These stories that Mr. Jones has been submitting are priceless. I’m not sure whether I should refer to him as Bill, Will or Billy but no matter. His stories let us understand past life in our community that we couldn’t possibly imagine otherwise. I’m sure you’ll enjoy his latest called:
My Lesson in Growing Up
February 5, 1939–My sister said, It’s Mr. Harper calling for Billy.” Mr. Harper asked me, “Will you be twelve tomorrow? Do you still have your bike?” I said, “Yes, Mr. Harper.” He asked if I could be there at 4:00 p.m. tomorrow to make deliveries. “I already have your Dad’s signature for you to work.” I said, “Thank you, Mr. Harper.”
I went straight to Harper’s after school. My job paid fifteen cents an hour (big bucks in 1939). I was started as dishwasher, delivery boy, and an apprentice soda jerk. My “break time” gave me lots of homework access and I became an A+ student at Junior High.
Those charming Harper cabinets, although originally begun in the 1920’s, were still getting attention in 1939. Billy Harper said his Dad expanded his beautiful cabinets during the depression and experienced cabinet makers were glad to work (indoors) for $1 a day. From 1939 to 1943, Billy Jones polished each of those “pride and joy” cabinets twice weekly. My “math mind” quickly moved me to cashier and making all the bank deposits.
In 1937, Mr. Harper had gone to the World’s Fair in Chicago. He liked the “soft freeze” ice cream machines but they were expensive. On the last day of the Fair, Mr. Harper did talk to the display manager. They developed a rapport and at closing, Mr. Harper made him an offer for the “demonstrator”. It was very heavy and they struck a deal, “Delivered to Maplewood”. Harper’s had the first soft freeze ice cream fountain. Billy Harper operated it in 1939 and since he was still at St. Louis University School of Pharmacy, he picked ME to train. We used metal cans of “base milk”–not quite skim but no butter fat. We poured the milk into the soft ice cream freezer (which looked a lot like the current Ted Drews mixers). We made five gallons at a time–vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. Bill Harper would list my assignment twice weekly and I did well. Chocolate was hard to come by in 1940. It came in packages from Asia bi-weekly.
We had senior St. Louis College of Pharmacology students filling scripts and one evening Bessie, our cook, called down, “Billy, Pharmacy!” She sounded frantic so I left the chocolate and simple syrup sauce simmering on our burner. Our student pharmacist was sitting on the floor so I called Mr. Harper at home. He arrived in ten minutes but my chocolate sauce was a bit “over-cooked”! I took my present batch and used just vanilla for seasoning. Billy Harper came by a bit later and said, “No chocolate for two weeks!” We both tasted it and Billy decided we would use half the pan and add extra vanilla to make two 5-gallon cans of chocolate. I did it and it really didn’t taste bad. In chocolate milk shakes and malts it was acceptable.
Bessie came and called me over from the drug counter. Two regular customers, elderly ladies, were sitting at a table, drinking their cups of tea. Bessie said, “They each want a dish of chocolate ice cream. You serve it.” I took them their dishes and they each said, “Sit down, Billy.” They talked a bit (included me) and the older lady said, “Millie, could it be the ice cream tastes “scorched”? The other lady said, “You’re probably losing your taste, Margaret, like I lost mine.” I put a bit of chocolate sundae sauce on each and they said “delicious”.
My 15 cents an hour was supplemented by my “Bull Durham Sack” full of zinc Missouri “mills” coins. They were the first sales tax and were ten for a penny. I lost my collection of zinc mills (which I had paid for) to evil “knock rummy” schoolmates (I was a Freshman) who put them in a jar of H2SO4 (sulphuric acid) on a Friday at close of school in Mr. Funke’s laboratory. Monday, the top floor of the high school had all the windows open and the smell of rotten eggs permeated the whole neighborhood.
Mr. Harper’s daughter taught me to wrap “Evening in Paris” perfume assortments for Christmas gifts. Our upstairs doctor (and our best customer) was my first sale. He picked three of the most expensive sets–they all said “To my one and only”. I blinked, wrapped them, and put them on his charge. I delivered them to his office and he had me hide them in the closet.
I left Harper’s enriched by knowledge about how to get along with people. The 15 cents per hour, at sixteen became $3 per day at Missouri Pacific (still after school and weekends) for 4 years–then, the Navy. An experience I could have never known otherwise.