In The Neighborhood
© Copyright 2022 by Don Shook
Photo courtesy of Pexels.
The summer of 1957 followed closely on the heels of my high-school graduation. Ecstatic that my public-school education was finally over and college looming only three months away, my mindset had settled into lazy summer days and girl-pursuing nights. I couldn’t wait to sleep late, lay around, and waste as much time as possible. After all I had labored mightily over twelve long years. I deserved such waste. My father had other ideas.
“Up ‘n att’em, boy!” was his first command on the first day of my summer hiatus.
“Daddy,” I protested, sitting up staring at him out of sleep-encrusted eyes. “It’s only seven o’clock.”
“Yea, and we’s gonna’ be late for work.”
“We?” Surely, he was kidding.
“Come on. I’ll be out in the shop. Meet me there in ten minutes.”
He wasn’t kidding. A week earlier I thought he’d really been kidding when he said he’d arranged for me to work that summer as an electrician’s apprentice. My father was a master electrician. He was also a master at upsetting my summer plans. His plans for me and my plans for me simply didn’t coincide.
Two weeks laboring on a downtown Dallas skyscraper, carrying steel pipe and heavy wires, balancing on metal beams while staring down at lucky pedestrians scurrying about on the street, convinced me I was better suited for a different vocation. I’d never be a master electrician.
“What’a ya mean quitting?”
“It pays more ‘n I’ll be inside copyin’ airplane blueprint information for Convair over at Fort Worth.”
A disapproving, short snort was followed by, “You need to learn a trade, boy.”
“Daddy, I can make college money usin’ my talent.”
The next snort was even shorter. Six-weeks later the air-conditioned inside, well-paying Convair job was done. “Now what?” my father demanded, looming over me like a prehistoric carnivore.
“I made lots of money. Why can’t I jest…”
“You need to learn a trade.”
Fearing what that meant, I immediately scoured the Help Wanted section of The Dallas Morning News. Summer work for soon-to-be college students was not that hard to find providing you lied about the college part. I was offered a job.
“Knives, daddy…Cutco Knives.”
“Door to door, are you outt’a your mind?”
“These knives are great, folks really like them. First, I demonstrate, then I sell. I’ll make a killin’.
“Knowing you and knives, that could happen.” Another snort preceded his walking away with, “You better learn a trade, son.”
In another week, my first door-to-door selling venture was cut short when learning that, besides the nine stitches needed to repair my sliced left hand, I was not a very good knife salesman. My sole sale served as a bribe to my stepmother.
A dyed-in-the-wool religious zealot, she responded by introducing me to Buddy Fails. She and Buddy were spirits of a kindred kind, both supporting any symbol of unwavering Trinity trust. She’d read about Buddy in The Baptist Standard which, despite usual fastidious scrutiny of such promotions, featured an article about his bible sales outreach. Cahooting with my father that every spare moment of my summer should generate earnings, she was delighted when learning Buddy was also delighted when I answered his ad.
Living across the street from The First Baptist Church guaranteed no special theological expertise, but did familiarize me with much of the Good Book’s content. Naturally, I’d be a natural. As was selling God’s Chosen Word bibles to receptive prospects. “Nothing could be easier,” Buddy proclaimed at our initial sales meeting.
Buddy was a large, rather slovenly, thirty-year-old who took enormous pleasure in motivating his youthful sales team to, “…get out’n spread the word. Both sinners’n saved need it. ” I soon discovered that what poor neighborhood bible-sales prospects really needed was food for their tables, not God’s Chosen Word bibles. Still, I proceeded with undeterred intent and Buddy’s sales program.
My first customer was a rather innocent-looking Hispanic lady. With several kids clinging to her flimsy house-dress, she hugged the religious treasure I handed her. It was an easy sale. As were several others I made my second day on the job. This was mainly due to Buddy’s closely-structured sales pitch…which he demanded we follow to a tee. God’s Chosen Word was a God-send. Hello, college tuition. I was on my way.
On my third bible-sales day, a grinning Buddy dropped me off in a bit nicer neighborhood…uncracked sidewalks and leafy trees. “Stay with the pitch.” He reminded, driving away. Starting down the block, bibles in carrying-case, I passed some sturdy structures, including a church. “Today, I thought, I’d really make a killin’.” God favored me. Like God’s Chosen Word…I was special.
Showing promise, the first house where I stopped had a Better Homes and Gardens manicured-lawn look. After my third knock, a rather attractive, older woman opened the door. “Yes?” she smiled. Aha! Positive sign number one in Buddy’s Sales Manual. Encouraged, I launched into the prescribed pitch, “Ma’am, my name’s Don Shook and”…here came the killer pitch…”all the pastors in this neighborhood have asked me to drop by and talk to you about this beautiful new bible…”
“All the pastors?” she interrupted.
“Why, why..sure. I…”
“How rude of me. Do come in. I just brewed some tea. Would you like some?”
Before I could answer, she hurriedly left the room. I waited, excited about the prospect of another sale. I mean, she offered me tea.
Confident of another commission, my wait was short-lived as she returned, followed by a well-groomed man. “Mr. Shook,” she said smiling pleasantly, “This is my husband, Brother Fred White, pastor of the church you passed on the way here. Now you were saying?”
I reconsidered learning a trade.