Monday, February 20, 2006

A Little History

I'm a bona fide product of the seventies, so if I've blogged about this before, I apologize.

I was just thinking about my kids growing up. We owned, believe it or now, a bait shop. We had other things, fishing equipment, archery equipment, other outdoors gear, but we were primarily a bait shop. Through my boy's most formative years they spent much of their time at the shop. It's how it had to be. On Friday afternoons when other kids were excited to get out of school, my boys dreaded it. They knew there were 20,000 nightcrawlers waiting to be bedded and packed. That's right, 20,000 huge worms, counted one by one into containers of a dozen. We did a hell of a business at that shop, but there was still never quite enough to cover expenses...

You can imagine the customer traffic we had to sell 20,000 worms a week - it was crazy at times. Our shop was on the edge of a rough part of town, and our clientele reflected that. We had some interesting experiences, I could tell stories all day. We had 2 customers over the years that were shot and killed by police. They were black at the wrong time and place. We had customers who committed cold blooded murder. One is serving life, the other died before the police could put evidence together to convict him. When people got out of jail, we were one of their first stops. As one who was recently released told me "bottle, babe, bait". We had as regular customers priests, policemen, lawyers, musicians, dancers, pushers, gang bangers, gays, straights, old, young, male, female, black, white, yellow, red, brown - we had them all.

My kids grew up in this environment. My boys could count change before they were 10. My daughters lay in baby carriers on the counter, from the time they were literally only days old. The lower a customer's economic status, the friendlier and more accepting they were of my kids. The successful customers thought my kids were a nuisance, while those struggling to find a dollar and a half for some minnows treated my kids like they were something special. And they were. The old grandmas were the most memorable. They would see my newborn daughter there on the counter, swoop down and scoop her up like you know they had done thousands and thousands of times before. They would exclaim to their friends "aint this the prettiest white baby you ever did see?!" They were very special people to us, and to my kids.

My youngest boy was known as "little man". "Hey Little Man, hook me up with some of them minnows". And he'd jump to it, eager to please the customers who treated him like an equal. My older boys didn't enjoy it as much as "Little Man", but they had advantages also. We had an archery range in the store, and the boys were competing in regional archery tournaments when they were young teens. They were making good money working for us, and they had all they ever wanted for outdoors equipment. We hunted together, fished together, and the kids were part of a group that made the most of the outdoors. They were equals in the eyes of all that hung with us. As teenagers they were shooting and dressing deer, catching and cleaning fish, helping me run bass fishing tournaments and run weigh-ins, and living a life many kids could only dream about. It wasn't always easy for them, but they did have many advantages.

Looking back, I see now that my bipolar was both a help and a hindrance in that time. Back then, I had never heard of bipolar disorder. But I'd work 7 days a week, 16 to 18 or more hours a day. 6 AM till 10, or midnight, or maybe 2 AM. Then back at 6 to do it again. If I wasn't bipolar I'd NEVER be able to handle those hours. When it got to be too much, I'd have the wife watch the store, or I'd lock the door and go fishing or hunting. When I was down, I'd snap at the customers. This happened way too often, and I developed a reputation for being "moody". I suppose that's one way of putting it...

Enough for tonight.

3 comments:

The Queen said...

Self employment may not have been the best thing for you, but it gave you so much valuable time with your family. I am sure the boys really appreciate all that time you were able to be together when they were young...

Jon said...

Queen - you are right, we did spend a lot of time together. Not always quality time, however. My oldest seems to resent it, but is coming to terms with it. He recently sent me a list of good memories, most about our time in the store. It brought tears to my eyes. My 21 year old bipolar son Kyle has some good memories of it, as does my youngest. But Kyle is the world's most forgiving person, he will forgive anybody anything. It's one of his most exceptional qualities, and he has many exceptional qualities. My girls were too young to remember much.

Ophelia said...

Reality is sometimes stranger than fiction. What a story! I enjoyed reading it.