The summer of 1969 has been the topic of much discussion this year. I can hardly believe this is the fiftieth anniversary of that year. Two major events took place that summer. Apollo 11 and American astronauts went to the moon, and hippies and young people went to Woodstock. Mama wouldn’t let me go to either. It would still be a few years before I got my driver’s license and bought my first car. That old worn out Fiat barely made it up Sand Mountain. I seriously doubt it would have made it up to the moon or Woodstock, even if Mama had said I could go!
I actually remember the summer of 68 more than 69. In July of that year I became a teenager. I worked that summer in my dad’s business. Can you imagine a twelve year old tending a business...by himself? That’s exactly what I did that summer. Dad owned King’s Coal and Building Supply, in Rainsville, Alabama. There is a nursery rhyme that says, “Ole King Cole was a merry ole soul.” I rewrote the rhyme to say, “Ole King’s Coal, where everything was sold.” What began as a coal yard eventually included building supplies and hardware. We sold lumber, mortar, sand, gravel, bricks, and blocks with which you could build a house, as well as heaters and coal with which you could warm your house. We also sold candy bars, Cokes, and even Vienna sausages and crackers. 1968 was the last summer we sold anything. I hope that wasn’t because I ran things that summer, or ate too much of the candy, but that was our last one in business. Since we don’t need to add more heat to what we already have during the summers in the south, we didn’t sell much coal during those months. I guess not many people were building houses then either, so Dad used his trucks to haul things for other people that summer. Since he was gone most of the day and business was slow at Ole King’s Coal, I tended the store. I was cheap labor. Actually, I was free labor...except for what I ate. I sold the snacks I couldn’t eat to local farmers taking a break from plowing.
Dad had a new, one-ton, red Chevrolet dump-truck. I claimed it as my own. Hey, any boy who is old enough to run a business is old enough to drive a dump-truck. Our house was at the end of a long dirt driveway, behind our business. It probably wasn’t a quarter of a mile, but too far for a working boy to walk! My Uncle Bill, from Florida, brought his new bride to visit us that summer. I don’t guess she had ever seen anyone my age drive a dump-truck. She almost had a heart attack when I pulled up for lunch. Well, “pulled up” might not be the correct choice of words. “Slid in” might have more accurately described my grand arrival. With a definite tone of concern, she asked my mama, “How old is that boy?” Knowing what she really meant, Mama said, “Why he’s been driving since he was little!”
That was a different day and a different way. Things were not all good, but certainly not all bad either. Children, especially in the country, grew up a little faster than these days. I’m wondering if maybe we need a little more of what we had back then, and little less of what we have now. Perhaps a little more responsibility, and a little less play, was not all bad. I’ve got to run. I’m going to go get a Pay Day candy bar and a bottle of Coke.
— Bill King is a native of Rainsville, where he and his wife graduated from Plainview High School. King is a director of missions in Opelika, a writer, musician and author. His column appears in the Times-Journal Thursdays edition. Visit brobillybob.com for more information.