Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Geezer Goes Historic

Today is the seventh anniversary of this blog. That’s not especially notable; many bloggers have been at it longer, and a whole lot produce more interesting posts and have many more followers.

Like my fellow bloggers and all the writers throughout the world, the geezer thrives on knowing someone out there reads the stuff he creates. So it is gratifying to learn from automatic counters
It's number 7 for Gabbygeezer
attached to this blog for most of the seven years that viewership has expanded more than ten-fold since the days when only a handful of neighbors and close friends checked out Gabbygeezer occasionally.

The best thing by far about the seven years has been the opportunity to find other bloggers who I now consider to be friends, even though we have never met. I've looked at hundreds of blogs over the years, and am pretty picky about deciding on a few to follow closely. So my group of “blogging buddies” is rather small. I place high value on what they write and any comments they make on my offerings.

I’ve been a writer, editor, or both for more than five decades, and think I've learned a thing or two about writers. Most important is the fact that writing is hard work. Attaching one’s bottom to a chair and engaging a sometimes reluctant brain for a period of solitary exercise is not fun. And it is an exercise that doesn't become much easier with repetition. I thoroughly disagree with those who maintain that they write because they enjoy the act.

Writers write because they enjoy the fruits of their labor, not the labor itself. Unless they are very good at it and earn scads of money, the reward comes through comments on their work. A favorable comment from a respected source can send a writer to cloud nine. That’s why people who developed huge social networks such as Facebook cleverly included a “like button” right from the start.

Even a negative jibe is better than silence. At least it shows someone cared enough to read the item. One of the small disappointments during my seven blogging years is that members of my little family, the people I care about most, rarely or never say anything about my posts, formally with a written comment or informally in conversations. Other bloggers say they have the same experience. None claim to understand why. The lack of family interaction is a minor matter, however, considering the many new acquaintances I've made throughout the U.S. and some countries overseas.

One small group I was not aware of before I started blogging consists of the folks who make the historical society in my hometown, Tomahawk, Wisconsin, a vibrant organization that sponsors some interesting activities. Several members of the society have been good about sending me material for posts over the years, and I appreciate their thoughtfulness. One of the society volunteers recently notified me that an early Gabbygeezer post will be a factor in a special event, a “Toma-Walk” to be held next week (on July 19 and 20).

During the walk, local historians and friends in period dress will be available throughout the old business district to tell visitors about the history and folklore of the buildings and businesses in the four-block “Main Street,” which really is part of Wisconsin Avenue. A young actor, Eli Wurl, will portray—believe it or not—me.

Eli will be telling visitors the story of the shoe shining business I conducted in 1946 on Main Street. I wanted to be there to see him in action, but family commitments prevent that. The young man should have a sufficient audience without me; Tomahawk is the hub of a summer vacation area and lots of tourists attend special events.

The story Eli will use for most of his material has been published in the Tomahawk newspaper and in two books after first appearing here. It was re-posted two years ago on the fifth Gabbygeezer anniversary. But for those who haven’t read the tale before, here it is once again:

A Very Small Business

As small businesses went in Tomahawk, Wisconsin, mine had to be one of the smallest. And as business owners went, at age 10, I was probably one of the youngest.

In the summer of 1946, Billy “Barrel” Schmidt and I were hanging around my dad’s tailor shop voicing the usual complaint of youth that there was nothing to do. Barrel’s uncle Louie, who ran the Central Drug Store in front of my dad’s shop, suggested we do something useful and start up a shoe shining business to make a little money.

We thought that was a pretty good idea. My dad found a shoeshine box somewhere, bought us a few supplies, and we were in business. The partnership lasted only a couple of weeks. Barrel decided going swimming at Crystal Lake and other typical Tomahawk summer activities beat heck out of work. He left me as the sole proprietor of the business.

One of the group of downtown businessmen who met every morning for coffee at Rouman’s Restaurant told my dad he thought the Hotel Tomahawk once had a shoeshine stand in the lobby. Sure enough, it was in storage at the hotel. Dad got it for me, and I hauled it out in front of Central Drug every morning, ready for business.

My only advertising was two cardboard signs attached to the arms of the chair. They read: “Shoe Shine 15 cents, other shoe free.”
This postcard provided a measure of fame
When business at the stand was slow, which was often, I toted the shine box to the local barber shops (I think there were three in those days) looking for customers. My recollection is that the only shop where I did much business was 
Charlie O’Rourke’s. That’s where I got my hair cut, and Mr. O’Rourke returned the favor by trying to gently persuade the men awaiting their turn in his chair to let me shine their shoes.

I think my dad suggested my other regular “house call.” If my mom had found out about it, the business would have ended right then and there. On Friday nights, Dad worked until 9 p.m. so Mom thought I was tending to business at my stand until we came home together. Actually, I was at Scorch’s Bar with my shine box. Business there was great, often netting me $2 or $3 for a couple of hours work—big money in those days for a little kid.

