By Joe Rector
It’s summer time, and one never comes around that I don’t remember the good and bad times I had during these months when I was younger. Twin brother Jim and I awoke to the morning air heavy with the perfume of honeysuckle, and we played hard all day. When we reached high school, the time came to find summer jobs to earn spending money and a little extra cash for school.
I had several jobs during the summer; most of them paid low wages and demanded back-breaking manual labor. Neither thing hurt me since prices were much cheaper in the 60s and I learned about work from my parents. The biggest rewards came from things I learned while I was on the clock. The biggest lessons came from the bed of a 1952 Chevy pick-up truck.
For two summers, Jim and I worked for the city of Knoxville in a summer program for about 20 boys. We’d been hired to cut weeds and brush and to haul away trash from alleys and other properties. We were put on different crews. Mine consisted of boys from Rule High School. Foxy was our adult leader, and I think James was the driver of the truck.
Each morning we pulled out at 7:00 a.m. with a list of jobs to complete during the day. I learned the art of correctly swinging a sickle and a brush axe, and Foxy instructed me on sharpening the tools with a file. I practiced loading brush into the back of that pick-up so that it stayed put on the drive to the dump on Asheville Highway. On that ride I learned how to sit on the cab of the truck and keep from falling out by using a pitchfork and a rake as braces.
I soon discovered that when the truck stopped, all of us boys were to hop out and finish the job in short order. That’s what we did all morning and most of the afternoon. Usually, we completed our list of calls with a couple of hours to spare. James would drive us to Cumberland Avenue and on the UT campus, and this grimy, sweaty crew would ogle at coeds walking classes. Some of the more brazen boys would yell at the girls. Those college students either ignored them or stuck middle fingers up, an act that always brought on bursts of laughter from the other boys.
It was in the back of that truck that I learned the evils of gambling. One boy was a master at matching, and I spent the better part of one day losing an entire week’s pay to him…a quarter at a time. When the truck stopped for morning an afternoon breaks, Ronnie went into stores and bought stuff with my money, but he never offered me a thing. Since that time, I don’t gamble on anything, not even a dollar bet on a sports board. I also learned that many people don’t care what you don’t have and aren’t about to give you a break or help you out of your foolish acts.
On one morning we pulled into the Krystal on Broadway so that Foxy could grab a cup of coffee. I spied a nice looking girl headed for the entrance and decided I’d give the yelling thing a try. I stood on top of that truck cab and called out to her, but she turned a deaf ear to me. Defeated, I jumped onto the pile of brush in the bed. The snapping sounds that followed included the limbs we’d cut from a lot and my left ankle as it went the wrong way.
Foxy cursed me for the trouble I’d caused and ordered James to drive to one of the doctors on the city’s list. That old truck pulled up, Foxy walked me into the waiting room, and then the crew left me. Eventually, I was called back and put into a room. As I sat on the examination table, I noticed some metal wings. They would provide the perfect prop for my swollen ankle, so I lay back and placed my injured foot on it.
I learned that day that a man should never use the stirrups of a doctor’s table unless he wants to be cursed. I also found out why the man was so mad when my mother came to pick me up and I related the events.
Some of the more important things that I’ve learned about life came while I rode in the back of that pick-up truck. It was a different education from the one at school, but in many ways, just as important for the years that have followed.