This is the 3rd in a series of Christmas reflections from all stages of my life.
The World’s Finest Chocolate
Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?
How did I earn that five dollars I kicked into the Christmas fund, in 1965, so that I could be part of the Christmas present-buying- extravaganza? I could go it alone, as we all did at times, I could work with JT, or finally, I could put in with everybody, as we combined forces to earn money for presents.
As Brian got more into both Sunrize Market and Bishop Amat, he found himself with more money than time, a good arrangement for me. He had to sell those World’s Finest Chocolate Bars, in order to be hip and happening at school, but he had no time outside of work and homework.
He therefore recruited me and JT to sell his candy bars. I started at Bishop Amat in September of 1966, so I had my own candy bars to sell, but guess whose got sold first? At a dime a pop, we could earn two dollars and forty cents for selling a box of Brian’s candy. My own homeroom spirit took a backseat to financial prosperity, so I didn’t much care whether my candy got sold or not.
As a family, though, we had several ventures that we employed over the years, that relied on Pa spearheading the effort, with all of us kids going out into the neighborhood, to entice the good folks to buy what we were selling. The most effective, in terms of returns, was the mistletoe gig, which combined several elements of the process, to form one solid package. Doing mistletoe involved a trip up to the San Gabriel Mountains to gather mistletoe and pinecones, always a fun excursion.
The folks would package a sprig of mistletoe with a red ribbon on it in a little plastic bag, and the price would be fifteen cents. Make it a big sprig with the ribbon, toss in a pinecone or two, and charge a quarter. We went door to door in the neighborhood, and brought the loot back to Pa. Spending a whole Saturday on the project might net us thirty dollars, which was then divvied up amongst us, depending on how old you were, and how much work you had done. It was a lucrative way for us all to get a financial infusion.
Another way to earn money was having Pa make redwood baskets for hanging plants, and then again taking them door to door, selling them for one, two or four dollars each. Pa used to stockpile a bunch of them, while teams of two covered all of the neighborhood. Again, we divvied up the profits.
There was a discarded telephone pole down across the street, in the empty lot next to Mrs. Downin’s place. Now today, the last thing I would ever burn in my wood stove is creosote-soaked wood, but back in the day, we burned anything in our fireplace that would warm things up. I had made an attempt at some earlier point to saw this baby up with a bow saw, but had given up after cutting two rounds. Not enough return on my time investment.
Now I attacked the project a second time with a vengeance, and succeeded in lopping that pole up with a methodical directness which impressed me as much as anyone. As the length of the telephone pole diminished, the coins in my piggy bank increased. One thing for sure is I found it did not pay to try to earn money as a painter, because in the summer of 1967, I painted the entire house fire engine red for the total sum of five dollars, indicating the need for me to get a new agent.
By the time 1966 rolled around, I was working as a bottle boy at both Sunrize Market and Handy Liquors. I earned a dollar an hour and probably took home ten bucks a week, of which I kept fifteen percent. That would be a dollar and fifty cents weekly. It was a good thing we understood the concept of saving our money.
A couple of years in a row, Auntie Anne and Grandpa made Christmas wreaths, and we got to go stay at their house for a weekend and sell them around the neighborhood. I should say that Auntie Anne made the wreaths, while Grandpa drove us around, and we would take them door to door.
Not able to guarantee peace and harmony for all mankind, I settled for buying Christmas presents for my family.