There were many opportunities to make a little money. I had a bike for transportation and I could ride for miles. I don’t know if my parents knew it or not, but I would make it as far as the truck stop, where I would later get my first job, and on the way meet up with a friend named Randy. We would make our rounds to the vending machines outside the entrance, and with a quick sweep of the ground, we could almost always find enough change to buy a coke and a bag of chips. Sometimes we would have a little change to put in our pockets. I don’t guess that really qualifies as making money, but it was a risky opportunity that took time, skill and patience. We didn’t do it for very long. Riding our bikes in and out, around the tractor trailers, was not very advisable. And, the money was not something you could count on.
I spent one summer following my older brother, Bobby, around on a couple of his mowing jobs. I wasn’t really old enough to take on the mower, but I could scan the yard for rocks and I could weed eat, which then meant taking a pair of garden shears to the grass around the rocks. I usually ended up just pulling the grass up. It was quicker and easier. My mom showed me that and she could pull grass quicker than anyone you’ve ever seen. I think she took out some frustrations doing it. I can’t imagine what frustration she could have had with a husband, four boys, a cat and a few dogs.
I soon graduated to mowing and my brother moved on to other jobs. He ended up working on a small farm with a few horses for quite a while. So I ended up with a small business of my own. It was basically two clients, with an occasional one thrown in here and there. The Conners and Mrs. Hockman were my main employers. Although with Mary and Charlie Conner, I would not always work. There were so many times that I just helped and sometimes I would get a few bucks. I did get paid to mow their yard, though. I think we worked out a deal for $3 and eventually, we went up to $5. I got really good at getting as close to the rocks and flower beds with that mower so I would have less to weed eat afterward. When I was done, Charlie would have me “come sit down” on the back porch and Mary would bring me a glass of iced tea or cool aid.
Mrs. Hockman and I had a routine. Each week I would knock on the back door and she would take me around the yard to show me what she wanted mowed and where the weeds needed pulled. It was always the same, but she would show me anyway. Mrs. Hockman was a widow. I never knew Mr. Hockman. He had been gone for many years. She was just a wisp of a woman, very petite, standing no more than 4 foot 10 inches. I was taller than she was by the end of the first summer that I worked for her. She had what I thought was the nicest house in our neighborhood. It had been there forever. Which when I was a kid, meant it must have been there since the 40’s or 50’s. Her front yard was not very big and didn’t take but about 15 minutes to mow. There was an old barn/garage on the left with a sidewalk and block wall from there to the house. Along that sidewalk was an old bbq grill built into the block wall. I always thought that was the neatest thing. You could tell it had not been used in years. The grill rack was rusted away, but the bones of the structure were still there. The lawn in front of the bbq was perfectly flat and rectangular. You could just imagine the family cookouts they must have had there over the years. They lived there for a long time before other houses were built. The other side of her front yard was about the same, but then it opened up to a huge garden that she and her family would put out every year. Her kids didn’t live far away. In the back, she had a couple of acres. It had been a small working farm at one point. There were old chicken houses in the very back and a couple of tool sheds and an old smoke house. She had a canning kitchen just a few feet away from the back door. She would only have me mow the back area once every couple of weeks so it would be broken up each time to make it more manageable. She would often meet me at the back door with a glass of water or iced tea as well when I finished. It was what you did back then. We didn’t have bottled water to carry with us from job to job and we could only get a coke from the machine at the gas station or at Markley’s store.
I rarely went into Mrs. Hockman’s house. She did have me scrape and paint some upstairs windows for her once and I seem to remember moving some boxes for her. Her house was just as nice inside as I had imagined. Lot’s of dark wood and tons of windows. She had a dining room and a formal living room. I usually only saw those when we went to grandmaw and granddaddy’s house if the parsonage they were living in at the time had them.
So a few summers were busy with my clients, but the winters became pretty lean. I did spend the spring with Charlie helping to put out the garden, but that was just time spent with him learning. I would not have taken money for that. And then I spent some time in the summer and fall with Mary helping to put up whatever came out of the garden. There were lots of moments on the back porch snapping beans or shucking corn. In the winter, we would pray for snow. It almost always meant a snow day from school. But just one. We would go to school with feet of snow on the ground and the roads packed with snow and ice. They just needed a day to get the main roads cleared and chains on the buses. But, that initial snow meant people needed shoveled out. Not that they were going anywhere, but just in case they wanted or needed to go somewhere. Mom and dad would get mad because we would get to them last. But, we had potential customers to get to. We would usually be out of the house earlier on a snow day than we would be on a school day.
We would grab the snow shovel, the shovel used for digging a hole, the broom, the hoe, or basically anything that would move snow and head out to the neighbors. I always took the Connors and Mrs. Hockman. After all, they were my clients. Mrs. Hockman only needed her front walk cleaned so she could get her mail and maybe the back walk so she could get to the canning kitchen. I would shovel out the driveway, front steps and make a path to the back door for Mary and Charlie. If it was really cold, I would take a break and come in for something hot to drink. But, if I could make it, I would finish the whole job in one run.
Shoveling snow is hard work and you always end up sweating, your nose runs and then you begin coughing. Charlie would see this as something that needed remedied. He knew just was the doctor ordered. He would often times make me a hot toddy. In the summer he would make dandelion wine on the back porch. In the winter he would use that to warm things up a bit. So, a little homemade wine, honey, hot water and a tea bag would set me straight. I would be warm in no time at all. I doubt he put much wine in it. I am sure it was just that it was hot. When I really did have a cold, it would clear your throat, though.
So, a snow day meant I was gonna make a few bucks and likely get a good stiff drink. Well, for a kid it was enough to then stagger through the snow to Markley’s and get a coke and a bag of chips or something. By then I would be sobered up and come home to watch reruns of I Love Lucy, Andy Griffith, or maybe take a nap and sleep it off.