Although this story is fiction, it is based on the kind of relationship I had with my father, Bruce Williams, and why, since he passed away in the spring of 2000, I miss him as much as I do. The pictures I have included ware the actual First State Bank building in South Charleston – though it has long since been bought out by a larger bank – and the house I lived in back in the ’60’s.
The Redemption – Chapter One of Candy Apple Red
Elliot looked at the time on the wall clock. The use of the letters I, V and X was an effort to be fancy, he guessed. From what his sister Jean said about them when he asked her about it he wasn’t far from the truth. Continuing to watch the clock’s pendulum swinging hypnotically back and forth, measuring each passing second, he shifted from one foot to another in synchronization. Then, as if to alert him he saw the minute hand click just as it became his turn at the head of the queue and the teller waved for him to come forward.
Eagerly he reached the marble counter, standing on his tiptoes peering over the edge into the young lady’s magical green eyes, appreciating her warm, welcoming, sincere smile. From past experience he knew her name was Ginger and always she made him feel at ease whenever she took care of his banking business. Shyly reached up his negotiable bills – meticulously organized by denomination, he laid them on the cold slick surface of the counter. This time his deposit consisted of two fives and two ones along with a short stack of coins that consisted of one quarter, a nickel and two pennies.
When the teller received the money, she keyed it into an adding machine and then requested his savings passbook so she could update today’s deposit of precisely twelve dollars and thirty-two cents. “There you go, honey,” Ginger said with a wink as she handed the officially stamped and properly recorded the transaction and returned annotated book into the boy’s outstretched hand. “You have a very nice day, now, Elliot.”
“Yes ma’am. I will. You too.” Blushing he quickly averted his eyes. Elliot thought Ginger was really pretty, especially her auburn hair and big bright eyes. She always seemed happy to see him and whenever she smiled her eyes sparkled. It was a combination of everything about her that Elliot liked, not one thing. She embodied personality and warmth at the heart of the bank’s otherwise cold interior and so she was the only teller he looked forward to seeing anytime he came into town to put money into his account.
Ginger watched as the tow-headed little boy stiffly pivoted in an awkward attempt at executing a military about-face. Then he hurried away, his leather-soled shoes scuffing and slipping on the highly polished black and white floor toward the office of Chief Loan Officer, Jerry Rogers who, all along, was talking with Bruce, the boy’s dad.
“Did you take care of your business, son?” Jerry asked as the boy interrupted a prior conversation to climb up into his father’s lap.
“Yes sir, Mr. Rogers.” Elliot focused on the man’s shiny bald spot. Along each side of were short cropped patches of slightly graying hair.
“Did Ginger take good care of you?”
“Yes sir,” Elliot turned to bury his face into his dad’s bibbed overalls the same sort that was Bruce’s sort of everyday uniform. The boy felt his father’s approving hand rubbing quickly over his fresh burr hair cut into which just an hour before the barber had rubbed a liberal sprinkling of Vitalis before pronouncing the haircutting ordeal officially concluded.
“Your dad tells me you’re starting the second grade.”
Elliot nodded without removing his face from his father’s broad chest.
“Are you excited?” Elliot nodded again in exactly the same way.
“We’d best be goin’,” Bruce stood allowing the boy to dangle from an outstretched arm, the scuffed-up tips of the boy’s shoes just about touching the floor before Dad finally set him down.
“I’ll have everything drawn up and ready for you to sign in the morning,” Jerry reiterated a previous promise.
“I need the check for first thing.”
“If it would be better for you I can draft it right now and you can sign the paperwork later.”
“That’s not necessary. As long as it’s ready by nine o’clock tomorrow morning, it’ll be fine. Besides that’s a lot of money to carry around on a slip of paper.”
“Everything will be ready,” Jerry reaffirmed, and then offered his hand across the desk. It was as always between them, a handshake and a promise was all that any deal required.
All that Elliot knew about the purpose of his dad’s business with the First State Bank of South Charleston, Ohio that day was from what his father mentioned: the need to buy some more cattle. It had been a week or so since the boy accompanied his dad in taking a load of fattened cattle to auction in Urbana. Afterwards Elliot assisted his father in preparing the barns’ feeder lots for a new herd. Bruce allowed Elliot to steer the tractor while towing a manure spreader around one of the larger fields that was to lay fallow for that growing season as part of a government ‘land bank’ program.
