Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Chapter 13: Working for a Living

Once, and only once in my life, my Dad gave me a dime. I remember it clearly because it was such an unusual occasion. It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving and the whole family was loading into the car to go to the annual Christmas parade in downtown Cleveland. Dad made a big production of giving every one of us children a dime each, and telling us to spend it wisely. I did; I spent mine on chocolate.

Besides that one dime, I earned all the other money I ever got.

As young children, instead of receiving an allowance, we were rewarded a few cents for reading a book or memorizing a portion of Scripture. We were expected to perform daily household chores without pay. However, we might be paid for special tasks. Mowing the grass, with an old-fashioned hand-powered reel mower, or vacuuming the entire house, earned a quarter each.

Philip was an entrepreneur and devised many ways to make money. When the new Church of God Publishing House was built in 1954, Phil collected the boxes that the new desks came in and lined them across our back yard. He called it “Philip’s Motel,” and charged us younger children 5 cents a night to camp out there.

Philip also opened a store in our basement. He bought packs of candy at the grocery store, divided them up, and sold the pieces to us younger siblings, as well as kids in the neighborhood.

Philip invested his motel and candy store profits and bought sacks of plaster and rubber molds to make figurines. He painted them, and commissioned Sarah, Paul, Sharon, and me to sell them for him door-to-door. I don’t know if people bought the figurines because they liked them, or just to be nice, but we sold them all over town.

Philip got a paper route when he was about 13 and I was 10. He hired me to help him with his route and paid me 25 cents per day. Mom made sure that the first 10% of my earnings went to pay my tithe. Of the other 90%, I was only allowed to spend 25 cents per week, and the rest went into my savings account.

One week before my 12th birthday, Mom informed me she had talked to Mr. Bell, the Cleveland area circulation manager for the Chattanooga News-Free Press, and found me my own route. I began training the next day. On my birthday, I became an independent newspaper carrier. I kept that paper route for 3 years, delivering newspapers 7 days a week. Paul and I shared the route for much of that time.

Whenever I would go on a trip, such as to a camp-meeting with Dad or to youth camp, I would get one of my brothers or sisters to deliver the papers in my absence.

Even with my own paper route, I was still only allowed to keep 25 cents per week for spending money. To put that into perspective, at the time a coke was 6 cents and most candy bars cost a nickel. While I had my route, the price of a daily newspaper went up from 5 cents to 7 cents. The big Sunday paper was 15 cents. Some customers complained that 7 cents was too much to pay for a newspaper.

If I had left over newspapers after delivering to all of my 90 customers, I was allowed to keep what I made from selling the “extras” for spending money. I made sure I had 2 or 3 extras every day, but I had to pay for them, so that cut into my profits. I sold the newspapers by knocking on the doors of people along my route who did not take the paper. I carried the papers in a canvas bag slung over my shoulder and walked the route for the first two years. Then, with my own savings, I bought a new top-of-the-line blue Schwinn bicycle for $80. No one was every prouder of their bike.

Most of my savings went into my college fund. However, I was allowed to withdraw from my account to pay my way to summer youth camp, and to take trips with Daddy. I paid for my own meals when we went to the Church of God General Assembly. For three of the Assemblies I attended as a teenager, I paid for my own room at the YMCA, in both Memphis and Dallas.

When Paul and I went with Dad on a missionary trip to the Bahamas, we paid our own passage on the ship.

After three years of delivering newspapers, I got a part time job at Toby’s Food Store. I kept that job until I graduated from high school, working two afternoons during the week and all day on Saturday. I was paid $5 per day, or $10 per week. The two afternoons totaled about 8 hours which were counted as one day. On Saturday, I didn’t fare as well. I worked from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m., with only a short break for lunch. For that 13-hour day, I also got $5.

The manager at Toby’s was very good in letting me get off to take summer or weekend trips when I wanted to. He also paid me as well as I could have made anywhere else in town.
I was an all purpose grocery boy. Much of the time I bagged groceries and carried them out to people’s cars for them. When I wasn’t bagging groceries, I might stock shelves, sweep floors, unload trucks, or work in the produce or meat departments. There was never a moment to be slack or goof off.

After two years, I was promoted to grocery delivery boy and I enjoyed that job best. Toby’s, like most grocery stores in Cleveland at the time, made deliveries. People would call in their orders, and 2 or 3 people worked full-time filling them. Some deliveries were made by truck, but most were made by bicycle. I rode one of the bikes. It was a specially built, heavy duty bike with a small wheel in front to make room for an extra large basket.

I prided myself in peddling as fast as I could and developed a reputation of being one of the best delivery boys in town. I usually carried the groceries into people’s kitchens for them. I got to know just about every house in town, inside and out.

With the grocery store job, and having more need for spending money in high school, I gave myself a raise and kept out 50 cents per week instead of 25. The rest went into savings. I spent any tips I might get, although tips were very rare. It was a cause for rejoicing when someone gave me a dime for carrying out their groceries. That only happened 2 or 3 times a week.

In addition to working at the grocery store, I worked for a couple of years as a dishwasher in the high school cafeteria. I washed dishes for one hour, instead of having study hall, and for that I was paid 50 cents per day plus a free lunch. That money, along with the 35 cents Mom gave me every day for lunch money, also went into my savings account.

The summer I graduated from High School, a grocery chain, White’s Food Store, was opening in Cleveland. It was the first real supermarket in our town.

I applied for a job working full-time for the summer. When I went in for my interview, and the manager learned I already had 3 years of grocery store experience, he only had one other question: “What do you think about labor unions?”

I told the manager the truth. I had no idea what a labor union was, but somewhere I had heard someone say that unions were Communistic, so I was against them.

He hired me on the spot.

At White’s Food Store, I had to wear a white shirt and a purple bow tie to work. Also, they paid me the minimum wage of $1.25 per hour. I thought I was getting rich. That was more than twice what I had been making at the other grocery store.

My savings from 5 years of delivering newspapers, 2 years of washing dishes and 3 years of working at the grocery store, along with a partial scholarship, was enough to pay my college tuition. I was lucky that I was able to live at home.

When I entered college, I quit the grocery store so I could have all my Saturdays free to travel in ministry. During my freshman year at Lee, I found three, new part-time jobs. On Monday through Friday I worked during the lunch hour as a short order cook in the college snack bar. In the evenings on Monday through Friday, I was the janitor for the new kindergarten at the North Cleveland Church of God. Many times I did my cleaning very late at night, after a church service or some activity on the college campus.

My third job was as janitor of the Church of God Tennessee State Office, which was in Cleveland at the time. It was a small office building, with four rooms, and required cleaning only once a week. I was allowed to do my work anytime between when the office closed on Friday afternoon and when it opened again on Monday morning. Earl Paulk, Sr. was the State Overseer and the office building was beside his house. He understood when I didn’t clean the office until the wee hours of Monday morning, because I had been out of town preaching that weekend.

Later during my college years, I worked for a few months on an early evening 4-hour shift at a rug factory. I didn’t keep that job for long because it was too hard for me to get off when I was invited somewhere to preach.

When I traveled and preached with the Pioneers for Christ, I did not personally receive love offerings. However, if anything was left after travel expenses, some of the offerings went toward paying for the expenses of my summer witness team.

With these jobs, I not only worked my way through college, but also supported myself in every other way, except for a place to sleep and food to eat when I was home at mealtime.
All of my brothers and sisters had similar work routines. However, Dad and Mom did expect more from the boys, because jobs were easier for us to find than they were for the girls.

When I left college, I still had about $300 in my college fund. It was a nice nest egg that was a big help when I launched out into full-time ministry.

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