Friday, February 13, 2015

The long path to responsibility


I was 8 years old and thought I knew just about anything about everything, or maybe vice versa.  I really didn’t know all that much, looking back.  I was an awful lot like most 8 year old kids today.  The only real difference is I started working for money at about this age.

Now, if your memory is good, you will remember I’ve written in the past about sacking groceries at the age of 14.  That’s true too, but at 8, I and another boy had a shoe shine business in Long Beach, California.  His name was David Bradshaw and both us had lost our 2 front teeth at the same time and could spit between them, like professional spitters.

David and I became blood brothers.  One day, David produced a pocket knife and we both cut our thumbs and mixed blood, marking us as kin from that day forward.  I can’t remember the logistics of it, but to make money we assembled a shoe shine kit of black and brown polish, a couple of brushes and rags.  The idea was to go door to door, shining shoes for 5 cents per leather.

We made a tidy sum the many times we did it and spent it all on big delicious candy bars, which were 5 cents a piece.  My favorite was a bar called a Hollywood.  It looked like a modern day Zero bar, but had a lot of nougat in it.  When you think of nougat, think of a white chocolate bar mixed with Bit-O-Honey… totally delicious.

Dad, Bert, & Mom
My mom was a stern accountant of allowances and she kept a Gestapo certified list inside the pantry of who did chores and who didn’t.  My 4 siblings and I were held accountable and by golly come Friday, we expected payment.  And we got it.  She was fair and honest and exact.  If one of those squares didn’t have a mark in it, whoever the offender was got docked.

By the time each of got old enough to be actually getting a paycheck - I was 14 and my younger brother 13 – she docked us one third of our bring home monies for room and board.  We didn’t know it, but she was teaching us to be responsible adults.  Did we resent it?  Yea, at first, but her reasoning was sound.  “Your dad toils and turns over his whole check.  You are not going to keep everything you make for yourself”.

What could we say to that?  Nothing, so we simply worked harder and more so we could make more for ourselves.  I wanted my own stereo, so I bought it.  I wanted my own black and white “portable” 13 inch TV, so I bought it.  I wanted a Schwinn Varsity 10-speed bike, so I worked more and paid for it.  My parents supplied my needs, not necessarily my wants.  My dad worked hard as a tool and die maker and often took a second job after hours to make ends meet.

We took adventure vacations in State parks, or looking for fossils and geodes.  We hiked, climbed, fished, hunted, but I don’t remember going to many amusement parks.  I don’t remember feeling neglected or abused though.  I learned to make my own adventures.  I learned about the woods and that I could eat grubs if I was in a starving situation.  I learned from my mom about values and ethics and how to treat a woman.

I learned my work ethic from both parents and that anything worth having is worth working for.  My parents didn’t award me for mundane achievements.  There wasn’t a whole lot of “love you’s” and sympathy when one of us fell or was hurt.  We were advised to “suck it up” and “it will feel better when it stops hurting” instead, but I never felt unloved or abused.  It was what it was.

One by one as we hit the age of 18, all of us pushed off to find our own way.  I left to serve my country right out of high school, as did my older sister and only stayed with my parents for a month when four years later I got back to Baytown.  I got my first and second check from Brown and Root working at Bayer and my mom collected one third of my check – just like before.

My wife and opted for a traditional American family, where the husband worked a job, and mom raised the kiddos and we have never regretted it.  When our expenses grew, I started cutting grass and working at the Plant.  I did that for over ten years, often cutting 15-18 yards a week.

Marty Goldman asked if I would watch over his carwash on Alexander Drive and once or twice a day, I would come by and empty the cans and wash out the bays.  Many a time I would do this after working a 12-hour shift at the Plant and continued to clean it for 12 years.

It wasn’t until I was about 50 years old that I realized my work ethic wasn’t shared with a lot of others in my peer group.  Oh well, I am a product of my parents teachings and it has brought me a good and comfortable life.  Looking back to my 8 short years of knowledge, I now realize I still don’t know a whole lot about a whole lot and I have more studying to do.  I am by far not even close to stopping though and of course, there’s work to do yet.




8 comments:

Anonymous said...


Dear Bert,

I LOVED your article in today's Sun! It should be required reading for every parent - and their kids.

Eleanor Albon

Anonymous said...

Dandy Don Cunningham‎:

Bert, your column in The Baytown Sun this morning was so good. I agree 1000%. I don't know what happened to parents teaching a work ethic to their children. I know there are a lot that still do, but a lot of them want to provide everything for their children, and the best of it. I don't know what will happen to them when things really get tough for this world. God, please bless them. Thank you again, Bert. Have a wonderful weekend.

Anonymous said...

Barney LeBlanc: Now I know why me and many others like ol Bert. His conversations and personality is inspiring!

Anonymous said...

Melvin Roark: Another very good article that I can also relate with growing up. Thanks for sharing, and God Bless America.

Anonymous said...


Susan Bulgier McGuyer:

Today's column made me think of my husband's childhood. His father was an alcoholic and left when he was 2 mos. old and his brother 2 yrs. old. His mom worked as a bookkeeper for an auto dealership. They always had paper routes and did what they could to help the family survive. When they wanted to play baseball, they and some other neighborhood boys went all over town on their bikes and collected old hangers and any kind of scrap metal they could find and sold it to a company that paid for metal and used the money to buy baseball equipment. He bought the first car his family had when he was 14 and too young to get a license. His mother and brother drove it. He joined the Navy at 17 immediately after high school graduation. He's the hardest working man I know. Never griped about long hours. After he retired, he went to work at Lowe's part time and they soon asked him to come on full time. He worked another 10 years for them and didn't retire until I retired. (he worked until he was 75). We've been married 50 years. He's now 80 and still likes to do yard work and putter in the yard. Always thinking up something to build or repair or tinker with.

Anonymous said...

Fred Cowan: Bert, read your article and was very impressed. I would like to sit down and talk to you about old times. Thanks for the article.

Anonymous said...

Rebecca Cabaniss: Awww great write up cuz

Anonymous said...

Sandi White: Excellent! Don't know many kids who would do half that for 3 times the money.

What, me read? Isn't that a 4 letter word?

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