As they drove home from the bank Elliot opened his passbook, seeing that he had accumulated precisely forty-three dollars and seventy-seven cents of the fifty-nine dollars and ninety-nine cents he needed for the bicycle he wanted. He was so close to realizing his dream. It was as his father said: he could nearly taste it!
“How’s it lookin’?” Bruce asked his son.
“I need sixteen dollars and twenty-two cents.”
“Plus tax,” his dad reminded him.
“Why do I have to pay that? I mean, you told me before but it didn’t make too much sense.”
“Well, it’s something the government says you have to pay.”
“Even when I’m still a boy?”
“Yep. Just about everybody pays taxes on things they buy.”
“The State exempts some people, like church ministers buying things for the church.”
“Because the government can’t do anything that affects religion. It says that in The Constitution.”
“Oh.” He bit his lip thinking for a bit. Then he asked, “Why does everybody else have to pay?”
“The government uses the money to keep everything in the government running and they also repair roads and do a lot of other things like that.”
“What if I don’t want to pay?”
“I don’t think they would like it very much. Besides you don’t have the choice when you buy something. That’s just how it’s done.”
“But it’s 3 cents for every dollar!” Elliot protested, parroting what his father told him during their prior discussion. “It’s a whole ‘nother dollar and eighty cents I have to earn. At two cents a pop bottle, that’s another ninety I have to find!”
“You remembered all that?”
Elliot looked across the bench seat of the pick-up truck. “If I had the fifty-nine dollars and ninety-nine cents I need for the bicycle, that’s almost the same as sixty dollars, isn’t it?”
“Yep, one penny shy of it.”
“You said I have to pay three cents for every dollar, so that means it’s about a dollar and eighty cents. At two cents a bottle that is ninety, right?”
“So, it is. Did they teach you that in school?”
“No, last year Mrs. Schofield taught me not to use my fingers when I add and subtract. She told me I could only ever count to ten if I used my fingers. But that’s not true.”
“I showed her how I can figure out anything using my fingers,” he boasted confidently.
“Anything?” Bruce asked not really understanding how such a thing was possible.
“Anything! I’m just not sure how I’m going to make another eighteen dollars and two cents before the end of the summer,” Elliot confessed.
“We’ll see what happens. There’s still some time, nearly a whole month! Besides why does it have to be before the end of the summer?”
“I need the bike before it gets too cold to ride it much.”
“I guess that makes some sense,” Bruce said, but then, after a pause, he continued. “Why-uh, I was just wondering if you wanted to come with me tomorrow?”
“Sure,” Elliot said without any hesitation. A road trip was always preferable to working all day on the farm. It didn’t matter where they were going, but anyway he asked, “Where?”
“Well, we have to go to the bank first. Then we’re going to Washington Courthouse to buy some cattle. I figure if we cut-up through Jamestown on the way back we can stop at the hardware store there.”
“Okay.” Elliot wasn’t sure why Dad was telling him all the details but thought that maybe he was supposed to remember them.
“I want to see if they still have something I saw there a couple of weeks ago.”
“What that?” Elliot asked, figuring it would help him remember if he knew what it was they were going there to look at.
“They had the best price around on something we need.”
“Oh. So Dad, you always look for the best price, right?”
“You have to, Elliot. Paying too much for anything doesn’t make any sense. So, you have to bargain and that requires negotiation.”
“Talking to someone to get them to accept your terms. When I buy cattle, for example, I never accept the first quoted price. It’s always a little high. So you talk and in the process you arrive at a price you can accept. If you don’t get your price, you leave.”
“So you have to get someone else to see things your way.”
“That’s right.” Bruce chuckled. “Sometimes it isn’t that easy, but that’s what you need to do.”
“I’ll watch you do it then. It sounds like it’s important.”
“It is. And you learn fast.”
“When I have a good teacher.”
Bruce reached across and patted his son’s knee. “I reckon it’s easy when you want to learn.”
Elliot loved spending time with his father. Even if it usually meant having to work around the farm, it was still better than staying home all day with his mother and sisters. But going on a road trip always promised to be a special adventure.
