When I was 12 or so: Odd jobs, COVID, and Krispy Kremes

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When my parents started handing me a weekly allowance, it was just a quarter. Even though RC (Royal Crown) Colas and my favorite snack, Big Fig bars, cost only a nickel each, it seemed to me 25 cents didn’t go very far. At 12 or so I got to be a bit of an entrepreneur and took on odd jobs to earn extra cash. I needed the money for treats, comic books, Elvis 45s, and the Saturday morning Kiddie Shows at the Wards Corner Suburban Theater on Granby Street, a mile from our house in Norfolk, Virginia.

Mowing lawns, one of my first occupations, was easy enough, and it’s the yard work I most enjoy even today - when you’re through, you can instantly see what you’ve accomplished! One cranky neighbor on Harold Street, where I grew up, always stood around and watched me strong-arm my dad’s old push mower, and fussed when I’d miss a spot. I figured if he could hang out there that long and walk around the yard to supervise my work, he sure could’ve mowed his own lawn.

Another tiny enterprise I started up was selling snacks at the Little League games that were played up the street at Crossroads, my elementary school. I’d buy candy bars and the crackers my mom called “nabs” (because they were made by Nabisco) and hawk them in the stands for a few pennies more than I paid. But the real profit-maker was peanuts in the shell.

At our neighborhood grocery store (where they’d pay two cents apiece for discarded soda bottles that I’d scavenge on the streets), a huge bag of what my mom called “goober peas” (unaware the term came from Congolese “nguba”/peanut) might cost 50 cents. I could divide them into 10 small brown paper sacks, staple the tops, and sell them for a dime each. Just do the math: if I sold all 10, I’d make half a dollar - two weeks’ allowance in a single afternoon!

There were a couple problems. One was the occasional bully who would try to rob me - nuts, candy, cash, and all. Another was that PTA mom at the ballfield who angrily insisted, “You can’t sell that stuff here - we have our own concession stand!”

So I found other ways to supplement my income. Also at about 12 or 13, I’d taken up both coin-collecting and stamp-collecting. As a budding wordsmith, I loved the fancy words for those hobbies, “numismatics” and “philately,” which I later found out came from Greek and meant, respectively, “the study of coins” and “love of something tax-free” - which is what a letter was for its recipient, when the sender had pre-paid the delivery fee by affixing a postage stamp.

You could order collectible stamps “on approval” by mail in those days from H.E. Harris & Co., and coins too from Littleton Stamp and Coin. Both advertised in magazines like Boys Life and in comic books, and I became a loyal customer. As my stamp collection grew and I had eventually accumulated lots of duplicates, I figured I could start my own business. I made up the name “NORVA (for Norfolk, Virginia) Sales Company,” placed a few ads of my own, and soon enough started my own on-approval mail-order operation.

After a while I hit upon another idea that appealed to my sweet tooth. Along with an RC or a Grapette, my two favorite sodas, I liked to eat not only fig bars and moon pies, but especially - once they opened a nearby shop - Krispy Kreme doughnuts, particularly the ones filled with raspberry jelly. I knocked on our neighbors’ doors one weekend and asked if they’d like fresh donuts by the dozen biked to their homes on Saturday mornings.

When several said yes, I persuaded the Krispy Kreme driver who serviced our store to deliver to my house too. He let me have the doughnuts for wholesale, comped me a couple dozen each week, and I sold them all for retail - except for the freebies I ate myself, of course. Pretty soon I was delivering as far as a mile or so away, having to make several trips back and forth from my house, as my bike basket could hold only five or six dozen at a time.

I was reminded of my doughnut route recently when I read this Krispy Kreme promo: “Anyone who shows their COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card will receive a free Original Glazed doughnut.” I plan to find our vax cards from this past March and drive across town to our KK shop. Alice will be fine with the glazed I expect, but I’m hoping to convince them their former delivery-lad merits a raspberry-filled, or maybe two!

Rick LaFleur is retired from 40 years of teaching Classics at the University of Georgia; his latest books, are The Secret Lives of Words, a collection of his widely distributed newspaper columns, and Ubi Fera Sunt, a lively translation into classical Latin of Maurice Sendak’s children’s classic, Where the Wild Things Are. His Facebook group, “Doctor Illa Flora’s Latin in the Real World,” numbers over 4,100 members. He and wife Alice live part of the year in Apalachicola, under the careful watch of their French bulldog Ipsa.

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