My route started at the school. We lived only two blocks from my pick-up spot – perfect! I’d get my bundle, fold my papers and double-band them (for a good throw) and off I’d go. My route was mostly downhill. I had all the downtown places (including the barbershop, where they plotted what they could do to me to throw me off my game) and at the bottom of the hill I went up Lafayette Street, then Billy Goat Hill and done. I’d coast back to my grandmother’s house at the bottom of Main Street (the old log tourist center), have some grapefruit and coffee (that’s right, coffee) and when my Momma Ninny went to work at the hospital at 6:45 a.m., she’d drop me off at home, across from Goodwin Funeral Home.
I had two bikes, so every other day Daddy and I would pick them up at Ninny’s. I had it figured out. Life was grand. Sundays often required parental help, but I don’t remember a time when my folks griped. Maybe my enthusiasm for the dollar and willingness to work overrode their need for sleep.
My route included the Cadiz Motor Company, where my hero, John Birdsong, worked as a salesman. One Saturday as I was getting my weekly load of grief while collecting (I don’t remember who instigated the deal), I took a regular job. I cleaned the toilets and other “not me” jobs. Sixty cents an hour. A penny a minute. As John and Spider and the guys laughed at my enthusiasm, I smiled because of the big bucks. You don’t have to be Einstein to know it’s all relative! Now I’m rolling in the money. I’ve got it going on. I’m buying my own clothes at Street’s ... not Wilkerson’s where the “not cleaning toilet” people shopped!
Now I’m the main purveyor of worldly news AND keeping the mechanics’ bathroom clean. I’m an important man. And I had barber shop connections my friends could only dream about. Cute Baker knew me and I knew him. “Hey hey Bud.” I knew the men in the pool room and could cuss with the best of them. They’d all just laugh because they knew Daddy would find out and whip that butt. And he usually did. Still, I was a man. With money.
Whatever happened to those days? The days when the town guys, even though they would go to prison today, helped a kid like me become a man? They toughened you up. I learned the difference between really really hard kidding and child abuse. Years and years later, I worked alongside John Birdsong, my hero. As a grown man, he was everything I thought he was when I was 10, and more. As were many of the other downtown guys – Harold “Fuzzy” Knight, Shorty Cole, Bubby Baker, Cute Baker, Chat Maxfield and John Vinson, just to name a few.
What happened that we now don’t trust our friends and neighbors to help raise our kids? Chat Maxfield whipped my little butt as often as my daddy! I never knew where my next one was coming from ... so I behaved. Sorta. That’ll keep a kid on his toes! Kids need to be on their toes more nowadays.
Monty Stagner is a columnist and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.