The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Ten Dollar Shoes

By Jeffrey Rowan Lockhart © 1990

Issue: August, 1990

My Great Aunt, Frances Almoth Scholz, shared a vivacious story about her two brothers I'll never forget. First, an introduction of the brothers; they were my Grandfather Papa John and Great Uncle Clayton. Papa John Lockhart remembered his first job - shucking corn in a barn near Asheville, North Carolina for ten cents an hour. He always worked hard. He made it as far as the third grade. Once he landed a job in Memphis, Tennessee, heating rivets. He'd fling red hot rivets aimed at workers who caught them in cups and held them in place by tongs so the riveter could pound them down before they cooled. Thousands of rivets were driven home building that steel bridge spanning the mighty Mississippi River.

At the age of forty, he wanted to go into business for himself, but first had to enroll in night school to learn how to read and write and figure math. He'd set his mind on a task and sweat would fly. In his lifetime he accumulated quite a collection of tools. Some belonged to his father who worked on the construction of the grand Biltmore House in Asheville.

Now, Uncle Clayton was another kettle of fish. If Clayton walked down the sidewalk and old mister work came up to meet him face to face, Clayton would cross the street. I never met Clayton, so my opinions are drawn on kinfolk gossip. They said he'd work awhile but before long, he'd quit or get fired. Stick-to-itiveness was definitely not his forte. If he got hot under the color or ants in his pants, he might hop a Seaboard Coast Line freight and wind up in Florida someplace. He was a burly man with a nasty temper and you just did not stand in Clayton's way or you'd catch it.

I must say that he'd give you the shirt off his back or the last dime in his pocket if you were in dire striates and that he'd walk across town at night barefooted in the rain to help out a friend in need.

Clayton acquired the best job I've ever heard of - an ice cream taster at an ice cream plant in Norfolk, Virginia. It was a quality control final decision position. Imagine that, tasting ice cream and getting paid for it! He also loved baseball. One Saturday his ice cream tasting schedule conflicted with coaching a boy's baseball team. He proposed an ultimatum to the plant manager. "I'm taking off Saturday to coach those boys or I quit!" Saturday morning he was at the ball park coaching the boys. Come Monday he lost the sweetest job ever dreamed of.

Clayton rooted for the New York Yankees and used to sit by the radio in the 1940's and listen to Yankee games. Papa John said one time Clayton became so furious with the Yankee manager for not bringing in a relief pitcher that immediately following the next batter's round tripper, Clayton jerked the radio off the bureau and hurled it through an open window onto the sidewalk. Thank goodness nobody got in the way.

It's time to tell Almoth's story about the ten dollar shoes. She takes us back to 1915-16 in Petersburg, Virginia. The pessimism hatched by World War One and the influenza epidemic remained dormant. Times were a lot more carefree. Papa John and Clayton lived at home. Papa John worked in a trunk factory lining steamer and passenger train travel trunks with crisp bright paper. Clayton worked one day, took off the next. Like I said, work did not suit him much.

Almoth began her story. Papa John owned a set of work clothes and a set of dress clothes. He wore the nice clothes when attending the hard shell Baptist church but Papa John made plans to take out a good looking girl on a date and sport his fancy dress clothes. The dress clothes hung in Papa John's closet. They included a fashionable bowler hat and a new pair of shiny shoes. Hidden in the toe of one of those shoes was a ten dollar bill saved for his date with the good looking girl.

The day arrived when Papa John decided to ask the good looking girl out. He walked home from work sweaty and tired but it didn't matter because his mind was set on bathing and changing into his dress clothes and going into town after the girl. First he opened the closet door and right away noticed the bowler hat missing. He became nervous. He picked up his shiny shoes and dug around inside but could not find the ten dollar bill. Who was the culprit of such hooliganism? Clayton. Clayton! Papa John did not have a temper to match Clayton's but it was rising up to meet it. He marched to the front porch and plopped down as hard as he could in the rocking chair. Almoth was nine and looked on from a bedroom window. Papa John rocked and waited impatiently for Clayton to come home.

"Clayton's downtown throwing my money away on a bunch of junk, I'm sure of it!" Papa John shouted. The longer he waited the madder he grew and the harder he rocked back and forth, back and forth.

Suddenly a fellow and a girl holding onto each other's arm strolled into view. Papa John could not believe his eyes. He stood up and pointed at them. "Here come Clayton!" Clayton escorted the same good looking girl on his arm and wore Papa John's bowler hat cocked to one side sitting on his head. Papa John was so angry he could not speak. He sat down and renewed rocking back and forth really fuming and giving Clayton "the evil eye." Clayton looked at Papa John and had the audacity to tip "his" hat as if to say "Good day to you neighbor." Almoth described Papa John's vein-bulged face as the reddest face she has ever seen.

Clayton carried the good looking girl out on a date and spent Papa John's ten dollars while Papa John ate supper at home in grimy work clothes. Almoth does not remember if Papa John fought with Clayton over the girl and the ten dollars but knew he was afraid of him. Clayton was brute strong and you just had no business getting into a fight with Clayton because he had big fists and would brawl at the drop of a hat.

"Almoth, didn't you despise Clayton the way he treated Papa John?" I asked her. 75 years seemed to mellow Almoth's feelings of hostility toward Clayton. "I loved them both the same and don't you see that it's all a part of growing up?"

She was right. There's a lesson to be learned in everything we do. Papa John never stopped shining his shoes but wooden shoe stretchers took the place of hard earned ten dollar bills.