Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Father's Day Post

This post is in memory of my father, Williams Owens Barrow, born in Sweetwater, Alabama, in 1901, where his father was a Methodist minister.

Daddy graduated from Birmingham-Southern College with a major in English and was a principal in Brewton from 1926 until 1939. He married Lucile Self of Oneonta in 1937; she was a Latin and French teacher in Sylacauga. When we moved to Jacksonville in 1939, he taught physics and chemistry at Jacksonville High School. During WW II, he also worked at Ft. McCellan (Anniston) at night in the post office and was a photographer for Jacksonville State. With the influx of GIs coming into the college after the war, Jacksonville State hired Daddy to organize special counseling services. In 1948, Alabama Polytechnic Institute asked him to organize the new guidance center to help veterans, and we moved to Auburn. He retired from Auburn University and died in 1978.

These bare-bones sentences do little to describe the man and the influence he had on so many people. The newspaper article below is just an example of the way he is remembered. In 1992, students he touched in Brewton in the 1930s honored him.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Of Crickets and Mealy Worms

Nearly 73, I have finally decided to retire! It’s difficult for me to comprehend that I have only a few days left to be an employee. I’ve worked nearly all my life. Although my professional working life has been in education, as I reminisce—an apparently required chore of old age—I recall that there were a few jobs that were just, well, random.

I got my first regular job when we moved to Auburn a couple of months before I turned 10. Although I had always had regular house chores, my first “real” job was helping Daddy dig out the basement. The house had only a crawl space, and he wanted room for storage, a large shop, and a darkroom. I wanted a new wagon (to coast down that great hill near our new house), and he agreed to buy me a red Radio Flyer and pay me a quarter for every load of dirt I hauled out of the basement. I eventually paid for the wagon and earned some extra spending money. (I still have the wagon!)

Hmmm. Maybe I did have an earlier job. I just thought of the way I “bought” a typewriter. That was when we were still in Jacksonville. Before I could read, around age 4, I wanted to type a letter to my Aunt Dean on Daddy’s typewriter. I dictated the words for him to type and then copied each letter, poking the keys with my index finger. I remember sitting on a Sears Roebuck catalog so I could reach the keys. In the second grade, I no longer needed a note to copy, but I still poked the keys with my index finger, so he decided that I should teach myself to type the correct way: assigned finger to assigned key. He borrowed a typing textbook from the high school and told me that he would give me $5 for each 5 words a minute I increased my speed, and that when I got to 25 wpm he would give me my own typewriter. I don’t remember how long that took; it certainly wasn’t a quick process. At any rate, when we moved to Auburn, I had my own typewriter, and he had stopped giving me money at 50 wpm. Several years later, using my typing skills, I worked my way through college!

After we finished digging out the basement, he set up his carpentry shop and the darkroom. I loved helping him process pictures. In Jacksonville, I had “worked” in the darkroom when I was so little that he had to make a step stool so that I could see the top of the counter. In the Auburn darkroom, I actually got to develop and print my own pictures, first using the contact machine and then later the enlarger. I learned how to mix the developer for the film and the pictures and the hypo to “fix” the developing process. After threading the film in the little tubs, adding the developing liquid, and timing the process, we washed and then dried the negatives, using clothespins to hang strips on a string before cutting and filing them in envelopes. The picture dryer had thin, shiny metal sheets that curved around a heated surface. We used a roller to smooth the pictures onto the sheet. After they were crisp and warm, we would put them under something heavy to get rid of the curl, and then use a paper cutter to trim them. Soon my friends were asking for reprints of pictures I had made with my Kodak Brownie camera, and I developed a price sheet. I did custom printing for years, well into my teens, but with a better camera. For a short time, I had fun making cutsey labels on the pictures by putting alphabet soup letters on the photographic paper on the enlarger. Along the way, I had several contracted jobs, usually from realtors who wanted pictures of houses. (I still have the enlarger!)

After we had lived in Auburn for a few months, I started babysitting. Auburn home football games offered a great opportunity for me to make some money. I worked for one family several years, every home game, and sometimes for games in Birmingham and Columbus. (Auburn used to play Georgia in Columbus. Ancient history.) When they moved, I went to another family. Okay, so babysitting isn’t so random, but it’s connected with Auburn football games, which are the reason for the next job. After I could drive, some friends and I worked for a florist and sold mums on Toomer’s corner the morning of every home game. In those days, the boys bought their dates enormous yellow mum corsages with blue pipe cleaner A’s pinned on them. And the girls wore suits, high heels, and hats. (More ancient history.)

My most unusual job was raising fish bait: earthworms, mealy worms, and crickets. I did this for years, starting in the sixth grade. We had an agreement with a regular customer, the owner of the downtown hardware store. Daddy allocated a space in the garden for the earthworms; my job was digging them up and counting them out into cardboard containers. The crickets and mealy worms were kept in the basement in large tin containers with screened tops. In addition to counting them into the cardboard containers, I fed and watered them and kept the tins clean. The crickets needed to be sorted by gender to make sure we had enough females for breeding. I still remember how to tell the gender of crickets, but that wasn’t an issue with mealy worms! At some point the beetles had to be removed, after the females have laid the eggs. I have a fuzzy recollection of the life stages of the mealy worms: beetle, egg, larva (grub), and worm—not necessarily in that order. I should look up the facts in order to write with authority, but I’d rather keep this childhood memory fuzzy! The biggest problem with keeping the tins clean was removing the potato pieces we put in the bran to provide moisture for the mealy worms. I used chicken waterers for the crickets and put cotton in the trays so the little crickets wouldn’t drown. Crickets lay eggs right beneath the surface of loose soil; the baby crickets are tiny replicas of the adults; they don’t go through stages like the mealy worms.

In the early 70s, I stopped teaching (temporarily) and started helping at our farm supply store, where I routinely unloaded feed trucks, slinging a 50-pound bag on my shoulder with ease (probably a reason I have back trouble now), and learned about male and female plumbing joints and about the differences between pink-eyed, black-eyed, and purple hull peas. I learned about using a cash register (not electric), marking up items, buying on early discount, managing employees, and filing sales tax reports. I also learned how to go broke and shut down a business.

I’m struggling hard to get a connection between these random jobs and my “real” job in education, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to tie these disparate items together. But maybe the connection is the learning process itself. A friend recently gave me a little plaque: “When one person teaches, two people learn.” I’m so glad that I’ve had such wonderful opportunities to learn. And I don’t plan on stopping!