I'm tired. It's bedtime. But I got to write to you, Diary. Grampa Frank is no longer here. I hoped he'd stay with us until I'd join the Navy. He didn't. I miss him. Lots.
After supper, the dishes and silverware were washed and dried and put away. I went to my bedroom, got down on my stomach, and reached way under the bed. That's where my green Ball canning jar is. Boy, was it heavy. I took it to the kitchen, unscrewed the cap, and tipped the jar upside down over the kitchen table top. What a noise those coins made. And because the noise was extra loud, Dork popped into the kitchen. "What're you doing?"
Dork's so stupid. What did he think I was doing? "What's it look like I'm doing? I'm counting my money."
"I've been missing money lately. That money is probably all mine."
"I didn't steal any money. I didn't even know you had any money."
His hand slammed down on the pile of coins. When it came back up, Dork held a fistful of my money.
"Maaaaaaaahhhhhh," I screamed.
Mother was in the kitchen almost at once. "Who's being killed?" she asked.
"Dork just took my money," I cried. Real tears, too.
"Your brother's name isn't Dork." She gave Dork that look she normally gives me. "I'm sure that money belongs to Gordon."
Gordon? Only I get to call me Gordon. What's the world coming to? And Diary, I couldn't believe it. Mother was sticking up for me. The first time in my life. In her life, too. It's unbelievable. Even if she did have to call me Gordon.
Mother's hands were at her waist as she told Dork, "I'm the one who dust mops under your beds. Gordon has had that jar under his bed for a long, long time, and I've seen with my own eyes the coin pile inside grow and grow."
"I save money, too," claimed Dork. You should've seen his crocodile tears.
"What Gordon doesn't spend on candy, he puts in that jar," said Mother.
"So?" snipped Dork.
"So, give your brother his money back."
"It's my money. Piss Pants stole it." Dork turned on the waterworks.
"I don't piss my pants. And I didn't take your money," I screamed.
Mother gave Dork the old eyeball number she usually gives me. "Either you put Gordon's money back on that table right this minute, or you're not going out tonight with Skip." She meant Dork's best friend, Walter "Skip" Wefel, who's no taller than Dork. Two peas in a pod. Or better yet, birds of a feather.
"Jeez," was all Dork could say as he opened his mitt and dropped my money back on the pile.
That was the first time Mother ever stuck up for me. Of that, I am certain. She returned to the sofa and her Look magazine. Dork hurried into the bathroom. He slammed the door real hard. I stayed in the kitchen and counted. A little while later, Dork came out of the bathroom and passed by me on his way out of the house. "Thief. You're a thief."
"And you're a Dork."
Brotherly love. Dork is mad at me because I'm taller but three years younger. I can't help it he's a shrimp. I ended up counting a total of eleven dollars and sixty-three cents. Wow, if this keeps up, pretty soon I'll be a millionaire. Just kidding, Diary. That's a lot of empty gallon milk bottles and pop bottles plus lots of string beans. During the summer string bean harvest season, which isn't very long, kids my age can take sandwiches and an apple or a banana or an orange, maybe a couple of chocolate chip cookies plus a bottle of pop and put them inside a paper bag. With that bag, we go to City Hall in the morning. Both boys and girls go, but boys outnumber the girls.
At City Hall, we board an old, rickety school bus or we're lifted up to the back of a big old farm truck by a man or a tall high school kid in bib overalls. We can sit on the floor or stand. I usually stand and hold on. When somebody figures there are enough kids, the guy who lifted us up or the bus driver yells, "Okay, let's go." And it's off we go. Once we arrive at the farm where we're going to pick beans that day, either the farmer or his wife or sometimes their kids hand each of us a large, empty gunny sack. Those sacks are darned near as tall as I am.
The most I made picking beans in one day was one dollar and sixteen cents. Girls are the big money makers. They out pick boys almost all the time. That's because girls are steady workers. Guys fool around a lot, me included. I didn't cheat like some guys who hide rocks in the middle of the gunny sack of beans they picked.
At the end of the day, the farmer brings out a big scale on the back of a truck. He and another farm guy unload the scale and put it on the ground in order to weigh our gunny sacks individually. Then, they lay a big tarp on the ground next to the scale. We get paid by the pound. If the farmer suspects anything other than beans being in those gunny sacks, he spills everything out on that tarp. Even if he discovers one itsy-bitsy rock in that bag of beans, the kid who had the sack gets nothing. You've got to be stupid to cheat.
As to empty pop and milk bottles, Paul and Glen Peterson and I find them in the empty lot next to our house. Why people throw things in empty lots, I'll never know. But they do. We also have special spots we travel to from our house all the way to Saints Peter & Paul Catholic Church. That includes the Old Grove. We get a nickel for a gallon milk bottle and two cents for a regular milks bottle. Also, we get two cents for each regular pop bottle and three cents for the big pop bottles. Why people throw them away is beyond me. They could've turned them in at a grocery store or the A&P and got cold, hard cash for them. Well, their loss is our gain.
