My Father was not a dreamer. He believed in hard work. Showing up every day. Respecting your boss. Respecting your employees. Just having a job through the Great Depression was lucky, so guys, like my father, felt an obligation to do the best job possible to help their company be profitable and in return they kept their decent job.
My Mother was a dreamer. Her childhood situation would force anyone to dream of better things. Her German speaking grandparents allowed her to play outside as a child, but she had to be tied up with a rope so her father wouldn’t kidnap her as he threatened to do. She told me she always dreamed about life on the other side of the fence. After nine years of schooling she went to work in a factory during the depression to help her single mom get their own apartment and put food on the table. She dreamed of marriage, children and owning dishes, pots, pans and furniture.
When I was a youngster I learned that both of my parents’ life lessons were correct. Dream your dreams, but you must work hard every day to attain them.
So, when I was 11 years old I wanted to go into business. My best buddy, Johnnie, was 12 and we were as close as brothers. We played every sport and liked to ride our bikes to the river and fish. We had to ride miles out of the way to buy fishing worms. Our homes were close to the roads and highways leading to two popular fishing lakes, two fishing creeks and two rivers, including the Wabash River where we liked to fish. We decided there was a huge market in our neighborhood for a Night-Crawler business. I told Mom.
She never laughed at the idea. Instead she questioned me about where we would find them and how we would sell them. I explained that big fat juicy night-crawlers liked watered grass and they lay across golf greens late at night, just waiting to be grabbed.
She thought about it and said, “If you can talk your dad into taking you out at night, I’ll help you sell the damn things.”
I needed Mom to do the convincing of Dad. You see, in our home Dad made all the big decisions…like should Red China get in the United Nations and does a Nuclear Arms Treaty make sense…the big decisions. Everything else, Mom figured out how to get her way.
So my poor Dad would shake me awake around 11:30 and my buddy, Johnnie, would come running across the street and at midnight we would be out at the Lafayette Country Club with our flashlights, grabbing night-crawlers. We’d get home around 2-2:30am with at least 1000 of the slippery foot long worms.
We did that every Thursday and Friday night.
We had signs up on telephone poles all over the neighborhood and a sign in our backyard. NIGHTCRAWLERS—35 cents a dozen, Three Dozen for a Dollar. Saturday and Sunday only.
The doorbell started ringing Saturday mornings at 5am. Mom did the selling. The worms were kept in our basement in peat moss and dirt and we would have small coffee cans holding a dozen and bigger cans holding three dozen. Up and down the stairs my Mom would trudge. She would wake me around 7am to help because there were lines of guys waiting to buy our huge worms. We would sell out of worms by nine o’clock. Helping Mom I would hear her humorous one-liners. Every fisherman would get a quip from my Mom.
Most serious fishermen would buy either three dozen or six dozen. Before Mom started down the steps she would ask them if they wanted male worms or female worms. The puzzled looking guys would say, “What’s the difference?”
Mom said, “You get more worm with the male ones.”
Sometimes, after the sale, she would ask them, “You know how to make your fish stop smelling?”
“Cut off their noses.”
Another line she used to use on them: “Cook a guy a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a guy how to fish and you get rid of him for the whole weekend.”
BTW: That first summer Johnnie and I went into the Night-crawler business, we made $800, four hundred each in three months. Huge bucks for kids. That was the summer of 1954 and $800 then is the same as $6980.00 today. The summer of ’55 we did over $1000.
I might have been a millionaire if I’d kept going, but the next summer I was 13 and it was time to leave home and become a priest. And boy is that another long damn story.