AT MY AGE and with grown children and grandchildren, I’ve pretty much lost touch with the daily goings and comings of teenagers. Today’s teens, I’m sure, have jobs similar to what we did 55-60 years ago, but so much else has changed. Youngsters today face different challenges at work than we did.
Growing up in a small town, as the four Webb boys did, we took just about any job we could get. Two of us got our business/work beginnings at the feet of Teague’s leading variety store owner, O.H. Forke (pronounced fork-ee). Of course, a couple of us had early morning paper routes all the way through high school, in addition to other jobs such as Forke’s. Another son was a shoeshine boy at one of the barber shops. And, the youngest managed to get in a little grocery bagging, just like his three older siblings.
As you might imagine, in a town of 3,000-plus one might have a relationship on more than one level with another individual. Such was the case for me with Forke’s.
Mr. and Mrs. Forke had a daughter, Louise, who was a teacher. I was in English classes taught by her in junior high and in journalism in high school. She sponsored the school newspaper and I was on the staff all the way through high school. Later on, she told me I was her only journalism student who went into the profession.
Our jobs with Forke’s changed somewhat with a city council ordinance banning the sale of fireworks within the city limits.
Forke’s carried fireworks in the store and it was a nice revenue producer during several holidays, more particularly July 4, Christmas and New Year. Forke was very enterprising, so he decided that on the particularly good-for-fireworks holidays, he’d set up an open-air fireworks stand just past the city limits sign on U.S. Highway 84 east toward the county seat of Fairfield. And, the Webb boys were chosen to man it.
But, we spent more time, year round, in the store than at the fireworks stand and we learned to handle all manner of customers and all kinds of products that Forke had in his display cases and on counters.
O.H. FORKE himself instructed us on a variety of issues throughout our time in his employment.
In time of segregation, Forke maintained that everyone’s money looked and spent the same so we were to treat everyone alike.
If any customer showed any signs of trouble, we were to summon the owner and let him handle it. As young teens, that suited us just fine.
You’d have to be a veteran of several years with Forke’s to have enough time to learn something about every section of the store. The merchandise was, as “variety” in the store name indicated, quite thoroughly varied. You could find anything from a sheetrock screw for a penny (one cent) to elaborate cookie jars and other pottery with a nice price tag. There was also a big section for toys.
There was one rather small, obscure section of the store that produced a disclosure that shocked my uncomprehending young mind — toiletries, shampoos and all sorts of personal grooming products.
O.H. forgot to warn me about that one.
ONE DAY, a man came in and asked for a bottle of Bay Rum Hair Tonic, which was said to keep your hair laying down and looking well-groomed.
I sold it to him and he walked through the front door onto the sidewalk, unscrewed the lid and took a swig.
Apparently, my chin must’ve fallen to my chest. I turned back toward the interior of the store and saw O.H. looking at me and chuckling.
“Did I do something wrong?” I asked.
“No,” O.H. replied, “I just forgot to tell you about our Saturday runs on Bay Rum. It’s the drink of preference for some folks.”
Later, I looked at the label and found out it was probably the quickest, cheapest drunk available in dry Teague. It was 30 percent alcohol. I figured it would probably burn your scalp not to mention your insides.
Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.