Old Ed Turbin at Turbin's grocery store doesn't like to give us money for empty bottles. "You didn't buy 'em. Why should I pay you?" How could such a mean old man have such a nice, pleasant wife as he does? We don't say a thing but walk right out. We march across Baker Street with all those bottles to Peters and Martin's grocery store. Mister Peters is a lot like old Ed, except Mr. Peters gives us the correct amount of refund money. And he doesn't have a hole in the back wall where he watches kids come in like old Ed does. Ed thinks he's going to catch us stealing candy and such. Old Ed's drunk just about most of the time. He's got a big, red nose. And he's mean. His oldest son, Bill, isn't mean at all. Bill's a real nice guy who always greets me with, "How ya doin', Carrot Top?" Bob Martin across the street says the very same thing.
It's a game we play each time I go into their stores. "I don't have green hair," I tell them.
"A carrot's top isn't green," they say. "It's orange." Both Bill and Bob always follow that with a smile and a horselaugh.
"Green is what sticks out of the ground when they're growing. So, green is the carrot's top and orange is the carrot's bottom," I tell them.
"Besides, my hair isn't orange. It's auburn."
Both Bill and Bob laugh and laugh and laugh. That's because they enjoy life and kids and just about everything else. Old Ed and Mister Peters don't like kids. Or life, either.
After knowing how much money I had, I got out the Monkey Ward’s catalog and looked up pocket watches under the letter W, not P as I first did. There it was, "Watches, pocket." They were on page 232. I was kind of upset when I saw the price of a Westclox. Its hands and numbers didn't even shine in the dark, but it cost more money than I had. Then, I saw a neat pocket watch with a black face and green numbers (the catalog uses the hoity-toity word, "numerals") and hands that glow in the dark. It was an Ingersoll. Never heard of an Ingersoll. But I could afford it. I tore out an order blank and filled it out in pencil. I asked Mother if I filled it out correctly.
She looked up from her Look magazine and read it. "Seems like it," she said.
”Now I need an envelope." She must've wanted to read her Look magazine more than wait on me.
"Why do you need an envelope?"
"I'm ordering a pocket watch. It's like Grampa's watch but not exactly the same."
"Oh," she said. She actually smiled. She opened a drawer of a lamp table next to her and reached in. Out came an envelope.
I put the order blank in the envelope but I couldn't fit all the pennies and nickels and dimes and one quarter I needed to put in it. "I can't put all these coins in here. What can I do?" I asked mother.
She looked up from her Look magazine, once again. "Wait until morning and go to Turbin's or Peters and Martin's and exchange the coins for bills. Now, don't bother me anymore."
This is the next night, Diary.
So, this morning, bright and early, I went to Turbin's store with all the coins in a small paper bag. Bill Turbin was there. Not Ed. Thankfully.
"Hey, Carrot Top, how're you doing this fine morning?"
"Pretty darned good, Bill, but my hair ain't green."
Bill laughed and laughed and laughed. Finally, he asked, "What can I do you for?" He says that all the time, too. He’s funny.
I plopped the bag of coins on the counter. "I need to exchange this bag of coins for bills. I'm buying a pocket watch from Monkey Ward and I can't fit eight dollars and fifty cents worth of coins in an envelope."
"No problem-oh," said Bill. He counted the money twice and gave me one five dollar bill plus six dollar bills plus two quarters plus a dime and three pennies.
I put the exact amount I needed to put in the envelope and put the rest in my green jar. I hid the jar in the closet. I wouldn't put it under my bed anymore because Dork would most likely steal coins from it from now on. Then, I licked the envelope and stamp. After that, I walked to the mailbox on Baker Street. I had to go past the Kell home. Bobby and his sister, Hen House Helen, were in the front yard, playing a mean game of croquet. "Where are you going?" asked Bobby.
"To the mailbox. I'm mailing a Monkey Ward’s order blank with eight dollars and fifty cents for an Ingersoll pocket watch."
"A pocket watch? For your Dad?”
“No, for me.”
“Why don't you buy a wristwatch? Pocket watches are for old men."
"A pocket watch is what I want."
Bobby accompanied me to the mailbox. Hen House Helen was pretty mad that the game ended so suddenly. "Sure you don't want to change your mind?"
"Darned sure." I dropped the envelope into the mailbox. "Your cat have any more babies?"
"Think so. Old Ma Cat's tits are darned near dragging on the ground. She’s hiding her kittens somewhere. Let's go see if we can find 'em."
I swear the Kell garage has more junk crammed in it than Kreutzer's Second Hand store has in its big downtown building. And the Kreutzer brothers pile junk upon junk upon junk in their store. Sometimes, I'm afraid a pile will fall down on me and kill me. All that junk is why it's always almost impossible to find Old Ma Cat and her kittens. She has a ton of hiding spots. While we looked, I started to cry. Just like that.
"Grampa, I miss you," I said. Where’d that come from?
"What'd you say?"
"Nothing," I told Bobby.
"I'm sure you said something."
"Nah, I'm going home." I didn't want Bobby to see the tears. So, I ran home while he was still looking for Old Ma Cat and her latest gang of kittens. Behind all that junk, Bobby didn't see me. Thankfully.