A Country Boy’s Work Resume
Growing Up In Bixby
By Don House
My “day dreams” often take me to a simple life style when I grew up in the country west of Bixby during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. The visions in these dreams often include activities that have been lost over the years. Some of these activities were experienced in a personal way, while others were experienced by older siblings, friends and neighbors.
My first earned income came from hoeing corn at the age of ten. Sherman, my older brother, paid me 50 cents per hour for this work. He made it clear that I wasn’t worth the wage, but it was the only way he could get our mom (Rena House) to agree to work.
We started at the east end of the field near the little Posey Creek with its abundance of shade trees, but soon found ourselves in the hot sun until we hoed all the way to the west end and then back east to the shade. Row after row we would hoe our way through the 40-acre cornfield, removing weeds, grass and surplus corn plants.
After a couple of hours, we would stop at the shady end of the field, sharpen our hoes, and take a drink from a water jug. We had no water can or ice water. It was just a glass, gallon jug. We all swigged from it and hoped the water would last until we stopped for dinner or supper. For us country folk, the noon meal was dinner and the evening meal was supper!
One of my most cherished visions is of Mom, in a dress with long sleeves and a sun bonnet on her head, hoeing ahead of me. Occasionally she moved over and hoed my row to help me catch up.
Early fall was the time to get out my old overalls with patches on patches for knees and dig my cotton sack out of the smokehouse. Just about every farmer in the country was looking for cotton pickers. A kid that could pick a hundred pounds of cotton may earn four dollars! For me, a hundred pounds of cotton was an eight-hour chore. It was about the same wages as hoeing corn.
My parents made it clear that my priority was going to school. Unlike many of my friends, my cotton picking was limited to after school and Saturdays. I do not recall anyone doing field work on Sundays back in those days.
Jack Bolton, who would be best man in my wedding several years later, and I picked cotton side by side many times. One evening we decided to play a trick on my step niece, Betty Miller, known to her family as Louise. Jack distracted her, while I put a couple of sizeable rocks in her cotton sack. Louise was extremely proud of her work when she weighted out that evening. However, when her sack was emptied and the rocks were discovered, she was embarrassed, almost to tears. Everyone, except Louise, was aware of the prank. She soon realized I was the culprit and never let me forget it!
Workin’ at Doc’s
For a country kid with a resumé consisting of hoeing corn and cotton, picking cotton and pecans, and chopping cocklebur, a job at Doc’s was a giant advancement in this kid’s world. It was steady work whether rain, shine, sleet, snow or hail. The pay was fifty cents per hour.
The store wasn’t air conditioned, but I was in the shade most of the time! On school days, I worked from 3 p.m. until closing time at 7 p.m. During the summer, my weekday hours were 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. with an hour off at noon. Saturday, without regard to school, was 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. with an hour off at noon and at 6 p.m. We were closed on Sunday.
Doc hired me to sweep the floor, stock shelves, bag groceries, assist customers in getting their purchases to their car, etc. We marked prices on individual items with a grease pencil. When it was necessary to change the price, Doc frowned on my practice of using the corner of my white apron to wipe off the old price. I can still hear his voice, “Don, use a rag!”
Scanning purchases hadn’t been dreamed about in those days. Clara Lemons operated the only electric adding machine at our ‘checkout’ counter. If another customer was ready to checkout, Doc or I would tally the items with an old manual machine, or in many cases with a pad and pencil.
I don’t recall Doc having a full-time butcher when I started to work. I think he temporarily took care of the meat department himself. During my tenure, several people, including Junior Sherrill, V.O. Brassfield, Ray Martin, Duane Metcalf and a woman I remember only as Nell plied their trade in the meat department. Doc even had me pinch hitting as butcher a few times. I was pretty handy at cutting up chickens, grinding sausage and hamburger. Occasionally, he’d turn me loose on a quarter of beef or a pork carcass. Prepackaged meat did not exist then. All cold cuts were custom sliced and wrapped, just like deli stuff is today.
One day during the summer after my high school graduation, Doc handed me the key to the store and gave me three verbal instructions. One of which was that I would be in charge the next week while he and his family went on vacation. I think it was their first vacation since he started the business.
I left Bixby later that summer to go to college. Anytime I was back in town for a few days, Doc put on apron on me and let me earn a little spending money.
I’m, now, more than twice as old as Doc was when he hired me. I know that few people, other than family, had a greater influence on my life than Doc Brown. Honesty, fairness, diligence, understanding and faithfulness are a few of the traits I think of to describe Doc. I don’t know if he originated the expression, but he is the person I remember telling me, ” Use your head when you deal with money, but when you deal with people, use your heart.” It would be great if every kid could have a man like Doc Brown as a mentor/boss during the high school years.Bixby Historical Society Newsletter, March 2006
© 2006-2008 · Don House · Bixby OK · All Rights Reserved. Published at Bixby Historical Society Online with permission.