At 15 cents a customer, making that kind of cash depended on how much beer was flowing at Scorch’s (usually quite a lot) and some help from my friends.

My friends were two single ladies who worked at the A&P Store and always showed up at Scorch’s about 6:30 on Friday nights. They sort of adopted me, and since the males at the bar were trying to adopt them, they convinced a lot of drunks to get shoe shines—and woe to him who didn’t include a tip in the payment. One slightly absent-minded, or more likely very inebriated, guy paid me to shine his shoes twice in the span of 10 minutes!

I also did some “carry out” business. The best customers were Myron Veith and “Bev” Beverson, who owned The Gift Box across the street from my stand. On Saturday mornings, they left the door to their upstairs apartment unlocked and set out a half dozen pairs of shoes for me. I carried them across the street, shined them up, and took them back.

Another regular customer was Terry Small, who worked at the Quality Meat Market owned by his parents. Terry always dropped off two pairs of shoes for my attention, also on Saturdays. This was easy to recall because Terry was a very big man. His shoes were size 13 EEE. However, he always paid 25 cents a pair, so I didn’t complain about needing to use extra polish and elbow grease.

I worked all summer and occasionally in the fall after starting the seventh grade. Then work got a little old, and in the spring playing baseball was a lot more attractive than popping shoeshine rags and wielding brushes. I sold the stand and my supplies for $5 to Bob Gilley, an older man with some physical handicaps. Mr. Gilley shined shoes at the stand in the entryway of Nick’s Casket Factory on Wisconsin Avenue for quite a few years. He, however, was not known to solicit business in barbershops or bars.

Photographer Claude Venne gave my business a small measure of fame when he sneaked up on me one day when I was taking one of my frequent breaks, reading a comic book and eating a popsicle. Venne made his photo into postcards, which he sold at the Tomahawk Drug Store across the street with some other local scenes he had snapped. He had a note on the shoeshine card display that said something like, “Business is lousy, ain’t it?”

Business wasn’t too lousy. In addition to paying for popsicles, I saved nearly $100 from my summer’s work 60 years ago. I still had the money in the Bradley Bank seven years later to help pay for my first year at the University of Wisconsin. In those days, tuition for one semester at UW was $90.

                                               * * * * * * * * *

Eli, here’s hoping you “break a leg” in your youthful venture into show biz. And if you actually shine any shoes during “Toma-Walk” be sure you price the service a lot higher than the 15 cents I collected in 1946. And thanks, historical society members—you made my otherwise routine blogging anniversary something special. 


Anonymous said...

I always knew I married a smart industrious man who would make his mark in history!

Little Bug

Kay Dennison said...

Happy Blogoversary, Dick!!!! I just celebrated my 9th back in January!

Here's to many more and the good health to keep it going!!!!

Meryl Baer said...

Congratulations on another blog year. Enjoyed the story and keep writing!

Sara Landon Roman said...

Great story. Just read it to my son. Thanks for sharing.

Dave Tippets said...

Thoughts on writing by a great writer and superior editor.

Dick Klade said...

Dave,I can run a month or two on that sort of praise. I referenced no less than 11 of your articles in the Forest Service research history I put together, so compliments from you are special.

Kay said...

Oh wow! Seven years, Dick? That's fabulous! I agree with everything you've written about writing. It's always a challenge, but I love seeing it when it's done. I sure do love having you as part of my cyber family. I just love knowing you're there.

Anonymous said...

Congrates on your 7 years Dick.

I'm always fascinated by stories of 'small town America'.

PiedType said...

That story takes me back to my childhood, when shoe shine stands were a common thing and popsicles were what made summers tolerable.

Happy Anniversary, Dick. said...

I have to laugh. My daughter asked me if UW had a good reputation. (She's thinking of taking a course online.) i told her all her great aunts went there for undergraduate work, and Dad for two years before he transferred to Michigan.

I love your Tomahawk tales. i think I mentioned a while back we sometimes summered up that way. Of course I just love Wisconin, period and miss visits to the family who are now mostly gone or moved away.

Congratulations. You have real staying power, for sure. Dianne

Dick Klade said...

I should have mentioned in this post that my grandfather, a German immigrant, built one of the structures that still houses a business on "Main Street."

Anonymous said...

Happy Blogiversary my Green Bay Packer friend...

One of the inherent problems with anniversaries is that you never know who will turn up. Just happened to be in the neighborhood - must have been fate!

Hope all is well with you - Alan G

Dick Klade said...

Thanks, Alan. What a pleasant surprise to hear from you! Hope you are well. I miss visiting you in the blogosphere.

Bob Lowry said...

Congrats on reaching a milestone that not many can claim. Something on the order of 50% of all new blogs never make it 30 days.

I appreciate that my blog is on your list and you visit on a regular basis. Coming from someone with your writing background, I take that as a compliment.

Have a great 8th year, Dick.

Kay said...

By the way, I love your shoe shine story. So that's where your fame started.