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How We Made Money

There’s no sense picking up a hazelnut that’s been left behind by the squirrels, because the shell will be empty.  This is the first lesson you learn selling hazelnuts.  The squirrels can tell by smell or something that there is nothing inside.  If you could beat them to the tree, you would have change in your pocket when you sold the nuts to the buyer.  The old guy who took our money was grizzled and mean looking.  He was so intimidating that we couldn’t ask.  The sack weight he gave you was never up for question.  Joe Kazinski had a big belly and his belt was too narrow and his belly flopped over it.  He smoked a cigar and blew smoke at you before he gave you the money.  We were being cheated and knew it.  Hazelnut picking only lasted a week, we needed other ways to make money.

“Shoot, it’s getting hot and I’m tired, just sitting here,” Sister Molly said.  We had built a lemonade stand out of boxes and a 2x12 in front of the bus shelter Dad had built to keep us out of the rain.  The five cent price stuck out from the flopping sheet and two crooked poles we had used to hold it in the wind.  The “Lemon Aid For Sale” letters could not be seen from very far because the letters were yellow and the background was white.  A half-mile south of Mackey’s store was not a suitable place for a lemonade stand, the cars came by too fast and only a few stopped.  Molly and I got bored and started eating the scrumptious peanut butter cookies Mom had baked to sell.

As a child, Sister Molly was honest and therefore vulnerable to the duplicitous dishonesty of her two brothers, one whom was to become a pillar of industry and the other a penniless writer on Vashon.  Dad had read a book about a very large family, called Cheaper by the Dozen.  He thought by reading the book to us that we could improve the performance of our chores.  He incorporated the auctioning off of the next week’s chores in a family meeting on Sunday afternoon.  The bidding was hot and heavy except for the chores like manure patrol where we competed to get out of it.  “I bid 25 cents a night to wash dishes for a week,” Sister Molly called out.  Mike was the youngest and only dried or carried the dishes to the counter to be put in the cupboards by someone taller.  Molly caught him one day bringing the washed dishes back again for a re-wash, just to pester her.

Neither Mike nor I wanted to bid for manure patrol, but were forced to do it for a dollar a week, because no chore was to be left undone.  I think we took turns cruising the yard for dog droppings.  Mom drew up a price and frequency schedule that looked like a calendar hung inside the door to the kitchen.  The weekly bidding wars didn’t last very long because Mike and I would collude to jack the prices of the chores up, or drive Molly out of a bidding war because we thought her bid was too low.  We were conniving for profit, and Dad got tired of the overhead management.

John 13: 16-20
Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.  If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

Mike and Kit Bradley walked the half-mile to Mackey’s Store at Cove, picking up pop bottles out of the ditches.  Mr. Mackie paid five cents a bottle.  “Hey,” Kit said, “look at all those bottles stacked up behind the store.”  With that, Mike and Kit started hauling them into the store for money to buy candy.   It wasn’t long before Mr. Mackey caught them.  They were bringing in too many bottles to have found them in the ditches and that was the end of that.  “You got these from out back,” Mr. Mackie said and banned them from the store for a week.

“Get him, get him,” Brother Mike yelled.  The big rooster was after Mike again, inhibiting him from collecting the eggs from the nests of his money making hens.  My job was to distract the big rooster with a stick or getting down to his level and holding my hands on either side of him as he got ready to jump at me with his wings and spurs.  I would threaten him with one hand and then knock him silly with the other, thus defending Mike’s egg business which didn’t last too long because the raccoons came up from the creek one night and killed his bankroll.  Mike’s egg business went belly-up.

Strawberries were big on Vashon and all kids worked in the fields.  There were two carriers to a flat and six boxes per carrier.  Mike, Molly and I picked for Jimmy Matsumoto and were paid $.25 per carrier.  Dave Church made $3 a day and Meiko Nishyori and Dave Kirkland made $10 a day.  My old friend, John Sweetman and I made about the same money $2 or $3 a day, but he lived and picked on a different island, Bainbridge.  John claimed that Bainbridge berries were sweeter.

The strawberries on Vashon in the 1950’s were mostly Marshals, the biggest and sweetest strawberry ever.  When our lips started turning red it was time to quit eating because Jimmy could see and if your face was red, he knew we had been throwing strawberries.   Jimmy Matsumoto’s plants were so high, you only had to lean over to pick.   We knew what cash was when it jingled in our pockets and were paid once a week.  Each time we brought our carriers to the truck, Jimmy would punch our tickets until the day he fired Mike and me for throwing strawberries and eating more than we picked.   I’m still ashamed of the small amount of berries we picked.

Sean@vashonloop.com