Let's Reminisce: A shoe-string story
By Jerry Lincecum
Feb 19, 2019
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Today I’m sharing a reminiscence written by one of my “Telling Our Stories” writers who wants to remain anonymous.  Once upon a Depression there was a family of eight people plus one small dog that lived in a large white house. The house had been built board by board by Pa and the eldest son. Of course, since it was the Depression both of them were laid off from their factory jobs. The son was also married and living at home.

Ma took in as much washing as she could. The youngest daughter thought that they were either the dirtiest family in town or the cleanest because, in the daytime, there was always laundry on the clothesline.

They raised pigeons and rabbits to give the family meat. The yard had a peach tree, and the peaches were baked into pies or canned for later use. The family also raised a vegetable garden on the empty land that ran beside the railroad tracks. That meant that they had plenty to eat and can, but once in a while they needed some money. Ma and the girls sewed the clothing, but they couldn’t grow the yard-goods.

Pa and the eldest son felt they needed to do more. One day they went to the town junkyard. Then they began to go there often and found lots of useful things, like left-over paint, plants, wood and bricks. One day they saw a peddler’s wagon abandoned near the rubble.

“I have an idea on how we could make money with that old thing,” the son exclaimed. “I’ll take it home, paint it, build a slanted shelf to display the items that are for sale, and fix the tires too.”  He was excited.

Pa objected, “We have no horse to haul it, and we only grow enough vegetables for our own family. Plus it’ll need a lot of fixing.”

“I know. I wasn’t thinking of selling our vegetables or pulling the wagon. I’m going to sell shoe-strings, cigarette papers, gloves and candy-bars. Beside the factory.  Every day when the shifts change and the whistle blows, this wagon, my wagon, will be parked right outside the door, and the men will rush up and buy what they want.”

Pa still wasn’t convinced.  “How’ll you keep your wagon stocked? We don’t grow shoe-strings or Hershey bars. Who’s going to sell the goods?”

“Every other day, I’ll take the streetcar downtown to the wholesale market, and buy as many supplies as I can carry home.  My wife and my sister will do the selling.”

Every eight hours the factory whistle blew, and every eight hours two very young ladies were standing beside the repaired and painted wagon, selling items to the factory men. In winter the girls were cold and stood near a metal barrel with some hot coals inside to warm them. They got very little sleep. It was hard work no matter what kind of weather.

One day a young factory worker saw the most gorgeous girl he had ever seen, standing in a weird place. She was outside the factory beside a metal barrel selling goods to the workers. She had lovely brown curls and green eyes. He could tell she had good curves too because the sweater she wore in the cold weather was thin.

Walking over to the wagon, he bought a Hershey-bar and ate it immediately. Then he bought a pair of shoestrings, even though his were perfectly good. He stood there in the snow and took the old strings out of his shoes kneeling in the snow to lace the new ones.

Then he asked the girl for a date, but she said, “No.”  Every day he came to the wagon, and every day he asked her for date, and she said, “No.”  Finally one day, she had had enough. She swung and socked him in the eye. When he returned the next day, his eye was black. Feeling now that she needed to apologize, she went out with him on a date.

The author ends her story thus: “My mom was one of those girls and my dad was the factory worker. He visited the wagon every chance he could get. He bought everything he could afford and a lot he didn’t need.  My parents were married in a short time. I guess you could say I came along on a shoe-string.”

Jerry Lincecum is a retired Austin College professor who now teaches classes for older adults who want to write their life stories.  He welcomes your reminiscences on any subject: