[May 26, 2020] Wilson, my best friend since before I could remember, was out to make a few cents to buy candy. He and I would hook up on Saturday mornings and canvas the small town we grew up in for discarded coke bottles. After collecting as many as we could carry, we would turn them in for 2 cents each. We both learned some lessons that helped us in life.
The best place to find unbroken coke bottles was behind the 5 & 10 Cent Store on Main Street; they sold coke in 7 and 12-ounce bottles. It was better to have some of the grown-ups give them to you. I would do favors for the older boys (they were men to me) attending High School, and they would tell me the location of a stash of empty bottles.
Bottle collecting wasn’t a job in the sense that someone paid me for my labor. But I did get to meet some interesting characters in town. Later, I got a real job at the old town dump when I met “the man” in charge; the town mayor. Working in the dump was much more lucrative than finding coke bottles and turning them in for money. But a pre-teen doesn’t have much work value and we were not generally reliable; that we had to learn.
We also learned that doing favors for people would put them on your side and if they knew you were looking for something, they might help. We found out secret hiding places where the town drunks hung out and to avoided them. On one Saturday, we discovered a large number of buried bottles; the store would not take them unless we had clean bottles. Too much work in cleaning, so we left them near the liquor store where some unsavory characters stayed.
Another valuable lesson was that one’s reputation mattered. Wilson and I got the reputation as boys that were willing to earn a few cents for short-term work. We got to clean out a few garages (often to keep cool stuff we found), mow some yards, and recover lost pets. We discovered that finding coke bottles was steady, but odd jobs were fleeting. Otherwise, if we had not found those bottles, we wouldn’t have the money to buy candy or whatever else we wanted.
We also discovered that collecting coke bottles was a surefire way of getting cut or stabbed on the hands and feet (we often went barefooted). Getting cut once got me a visit with the local doctor. That’s when I met a girl I liked. She was the doctor’s daughter and later became a medical doctor herself. You never know who you will meet, what they do for a living, or what they will do in the future. So, be kind to everyone you meet.
Wilson and I were close “buds.” Sadly, I moved away after living in this small town (only one blinking light at the railroad crossing) with a population of about 300 good folks. I loved it there but never went back. The U.S. Army took me around the world, where I applied those many lessons to finding coke bottles.