A Lesson Learned

Written by David Harbin

It’s the early seventies and I was around eleven years old with the sound mind of a teen. I always liked to have money in my pocket.

To get my money, I liked to go out and hustle. Didn’t matter if it was collecting pop bottles, crushing aluminum cans or just having my uncle make a shoeshine box so I could go into the bars on the Queen City strip on the weekends.

I lived growing up at the end of State Avenue towards the Queen City. When I was a kid, down the road off the walkway, there was a glass recycling business with a metal storage area surrounded by a fence. There was a hole at the bottom of the fence and trucks would always pull up and dump glass in this container.  There was always an assortment of whole bottles not broken just waiting for us to pick through them.

None of the cousins would volunteer to go under the fence and pick out the pop bottles so I would always go in and get them. Sometimes it was a win and sometimes a loss but mostly I found good bottles. On a lucky day, sometimes around ten or eleven bottles.

We always went out and collected aluminum cans and after a full day of collecting we would have around two bags that sometimes made us about seven dollars to share. The true money maker was shoe shining. My uncle would have us a shoeshine box ready for the weekend. There were about ten bars on the Queen City strip and my cousins, and I would clean house making an average of fifty a night. Yes, this guy was a good spit shiner I could make old shoes look brand new and the guys of course wanted to look good for the ladies, so they tipped really good. The bad thing about this job is that you had to restock your inventory which meant expenses.  They weren’t bad; maybe five and ten dollars on new color waxes to add to the shoeshine box along with new towels. In the end, we still made our money.

Bottle collecting was still my favorite money-making thing so one day we started out collecting bottles. Soon we had at least four dollars in bottles, so we headed to the store to cash them in. My two cousins and I decided what we were going to buy but the third cousin didn’t agree with our choices, so he went home and told on us. We had decided to buy a couple of soda pops, some candy and least but not last Beechnut chewing tobacco.  We were all down to give this stuff a try!

We were ready to go home after the long haul of the day.  Just as we passed through the front door, we saw my Uncle Gerald. He asked, “What all did you boys get into today? Didyou make any money?”  We just glimpsed at each other and replied that we had made some money and we bought a few soda pops and drank them on our way home.

Thinking we were in the clear, we continued walking into the other room when we heard Uncle Gerald yelling, “Hey boys come back in here.”  Not worried, we came back into the living room were my Uncle was sitting, having himself a Hudephol beer.  He gestured to us and invited us to come over to the couch and sit down.

We didn’t know what to think as we sat down.  All of us were scared what the next question was going to be from Uncle Gerald.  Our wait wasn’t long; all at once my cousin Billy just came out and confessed we had bought chewing tobacco. My mouth dropped open and Uncle Gerald said alright let’s have it so I pulled it out of my pocket.

Uncle Gerald grabbed the pouch of tobacco opened it, pulled out a monstrous chew and with a grin on his face, gave it to me and told me to put it in my mouth. He then handed the other two their share of the stuff. After chewing for a while, I wanted to know where we spit our juice. Uncle Gerald told us that we had to learn to chew it like a man and then swallow it. But that wasn’t the worst thing to happen that afternoon. Uncle Gerald soon gave us his bottle of Hudepohl and had us all swigging beer with mouths full of the chewing tobacco.

At this point I think my face had already gone from yellow to green and the other two had thrown up. I was holding up like a champ until the last drink of beer and then I was finished.

The only thing I can remember is my Uncle saying he wished he had an Ibold cigar because if he did, it surely would of have been the life of the party.

After all this there wasn’t any more lying about what we bought with our money. Our lesson had been learned.

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