When we moved into the new house when I was 8, a large mahogany upright piano came with it and I played throughout my childhood. Always in search of ways to make money, I asked my father whether there were any pieces he would pay me to learn. I was reminded of this recently when a child I know asked me if I would pay him a dollar if he stood on his hands.
My father, more obliging than I was to that child, said yes. He would pay me 25 cents to learn The Battle Hymn of the Republic and 50 cents to learn La Marseillaise. His mother and grandparents were French, so perhaps he remembered that tune from his childhood. I loved playing The Battle Hymn and memorized it easily. I struggled with the French tune, and I was never able to do anything more than play it with the music in front of me.
Curious to see what 25 cents in 1958 would be equal to today, I found a nifty calculator on line which told me that it would equal $2.13 today. So the handstand was reasonably priced, since it was at least as hard to learn as the song on the piano.
I can still impress people by sitting down at any piano and pounding out The Battle Hymn of the Republic. And I will accept the next money making idea that a child presents to me. Turnabout’s fair play, after all.
For a series of posts, I have settled on all the ways I have made money from the time I was 11. The more I think about how varied has been my work history, the more stories about it come to mind. The more I think about it, the more I realize how much of my life was spent trying to think up ways to earn money. I never had easy access to it, so I had to find enterprising ways to acquire it.
Which brings us to strawberry picking. When I was a kid in Oregon in the 1950’s, kids were encouraged to help pick crops for pay. Everyone I knew at Camp Namanu had tried their hand at it, and some told me they had even paid for camp with their earnings. This sounded promising. I liked strawberries, didn’t I?
To get to the fields, kids met a bus at 5 in the morning. That should have been enough of a disincentive to begin with. But then there was the actual work. Strawberry picking is done on the ground along ENDLESS rows that you are assigned. You fill flat containers to the top with berries, take the container to a central station to be weighed, get another container and return to your row to start again. It is hot and dirty work. In the case of the field I worked, the rows had already been picked over, so the berries weren’t abundant. And in this field, you had to remove the stem end before putting it in the container, ensuring that yours fingers were stained red.
I worked hard for hours and earned almost no money. I was hot, tired, thirsty and cranky. I didn’t go back. And I didn’t jump at the offer later that summer to pick beans. Even with the promise that “you get to do it standing up!”
Bob was a terrific problem solver. He actually seemed to love the challenges of problems that Charlie and I encountered in and around our home. One of his favorites involved the project shown here in our garden.
Charlie, who loves all things stone, decided to build a gate for his blueberry garden. He purchased two large granite posts and had them delivered into the back yard. Granite is, of course, very heavy. In order to get the posts upright and steady, they needed to be set into the ground in a deep hole and cemented in. But how to lift them up, drop them into their holes and keep them steady while the cement dried?
Bob thought about the situation for a while. In fact, Bob often literally slept on things. He would come over in the morning and let us know he had figured out the answer to a troubling question. In this case, he and Charlie rigged up the pole, pulley and rope contraption in the photo. They were able to lift each pillar, position it correctly and center it in the hole.
At the end, Charlie insisted that Bob write his initials in the wet concrete. We have the mark of a great problem solver proudly displayed in our garden today. Thanks again, Bob.
Still mourning Dale and Alice, we moved across the country to our new home. Very soon we met Bob, affectionately referred to as “Sticks” because of his very long, very skinny legs. Bob was French Canadian, a staunch Catholic and the 13th of 13 children. His family had moved to Rhode Island when farming failed in Quebec, and eventually some moved to Hartford. Bob was a jack of all trades, working at one point in the typewriter factory and at another as a projectionist for the University of Connecticut. He provided very well for his wife and two children.
By the time we met him, Bob was retired, but certainly in no way inactive. In our town, if you no longer want something useful, you leave it at the curb for others to take. We live on a busy street, so things disappear quickly. Still, one morning when Charlie set out a broken lawnmower, it went in a flash, rapid even for us. Sure enough, it was next door in Bob’s yard, along with his five other lawnmowers. Bob couldn’t stand to see anything abandoned, certain he could get it running again. He couldn’t believe that Charlie had given up on it.
But his greatest gift to us was to take over where Dale had left off. He was determined that before he left this earth, Charlie would be able to build, repair or rebuild anything. And he pretty nearly succeeded. More tomorrow.
Dale, our next door neighbor, was a Boy Scout troop leader for many years. He really believed in equipping young men with a variety of skills. He had a full scale workshop next to his house, and he could build anything from a doll’s cradle to a go-cart.
But the greatest gift Dale gave our family was his willingness to teach Charlie, my husband, how to do numerous things in and around the house. Charlie was an expert gardener, but he had not been a Boy Scout, and his father had not been interested in doing his own repairs. Dale had only one requirement of Charlie. Down the road, he wanted Charlie to teach someone else what Dale taught him. Dale never did anything for Charlie; instead he worked alongside him, showing him how to do things.
By the time we moved to Connecticut, Charlie had many skills from plumbing repairs, through drainage ditches, to carpentry thanks to Dale’s tutelage. We didn’t really know how we would manage without Dale next door to help us with any new household problems. We couldn’t imagine that we could ever be so fortunate as to find a Dale clone.
When I was eight, my family moved from a close knit neighborhood to a very isolated house. My mother said that she didn’t like the neighbors overhearing her fighting with my father. She definitely saw neighbors as intrusive and nosy. But as you can tell from my earlier posts, I had come to depend on the kindness of neighbors and appreciated their noticing me.
Living next door to Dale and Alice meant that they noticed my life on a daily basis. When I was a single mother, I really appreciated knowing someone was watching out for me. Then, when I was dating Charlie, Alice and I had an amusing interaction. Charlie drove that brown car from yesterday’s post, but he also had the use of a state car for the travel his work demanded. One day, before returning the car to the pool, he dropped by to say hello. The next day, a very worried Alice casually asked me who I was now seeing in addition to Charlie!
To her great relief, I told her it was Charlie, just in a state car. I realized that the neighbors were all rooting for me to marry Charlie. The yard was tidy and I was happy. I was glad they all noticed!
When I married Charlie, I gained another car with a whole new set of stories. I don’t think this is actually a picture of that car, but it could be. It does have an Oregon license plate. Anyway, it was so ugly that the kids wouldn’t let him drop them off at the door of their schools. They groaned whenever we suggested taking it, preferring to be crushed in the back seat of the Tercel.
The car was notorious in many ways. It was stolen twice. In Portland, car thefts were so common that they weren’t investigated. The police did suggest that probably kids at the near by high school had taken it so they wouldn’t have to walk in the rain. So we drove all around that school until we found it parked. It still had the wrappings from a fast food lunch and part of a gigantic candy bar in the front seat. We drove it home.
Once Charlie came out from playing tennis and saw a man unlocking the front door of our car. Apparently they were so easy to steal because they all used a similar key! He yelled and the man ran off.
But Dale came to the rescue one summer when we were on vacation(in the Tercel.) We drove up the street to find our wagon tied with a huge rope to a curbside tree. We thought Dale had outdone us in the practical joke battle. But, apparently the parking brake had failed and the car had rolled down the road. Dale had towed it back up and tied it to the tree so it wouldn’t run off again.
In the end, to everyone’s relief, we bought a new car.