absence unusual for a farm. Also included in the purchase were two small terrier dogs, a pair that served no useful purpose and came to an untimely end through action taken by my stepfather soon after we took residence on the farm, again with the 16-gauge shotgun.

Also included in his purchase of the farm, to my dismay, were several acres of unpicked cotton. For the edification of those familiar with Roy Clark’s song in which he sang proudly that he never picked cotton, I am here to tell you that I have picked cotton and I didn’t like it. Early in cotton season, pickers were paid a penny a pound to pick, and later in
the season when the bowls were sparse and farther apart, pickers earned
two cents a pound.

I strived mightily to pick a hundred pounds in one day, but never made it, no matter how early I started and how late I stayed in the cotton field, and no matter how many times I peed in the cotton sack, an time-honored country-boy scheme to add weight to his pickings. Another way to increase the weight was to start picking at or before good daylight and pick frantically while the dew was still on the cotton, thereby adding the weight of the water—not much, but pennies went a long way back in the good old days.

One penny would buy a cigarette, two crackers with one’s choice of cheese or bologna or sausage, and a plethora of penny candies—an all-day sucker, a jaw-breaker, one piece of bubble gum or one stick of gum, a small handful of jelly beans and one’s choice of various individually wrapped candies such as Tom’s Peanut-butter Logs.

I have a vivid memory of reading a newspaper article saying that the price of cotton paid at auction was forty-one cents a pound, a total of $205 for a 500 pound bale. I was brash enough to ask my stepfather why he paid only two cents a pound for pickers when he was getting twenty times that amount, and he treated me to a prolonged lesson in economics—that effectively broke me from asking any more questions.

I have many more stories to tell about my brief life on the farm. One involves a beautiful cross-eyed redhead, another a tree filled with turkeys and still another of a wild cat I captured and thereby indirectly caused his death, so stay tuned—there’s more to come.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Age 10—fired from a job stocking groceries . . .

My mother remarried when I was nine years old, and her new husband was not one to allow a lad at the advanced age of nine years to remain idle. Over the next seven years he assisted me in obtaining employment, either after school or between school years, in such diverse areas as delivering groceries, stocking groceries, filling water tanks in mobile homes, selling newspapers, doing duty in a self-service laundry, and clerking and filling orders in a lumber yard—the clerking job was the last but certainly not the least—it was the job that paid the most, and it was the only one that I really enjoyed.

The first job—that is, the first job I had working outside the home—my stepfather kindly negotiated a job for me to begin delivering groceries for a small neighborhood grocer at the corner of our block. My primary duty was to deliver groceries to homes in the neighborhood. My tool was a large two-wheeler—actually it could more accurately be described as a one-and-a-half wheeler. The front wheel was perhaps one-half of the rear wheel’s size, scaled down to accommodate a gargantuan basket mounted above it—such vehicles are now relics, collectors’ items relegated (thank heavens) to museums and such.

My career as a bike-riding grocery delivery boy was brief—it began on Tuesday and, through no fault of my own, ended the same day. I made several successful deliveries, but then a huge balloon sprouted out of the front tire and exploded. I pushed the bike with its groceries to the proper address, delivered the groceries, pushed the bike back to my place of employment, explained the problem, and was told that a new tire and inner-tube would need to be ordered, and in the interim I was assigned to a satellite store several blocks away from the main store.

In reference to me riding the bike with the little wheel and the huge basket full of groceries, picture this:

I was a nine-year old kid, under-weight, under-height and sometimes underfed, and that was a man-sized bike—it was a struggle for me to control it with the basket empty—when underway with a full basket, my forward progress was similar to that of a western sidewinder rattlesnake navigating a stretch of hot sand.

The satellite store did not make deliveries and therefore had no delivery bike (thank heavens), so I was assigned to stock shelves, sweep floors, police up the outside areas and accomplish other duties as directed. One of the other duties was to walk several blocks to the main store with the days’ receipts—it was never a really substantial amount of money, but the way I was cautioned would make one think that I was relocating the contents of Fort Knox.

My grocery delivering career began on Tuesday and ended on Tuesday, but my shelf-stocking and money-transferring career lasted two and one-half days—it ended at noon on Friday.

This was the situation as I explained it to my employer:

I told him that I needed Friday afternoon off, and he asked why. I had not yet learned to feign pain, or sickness, or to claim a dental appointment so I told the truth. A new movie was in town and I wanted to see it—it was the newest horror film out of Hollywood—the movie was titled, “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-man,” a sequel to the original Frankenstein film, long awaited and a must-see for ten-year-old boys.

My request was denied but I persisted—actually I insisted, and was told that if I took off to see the movie I was not to return—in essence I was fired, at age 10, from a job stocking groceries. I acquiesced to the terms, requested my pay for the three-and-one-half days I had worked, and was given two whole dollars!

Real paper money.

Greenbacks.

Silver certificates with some guy’s picture and the words “In God We Trust” printed on them.

Which reminds me of a sign often seen in bars:

In God we trust—all others pay cash.

And of course, one bar-sign joke calls for another:

Helen Waite, Owner

Need credit?

Go to Helen Waite!

But I digress—on with my sad tale of joining the ranks of the unemployed.

With the two dollars in my pocket I took the rest of the day off and relaxed in the coolness of the Varsity Theater, the only one of the three theaters in town that was air conditioned. There was a huge banner atop the building that featured Willy the Penguin of Kool-cigarette fame saying, “Come on it, it’s Kooool inside.”

Believe it or not, for those of us under 13 years of age the theater admission was only nine cents—nine cents, mind you, would give a kid access to a double feature, usually a western and a detective movie (Charlie Chan or Boston Blackie, for example), a weekly serial which ended each week with a cliff-hanger, several cartoons and loads of trailers for upcoming movies—and we could come and go as we pleased, provided that we held on to our ticket stub.

The answer to your question about the ticket stubs is “yes.” We sometimes adversely affected the theater’s daily take by passing our ticket stub to a kid who lacked the necessary nine cents for admission.

One thin dime would pay for the entertainment with a penny left over. A penny doesn’t sound like much, but that one penny would pay for any one of various penny-items stocked at the concession stand—an all-day sucker, a lolly-pop, a jaw-breaker, one of Tom’s individually wrapped peanut-butter candies, a stick of one’s favorite chewing gum, and even a long-lasting ball of bubble-gum to be deposited under one’s seat just before leaving the theater.

Oh, life was good in the old days!

I was never foolish enough to lie to my stepfather so, albeit unwillingly, I was truthful about my job loss. He was a bit perturbed at first, but loosened up when I told him about the two dollars, an amount which included any severance pay I may have earned. His secondary reaction was to discuss the matter with my previous employer, but my mother convinced him that such a discussion would be neither wise nor productive.

So that’s it—that’s how I landed my first job and that’s why I was fired, a firing that was “E pluribus unum,” which, as all know, is Latin for “Out of Many, One.”

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2009 in Childhood, Family, Uncategorized

 

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