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  Texas : Features : Columns : N. Ray Maxie :

Strong Teenage Desire
to Make Money

by N. Ray Maxie
N. Ray Maxie
At one time or another, probably most all of us have been caught in a cash flow deficit.

"Papa, I'm not getting enough money. My piddling little 'OLE allowance is just not enough since I have started driving to and from school and dating some.". "Well son, I'll tell you. Money is short right now. Things around here are really tight. I'm not making very much. We have this little farm here to run and animals to feed. The best I can do at this time is send you to school, put your food on the table and clothes on your back. That's about it."

As a fourteen to fifteen year old NE Texas country lad in the early 1950's, I had a strong desire to work and make some money. Living near McLeod, Texas, I had entered high school there. More athletic involvement and increased school activities had radically accelerated both socially and academically, for me. My two-dollar a week allowance would no longer cut it. That only covered my school lunch and a soft drink occasionally.

So, I began to inquire of neighborly folks around the area about letting me work for them. Things didn't look very good and weren't moving along fast enough for me. There just wasn't much work in the area, at least, that a gauntly, fast growing, awkward boy in his early teens could do. Some country folk might even say, "He's got a willing mind, but he's a little light in the be-hind."

But I was persistent and had to find some part-time work, soon. Even though I really had everything I needed, I didn't have that young man's cherished pocket change for daily incidental expenses. Every young man needs to rattle some pocket change.

One evening after school, mother put me to work in our front yard mowing grass. Soon, a fine and distinguished black gentleman from up the road apiece stopped by our place for a short visit. It was Mr. McNoble Harper, a local schoolteacher and coach with outstanding and reputable character, far and wide. He had taught school and coached during the late 1940's at the nearby Rambo School. He had also taught and coached in Atlanta, Texas, at Pruitt and Booker T. Washington Schools during the 1950's. He was a community leader, well liked, disciplined, but most of all, our family friend. He was an industrial man with many worthy pursuits.

I stopped mowing for only a moment to greet Mr. Harper, then continued my work as he and my mother visited under the shade of our giant old oak tree. Exchanging pleasantries and community news, they must have talked for thirty minutes.

Before long the thought occurred to me that Mr. Harper might have some kind of odd job that I could help him with. Then I remembered many times before my mother telling us kids, "You just never know until you ask, do you?" So I stopped mowing and sat beneath the shade tree a while listening to him and my mother talk. She liked conversation with good, educated, honest, straightforward people and Mr. Harper was one.

Soon, after a few deep breaths, I built up enough courage to inquire of him if he might perhaps have some work that I could do up at his place.

Man! Oh man! I can tell you now, that was a big, big stretch for this shy, backward, barefoot country kid. I know I did not do it in a very convincing and encouraging manner. But my need to make a little money was greater than any communication obstacle.

Mr. Harper scratched his head and thought a minute, then responded that he had some hay to haul in from his nearby meadow to his barn. He would be doing that job Saturday and I could come up to his place and help him, about 8 o'clock Saturday morning. He lived only about two miles north of our place.

Soon that big Saturday morning came. I was up early and excited. After breakfast, Mom packed me a small lunch and gave me a jug of water and I was gone. Gone for the first experience of my young life to learn about earning some money, the hard way; the old fashioned way, "We earned it."

Within a few minutes I arrived at Mr. Harper's meadow. He was already at work, alone, loading hay bales onto a large four wheeled trailer pulled by his "Farm-All" farm tractor. He was doing the loading and driving too, jumping on and off the tractor. Immediately, I started helping him. Those big bales of hay must have weighed 60 to 80 pounds each. We loaded that large trailer as high as we could reach, throwing the bales to the top. Mr. Harper then threw a rope across the load and tied the bales on securely.

Heading to the barn to unload the trailer was a "great big" welcome. Riding in the cool wind while resting on top of the load was the break I seriously needed. The Harper Home was high on a hilltop and I remember there being a pretty good breeze blowing across the hill each time we unloaded a trailer load into the barn.

As soon as the trailer was unloaded into the barn, we returned to the meadow to get another trailer load. Back and forth! Back and forth, all day long with about 50 to 55 bales on each load. By 4 o'clock in the afternoon, we must have loaded and unloaded a total of about 350 bales of hay. I was more than ready for that day to end!

Mr. Harper was a hard working man and he worked fast, too. Harder and faster than this Ark-La-Tex country boy had ever worked in his entire lifetime. I was mighty, mighty glad to hear him say, "That's all, boy! We're finished! I'll pay you now."

Taking the money for my hard day's work I soon headed back home to rest and recuperate; to seriously reevaluate my, by then, not so eagerness to solicit folk for manual labor. My Papa's frequent and sound advice kept ringing in my ears. "Son, get yourself a good education and you'll never have to work as hard as I have all my life."

Recently, I've been told that Mr. Harper passed away in 1980, and that his wife, Ms. Corine, still lives today in Atlanta, Texas.

Just last week, I was in contact with their daughter, Mackie Harper Norris, presently living in Jonesboro, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. She and her husband are now retired there. She told me that the old farm tractor we used that day to haul hay with, was the one on which she had learned to drive. Mackie and I reminisced at length, of the same rural experiences we each grew up with. I too, learned to drive on an old farm tractor, among many other common learning experiences she and I shared.

Writing this recollection of a hard day's work growing up in Cass County brings back many pleasant youthful memories of the Rodessa Oil Field era. This is all just a part of me; my deep roots in NE Texas. I am a fourth generation Cass Countian.

I must say, I wouldn't take a million dollars for these precious experiences and my family history there.
N. Ray Maxie
"Ramblin' Ray"
October 1, 2006 Column
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