Silence lingered between them as Elliot enjoyed the fullest possible cooling effects of the wind coming in through the open passenger window as his father’s blue ’53 Chevy pick-up, cruising down US-42 heading home. It was a fairly typical midsummer afternoon, with temperatures climbing beyond ninety degrees for the fifth straight day!
“You know people don’t seem to care as much about collecting and redeeming pop bottles as you do, buddy. They throw them away all the time. Or they accumulate in a garage or a shed.”
“Like Mr. Chapman’s and–”
“And mine, too,” Bruce confessed before Elliot had a chance to complete the thought. “It’s just kind of a bother to redeem them for the two cents deposit per bottle.”
“But a whole lot of pop bottles turns into lots of dollars,” Elliot countered.
“That’s true. But a lot of people even throw away their bottles in the ditch alongside the road.”
“Wow! I’ll bet there’s a hundred bottles between here and South Charleston, then!”
“Maybe more than that! What say, when we get back home I drive back up the road a ways and you can look on one side of the road and I’ll look on the other and we’ll see how many bottles we can find. Then we can cash them in.”
“What are you going to do with your money?” Elliot asked.
“I’ll donate it,” Bruce said. “Getting you a new bike seems like a good enough cause. And if we hurry we can take the bottles to Gold’s store before closing time and maybe even put the money in the bank before we come back home.”
After drinking fresh, cold, deep-well water drawn from the spigot out back of the garage Bruce fetched empty burlap sacks from a stack inside the garage, keeping one while handing the other to the boy. Once the collecting effort began, every few hundred yards Bruce brought the pick-up truck closer. By then, both of them had a sack full of bottles to carefully empty into the bed of the pick-up so as to not break any. Elliot was immediately struck by how low his estimate had been. In some places he found entire six-pack cartons of bottles still in their original cardboard containers. The cartons were mostly disintegrated and of little worth for containing the bottles anymore, but what else struck Elliot was how much trash there was alongside the major highway. Perhaps it was not all that visible from the road, but once he was down into the ditch and searching the wide banks and shoulders of the road he found everything from nasty smelling beer bottles to crumpled-up cigarette packs, empty oil cans, spent oil filters, a lot of discarded paper and wrappers of various kinds. They were halfway to town by the eighth time he and his father met at the truck. Already the bed of the pick-up was nearly full. He knew from recent experience what 500 to 600 bottles looked like and they were rapidly approaching that.
Despite how it repulsed him how wasteful and inconsiderate other people were in disposing their trash, the boy began to envision finding enough bottles to make up the total difference he needed in order to buy his new bicycle.
“Who is supposed to keep the roadside clean?” Elliot finally asked his dad.
“Well, I guess that’s up to us today. You see, we need to pick up after ourselves, like at home you pick up your clothes from the floor when you’re done wearing them and put them in the hamper.”
“If I don’t Jean tells Mom and Mom yells at me.”
“Well, some people don’t have a mom to yell at them anymore. They are just too lazy and they wait for other people to pick up after them.”
“That’s not right, is it?”
“Well, it’s not but if you know what to expect from people, sometimes you can find an advantage and maybe make a little money in the process,” Bruce explained.
“Is that how you knew there’d be a lot of bottles beside the road?”
“I knew no one had done this for a long while. There are probably bottles we are finding from back before you were even born!”
“But the men with the yellow tractors come to mow the roadside a couple of times every year. I’ve seen ‘em. Doesn’t that break the bottles?”
“Not always. You see, they don’t mow as close as you cut the grass in our yard on the riding mower. So the bottles remain there until we find them. I suppose the grass kind of protects them.”
“I don’t know how many more we can put into the truck bed.”
“Well, Johnny just did the road around his place. John told me, and that’s kind of how I got the idea. He said Johnny found ten dollars worth of pop bottles, most of them probably from their shop. So we’ll go on up as far as the culvert just before their place. That’s where Johnny said he stopped.”
“Why didn’t he go any farther?”
“All he needed was ten bucks, I guess.”
“He’s stupid then, isn’t he?”
“I don’t think he’s stupid, just he probably got tired of looking and he already made enough money.”
“But we’re smart.”
Bruce laughed. “Maybe today we are.”
#fathers #fathersday #growingup #1960s #Americana #Ohio