Sunday, January 21, 2007

You Get What You Pay For

Tony and the boys always say that I ought to write a book about my family. The classic Buddhist example of impermanence is to say, "In 100 years not a person living today will still be alive."

It hasn't taken that long for me. When I stop to think of it, very few of the members of my huge childhood family still survive. I only knew one grandparent, my paternal grandmother Josie Smith. She died when I was 11. My parents have been gone for almost 25 years, I've lost a brother and a sister. None of my aunts and uncles, on either side survive, and many of my cousins are also gone. What is there left besides memories? How do they live on if no one tells their stories?

My maternal grandmother Molly Hayman, died when my mother was 13. There were still several children at home, including my mom's nine-year-old brother Lonnie. Mother became a sort of surrogate mother to Lonnie, and he lived with my parents after they married.

Lonnie was only about 5' 3" fully grown, and probably never weighed more than 100 pounds. He was dark skinned, big-eared and scrawny but he was Mama's baby brother and we all loved him dearly.

My Uncle Paul drove an ice wagon back in the days before electric refrigeration, when people kept food cold in an insulated box which held a large block of ice. Paul sold 50 pound blocks of ice to the people on his route. This meant he'd have to climb down off the wagon seat, climb up into the insulated compartment of the wagon, haul out a block of ice with a set of iron tongs, lug it up the front sidewalk, up the porch steps, into the kitchen and load it into the ice box. One day he hurt his back and asked if Lonnie would come along and handle the ice, since Paul couldn't afford to lose a day's work.

Lonnie was 14 and weighed about 80 pounds himself, but agreed to help. He manfully hauled ice off the wagon and into kitchens all day. Late in the day they as they approached one house Paul said, "When you choose the ice for this one make sure to get a big piece. She has a scale on the porch and she weighs it. If it's not 50 pounds she'll make you bring it back to the wagon and get a bigger piece."

So Lonnie looked over the remaining blocks and chose what looked to be a big block. He lugged it up to the porch, where his customer stood with crossed arms and a sour expression.

"Weigh it," she said. "I pay for 50 pounds of ice and I'm gonna get 50 pounds of ice!"

Well, the block weighed 48 pounds. She was adamant that it be returned to the wagon and a larger piece brought. Poor Lonnie, with sore arms and back and shaking legs, lugged the 48 pound block back to the wagon and searched until he found a larger piece. He lugged it back to the porch and scale. It weighed 49 pounds.

"Oh, please lady," he begged. "It's only a pound, don't make me carry it back for a pound of ice."

"I gotta pay for 50 pounds of ice, and by gum, I'm gonna get 50 pounds of ice," she said, immovable as the polar ice cap herself.

So back he went, and searched until he was certain he had the largest block in the wagon. He hauled it to the porch and dropped it on the scale, where it tipped over at 54 pounds.

"Well, that's more like it!" The woman said, with a smug grin.

But she had not reckoned on Lonnie's sense of justice. He whipped an ice pick from his belt and, with a close eye on the scale, began chunking at the block of ice, making shards fly off in all directions.

"Here! Here!" the woman cried, "What do you think you're doing?"

"Lady," Lonnie said, drawing himself up to his full and inconsiderable height, "You paying for 50 pounds of ice and by god, 50 pounds is all you are gonna get!"

1 comment:

OutHouse Capital of Canada said...

I am working on getting to 100

In my family, my maternal grandmother died in childbirth when my mother was born. lots of sad tales out there