The years of my “teens” began in 1926 with the opening of the second quarter of the twentieth century. I look back on the late twenties and early thirties as a period of growth and maturing physically, mentally and emotionally for me.
I will share memories of these eventful years in the coming pages with episodes and vignettes that hopefully will give insights into the life of a boy growing to manhood in the West Virginia college town of Salem through the period of the great depression.
I was initiated into the business world at thirteen years of age when I took a newspaper route for the CLARKSBURG EXPONENT, a morning paper. My route of some fifty customers covered the west end of Salem. It began at about seven-thirty A.M. on downtown main street where the tightly rolled and wrapped papers were dropped off.
Every morning began with a race by all the newsboys to sell the extra copies of the EXPONENT we were allotted. I think the business men on main street enjoyed buying their paper from the first newsboy to arrive. The race began by sorting out your bundle of papers and slamming it flat on the sidewalk to break it open. With the papers in your paper bag you now ran along the street shouting, “EXPONENT! CLARKSBURG EXPONENT!”
Responsibility was “the name of the game” if you were to succeed with a paper route. It called for early rising; promptness in picking up your papers; delivering the papers to every customer in every kind of weather and getting to school on time. Making the rounds to every customer regularly to collect was a necessary, and not always pleasant assignment. Because I would not deliver papers on Sabbath, I had to employ some boy to take the route that day every week. As you can imagine, finding someone who could be depended upon was difficult. Unhappy customer relations sometimes resulted from unsatisfactory service by my employee.
Memory fails me now on how long I kept the newspaper route. Nor do I recall how profitable the venture was. I must have carried the CLARKSBURG EXPONENT for two years or so and with my profits I was able to purchase a number of things a teenage boy needed or wanted desperately.
One special “newsboy experience” deserves reporting. Imagine the thrill of opening the EXPONENT one morning and shouting, “LINDBERGH LANDS IN PARIS!” The date was May 21, 1927.
Another business project I tried early in my teens was selling THE SATURDAY EVENING POST. That effort was not very successful.
I certainly rate the newspaper route experience as a highly worthwhile enterprise. The contacts with a number of diverse persons was an education in human relations that has stood me in good stead through the years.
My father and two brothers, Brady and Ashby, were outdoorsmen and hunters. So it was natural for me to catch their interest in firearms. I must have been thirteen when Mama and Ashby approved my purchase of a twenty-two caliber rifle. The gun was a Stevens octagon barrel, lever action single shot rifle with open sights. It easily ranked as my most prized possession.
How fortunate I was to have brother Ashby instruct me in the care and use of this gun. I spent many sessions rubbing the gun barrel and stock with 3-1 oil. But the ultimate thrill would come when I could hunt squirrels with this treasured weapon. (Squirrel hunting in West Virginia enjoyed a popularity among sportsmen akin to what we observe during big-game seasons in the West.)
I knew there were squirrels in the oak grove above the stone quarry at the head of Pennsylvania avenue. This location was perhaps a quarter hour walk from home and on the fateful morning of my first hunt with the new gun I was sitting with my back against an oak tree surveying the grove around me at first light.
There have been numbers of occasions in my life when the sight of a buck deer or a bull elk has prompted an adrenaline flow through my system. The discovery of a gray squirrel on the limb of a nearby oak, flipping his tail and chattering, eclipses them all in sheer excitement and emotion.
This was the moment I had waited for and dreamed about–the “moment of truth”. At this vantage point in time I like to believe I was steady and in control as I put the rifle sights on the squirrel and squeezed the trigger. Alas! There was no sound of a shot–only the “click” of the hammer strike. Amazingly, the squirrel stayed put on the limb above me and continued his quarreling. Frantically, I tried to shoot again and even put a new shell in the chamber without success. Admitting failure, I threw a stick at the squirrel and watched him scurry away unscathed.
A broken firing pin proved to be the cause of the gun misfiring. With my rifle repaired, I do not remember ever shooting at another squirrel. However, my Stevens twenty-two provided me recreation in target practice through many years until I traded it in a trading session with Newell Babcock in Alfred, New York in 1937 or 38.