Looking back from these high digit birthday numbers, I marvel at some of the things I have done to make a buck or a gain. I believe that the account of activities that follows are all legal—well, except one, which will be used as an object lesson that crime doesn’t and shouldn’t pay.
While still a young lad in Beaumont, I learned of a business that today we would call a recycling center would pay good money for yesterday’s newspapers, so with my trusty Western Flyer I patrolled the neighborhood soliciting back issues of the Beaumont Enterprise and Journal—or whatever newspaper that household accumulated. Of course, my parents spent about as much on gasoline, as I earned, hauling me and my pounds of printed pulp to the center, and gasoline was only about 20 cents per gallon then.
When strenuous physical work became too much for him during my father’s long declining illness, he peddled pecans, live chickens, and produce retail from a rented storefront in downtown Beaumont, and wholesale to neighborhood grocery stores. Once he paid me $20 to get in the truck and catch chickens a grocer had bought—probably for a no more than $5. $20 was the price of the bicycle I coveted.
In those days, soft drink bottles could be returned to all places that sold them when full of their particular beverage and the returnee could claim a two-cent deposit on each, no questions asked about who the original purchaser might be. Big spenders often did not bother with this process, instead choosing to leave the litter of their consumption in vacant lots and other public places. When I focused on this potential bonanza, no abandoned bottle escaped my greedy fingers. Usually I would wait until I had accumulated a case of empties to claim my 48-cent reward—then spend it on more colas and candies.
While serving as editor of my high school newspaper, The Buffalo, published twice monthly, I asked the manager of the Jefferson Theatre for advanced information about films booked to screen there so I could write reviews about them while they were showing. I swear I didn’t know he was going to also give me passes to view those very films.
Now, to show that crime doesn’t pay. Once, I wrote a term paper for [name deleted to protect me], for $20. A guilty conscience, plus cold feet, talked me into returning the money then praying that the teacher would not identify the similarity of writing style and the one word—parliament –that I misspelled consistently throughout both papers.
God is good. My penance is that I ALWAYs give cheaters in my class a second chance. After all, I’ve used up a few of them myself.
Archie P. McDonald was a professor of history and Community Liaison at Stephen F. Austin State University. His commentaries were also featured each Friday morning on Red River Radio.