Finding Coke Bottles and Lessons in Leadership

[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.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

20 thoughts on “Finding Coke Bottles and Lessons in Leadership

  1. Dennis Mathes

    I sure enjoy your articles from when you were a kid. Brings back memories of when my friend and I did similar things to earn money. Thanks, Gen. Satterfield from helping me revive some of the old memory cells in my brain.

    1. Georgie B.

      Yes, same here. A long time ago, I’m afraid to say. Great article.

  2. Wendy Holmes

    Although I’m a new reader of this blog, I have found it to fit a niche that keeps on giving. I learn a lot and I also get a bit of entertainment along the way. Telling the story of your boyhood makes for a great way to learn and also remember what I learned. Thanks Gen. Satterfield for your contribution to strengthening my leadership abilities. I work hard and expect others to do the same, but I’ve learned that a leader must also have a softer side to them. Caring and empathy matter. ?

    1. Jane Fillmore

      Kenny, on-target again with your comments. Thanks.

  3. Danny Burkholder

    “Finding coke bottles” was an interesting topic and I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading your article today, Gen. Satterfield. Well done. BTW, I find that your experiences are not that hard to compare to the boys of today. Except maybe you don’t write much about being in sports (other than baseball). Keep up this series, I like it.

    1. Fred Weber

      The more the better, I’m thinking. I too didn’t know where Gen. Satterfield was headed but figured it out pretty quick. Lessons from boyhood are profound. If you learn it quickly and well, you will succeed. If you don’t learn it, you will be embarrassed as a man.

    2. Scotty Bush

      Yes, Danny and I agree with you. The experiences of boys, especially as pre-teens, is part of becoming a good vs bad person as an adult. We were lucky that we didn’t have horrific experiences to shape us but normal ones.

      1. Eric Coda

        That’s what living is about. No need to get caught up in some ideology that colors your world. See the trees and the forests for what they are.

  4. Harry B. Donner

    Thanks for an enjoyable article. Now that “boys” are not attending the formal, rigid, in-class school system due to the pandemic I wonder if they will do better than before. Hummmm. Let’s wait and see. I’m sure there will be an analysis on this somewhere.

  5. Willie Shrumburger

    Great article that captured my attention from the outset. “Learn as you go” an old school teacher told me once. She was one of those you find in a big city; strict, hardcore, and yet understanding. We do learn as we go but it is also important that we have parents and a community of parents that help guide us; both boys and girls.

    1. Yusaf from Texas

      Learn as you go was the mantra of when I was growing up in a small town in Texas. It was good to see it mentioned here.

  6. Lynn Pitts

    Very interesting and entertaining as well. I learned a little more about boyhood and their transition to manhood. Thx.

  7. Army Captain

    As you know, as a long-time reader of your leadership blog, I like your articles and regularly make comment as I think appropriate. Well done, again, on this one as you point to life experiences that help us succeed and “survive” as adults. Nothing could be better than learning lessons you have helped instigate. Keep up the good works.

    1. Greg Heyman

      Yes, Army Capt. I was thinking the same thing but would also like to add that these lessons and the METHOD of achieving them remain the same despite what post-modernists think about “toxic” masculinity, etc. Being male means learning lessons, often the hard way. This is what all of us good men did as boys. Thanks for your comment and thanks for your service.

      1. The Kid 1945

        Greg and Army Captain, spot-on comments and, yes I must say it, excellent thinking too.

    2. ARay Pittman

      Well said. Growing up has meaning and most boys spend their time learning the right lessons.

  8. Randy Goodman

    Such an interesting group of articles you’ve written on your boyhood times (both good and bad), but always looking for the right lesson to be a better man.

    1. JT Patterson

      Brings back old memories that I thought I had lost.

      1. Lady Hawk

        Yes it does, indeed. I would like to see more of these but reading back on this leadership website, I think Gen. Satterfield might be running out of “jobs” he had as a kid. Maybe he should explore some of the time he experienced in grade school. If you’re reading this, Gen. Satterfield, consider my suggestion.

      2. Len Jakosky

        Yes, JT, same here. Many good memories as a kid even if it was a hard time for us all.


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