The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Hundredth Man - A Story True

By Royce Q. Holland © 1986

Issue: April, 1986

My Uncle Bob told a very funny story, until his death at 93 years. He was a successful cotton gin parts distributor in early Oklahoma. Because of his trade, he admired any incident of clever merchandising, commerce or politics. His nature was honest, therefore, I feel he witnessed this incident or at least, he had trusty first hand knowledge of it.

During the darkest days of the great depression, many good men were out of work. Their idleness concentrated them daily on the long pine benches in front of Mr. Brimm's General Store. Mr. Brimm was in his high 80's and feeble. These loafers would sit and moan hard-times and whittle notches in the benches. They would discuss this attractive new Marxist Government which seemed to be so successful in Russia. "It feeds and takes care of all the poor people," said some.

The old merchant would stand just inside his store window and glare at them between the large plastered sale signs on his front window. He loved these helpless men. The deep lines in his face may have been from his being wiped out in another panic, in Tennessee, before moving to the Indian Territory of Oklahoma. He sorrowed for his country and these men. He had extended credit to the last one until his own security was in danger.

On one particular day he was really "fed up" with their talking new government and especially their whittling on his pine benches. Just then the drayman stopped his team of large horses in front of the old store. He passed the time of day with each man by name, gathered the trash from the trash barrel and drove on leaving nothing on the street but a huge pile of fresh native horse fertilizer. All the loafers, for lack of words, just sat there gazing at the steamy vapor rising into the frosty morning air. Old Mr. Brimm was looking at it too from his window.

Suddenly, as though a pin had struck him, Mr. Brimm walked to the room corner, picked up a broom, dust pan, large grocery bag and grabbed five dozen nickel candy bags. He tottered out and stood beside the pile and leaned on his broom. "Do you men see this?" he asked. All the men looked at him with an expression of acknowledgment. "Some," Uncle said, "hid behind the other, as though they feared the old man would blame them."

The old man stooped over, and took several swipes with his dust pan, until he had it all in the large grocery bag. He then walked to the dry loam bank beside the street and shoveled in several scoops of dry loam. He clasped the top of the bag and shook it until the contents were reasonably dry from the mixture. He lined up his nickel candy bags along the stoop and used a rusty bean scoop to scoop a portion into each bag.

After about 60 bags, the old man motioned for "His Boys." He called them "His Boys" because they were all over the streets in those days. They enjoyed helping Mr. Brimm for rewards of apples, oranges and candy.

Six boys came to his aid. Mr. Brimm wrote 3 cents on each little bag. He stood among them like a football coach. "Now boys, go along the streets. Look for inside window flower boxes. Knock on the doors and give these fortunate old ladies a chance at your bargain." He went on, "These old ladies and housewives are too vain to go to the street and pick up fertilizer for their plants and perhaps all their plants are suffering." He motioned each boy off in different directions and tottered back into the store.

In less than an hour, all the boys were back, each of their anxious hands clasping nickels and pennies. The old merchant collected and counted the money. "Two dollars and ninety cents," he said. He handed each boy a dime for his commission. He looked at the stoop. "Not a bag left," he said. He put the money into his pocket, walked to an empty bench and sat down and took out his own whittling stick. He drew his sharp Barlow knife down the stick and watched the shavings fall into the sand.

"Gentlemen, let us talk about our type government and its so called Capitalism." he said letting his tired eyes rove the length of the quiet street. "I had not made one sale this morning," he said, "but a horse wondered by and put me in business. I made two dollars profit - above boys and bags. Some desperate women got food for their plants. I put six boys to work and got my street cleaned. Now these fellows, Marks and Lenin may be good for Russia, but this could not happen there because the Government would own the horse and the women would be too busy to raise flowers, what with the heavy collective farm work and all. You'd best thank our God for our Capitalism."

My uncle said there was no more politics discussed that day. One man said, "I would work four days for that $2.00." Another said, "I have a barn full of that stuff." Old man Brimm turned and said, "Brother, it is all in the packaging, if you live under Capitalism." Until his last days, my uncle always praised our leaders, Washington and Lincoln. But he always said there is one man out of every hundred in every community of America who has the leadership to cause the group to stop and think before they tear our country apart at the seams. My Uncle Bob also praised this one hundredth man, found throughout America.