One of my early ventures was selling peanuts out of a basket in downtown Savannah. I am not sure how old I was. I think maybe around 8 or 9.
There was an elderly couple that parched and bagged peanuts in their apartment on Taylor Street. We peddlers were given a basket to carry about 24 bags of peanuts.
Very small bags.
Several of us would walk around hawking the peanuts to pedestrians.
When it was time to call it a day, we returned the baskets with any remaining peanuts and a quarter for any missing bags.
I made it through one week and one payday and quit after I counted my earnings. I think it was a penny a bag sold or something like that.
It never occurred to me to ask ahead of time what the pay was. The idea of running around peddling peanuts was almost enough reward and I was sure they would be fair.
One of life’s lessons.
I was around 11 and living on the southside, 1200 block of E. 35th street near Live Oak.
Drove through there a few years back, and it’s sad to see how the neat rows of little frame bungalows and picture perfect yards has fallen into block after block of depressing disrepair.
I used to walk from there down to the old Thunderbolt Bridge pulling a red Western Flyer wagon full of crab lines, a croaker sack, my lunch, which was probably a baloney sandwich, and a jug of water.
It had to be a good 4-mile hike and a lot of dirt streets.
The bridge then was two lanes. It was a swinging bridge, mounted on a turnstile in the middle of the river. There was a bridge tender who decided when to swing it open for boats.
I would go up under the bridge on the shoreline, out of the hot sun and throw out lines baited with chicken necks. I could easily catch a couple of dozen really big crabs on a single tide.
The abundance of crabs along there was probably due to the fleet of shrimp boats docked at Thunderbolt in those days. They were always cleaning catch and dumping scraps over the side. Those days are gone forever.
I would haul the crabs to Charlie Russo’s fish market on Waters Ave.
He paid me generously for those crabs. Then one day he offered me a job working in the back.
Cleaning fish and cleaning the place. Both of his sons, Vincent and Charlie Jr., worked back there at times.
Mr. Russo was a great guy. He taught me how to filet a flounder. They would arrive on a refrigerator truck in wooden crates. It seemed like every fish was 2 feet long or more. Really big flounders.
Both Vincent and Charlie Jr. would stand at the metal table and filet flounder. We were so young, we had to stand on crates to reach the metal counter top.
The knives were razor sharp and kept that way.
Mr. Russo did the sharpening during the day. He showed me how to use the knives safely. I think he was the one to tell me that a dull knife will cut you quicker than a sharp one because you struggle to get it thru what you are cutting and the knife decided to take an easier route. To the best of my memory, neither I nor his sons ever got a scratch.
Mr. Russo was adamant about getting all the meat off the bone. For instance, there was a little patch of meat directly behind the head of the flounders, maybe the size of a 50 cent piece. It was easy to start a cut with the knife and miss it.
Mr. Russo wouldn’t stand for it. I asked one day why such a little piece of meat was so important.
He looked at me with an incredulous look on his face and said, “Multiply that piece of meat a thousand times.”
Mr. Russo was full of wisdom and a lot of common sense. I asked him one day why someone had not invented something to hold slippery fish when you were cleaning them.
He said, “They did!” He held up his hand.
We didn’t have spring break in those days. We had the end of school the last week of May and returned the first week of September. Three solid months of relief.
I didn’t go rushing off to the beach or to Europe as kids do today. I was cutting grass with a push mower to buy clothes for the coming school year.
I got so busy that I bought a gas mower from Western Auto on East Broughton. I really went to town cutting grass. I even had a couple of small apartment complexes.
I will never forget the time I cut the grass of a blind man with my push mower. His lawn had some sort of weed in it that shot up about 6 or 7 inches, tough as leather.
Each shoot was spaced several feet apart and almost invisible. My push mower would not cut it.
When I announced the job finished, the blind guy came out and got on his knees, ran his hand across the grass, palm down and told me the grass was not cut! I had to get a swing blade and go over the entire yard to cut those weeds.
I showed up with my gas mower the next time and the weeds didn’t have a chance.
One summer I got a job on a drink truck, NuGrape Bottling Company on 35th and Waters.
They bottled several kinds of soft drinks and mixes.
I rode the truck to offload at stores and collect the empties. I was about 12, I guess.
A wooden crate with wooden pockets held 24 16-ounce big drinks like Red Rock Colas.
Twenty-four pounds plus the weight of the crate, about 3 pounds, was a pretty good load for a kid who weighed about 100 pounds soaking wet.
I would stack about five to seven crates on a dolly and haul them around over curbs and down alleys.
The loaders at the Nu-Grape plant had an even harder job. As the drinks came off the line, they would grab them and stuff them in the crates. They would grab the necks of two of those bottles in each hand, squeeze them so tight they held the whole crate.
Then they would lift the entire package and throw it up to the top shelf of the truck – an impossible task done hundreds of times during the day. Every once in a while you would hear a bottle go off like a bombshell as it hit the concrete floor.
The guy who ran my truck was lazy. He had me doing all the lifting while he stood inside the store and shot the breeze.
Every store was exactly the same. I did all the work and he did the gum flapping.
With one exception.
There was a little house out in the middle of a field somewhere in West Chatham. Their order was always drinks like Canada Dry Ginger Ale. At that stop he would have me load the cart and he would take it inside, with me on strict orders not to get out of the truck.
I found out later that the little house was home to a number of illegal activities – alcohol in every form, including moonshine, gambling with dice and cards and Bolita tickets.
Bolita ticket sales were illegal. It is a form of lottery that is very popular in Cuba and Puerto Rico.
My Father hated them. He worked for Independent Life Insurance Co. and sold a lot of what they called burying policies.
The face value was usually just enough money to bury you.
It was all his mostly very poor clientele could afford and a proper burial was a major concern. I guess the thought was, suffer poverty all your life but go out with a bang!
He collected cash money for most of the premiums in amounts of anywhere from 25 cents a week to a dollar or two a week. I suppose it depended on how fancy a funeral you wanted.
He kept a huge debit book about 6 inches deep and over a foot long in a leather binder. He meticulously recorded every premium payment. One loose leaf page for each client.
Ninety-nine percent of his clients were older country folks. Dad would time his collection efforts on the day after Social Security checks came in or Friday payday. That money would be gone by Sunday morning with enough left over to put in the collection plate.
It was always a race to get to the policy holders before the Bolita ticket guy got there promising the moon. There went the insurance premium.
He would come home with all manner of substitutes for premiums.
You never knew what you were going to find on the kitchen table. Bushel of corn, basket of okra or beans, a whole hogs head.
Ok, you gotta be from around here to know about hog brains and grits for breakfast!
Next, Christmas in Savannah and the great opportunities it offered for a pre-teen entrepreneur.
Roy Hubbard is a retired Green Beret and environmentalist who lives in South Bryan.