The Early Years
I loved helping my parents in our busy corner grocery store
Charlie - 2014
Life was more simple when I was young. Between then and now, television was invented, jet engines revolutionized flight, drive-in movies, vinyl records, vacuum tubes and rotary phones have all become extinct. Color replaced black & white, tape replaced film, discs replaced tape and digital chips replaced them all.
Typewriters are also extinct. Correspondence travels instantly over the Internet by eMail and pocket-size computers called cell phones and tablets have made everything digital.
A single cellphone replaces a telephone, newpaper, picture and movie camera, turntable and stereo, books and even game boards. The internet puts untold volumes of information at our finger tips. Social Media lets us share all of this and the events of our daily lives with family and friends instantly, wherever in the world they might be.
Satellites provide an arial view of the entire world, land and sea. It lets us travel to unknown places safely guided by GPS (Global Positioning Satalite).
As a teenager growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, I loved helping my parents in our busy corner grocery store, J&R Foods. We sold fresh vegetables and meats and my dad was the butcher.
Even at the early age of 13, I was handling inventories and watching delivery men so we weren't cheated on the count. The Wonder Bread guy, for example, would hide the Sunbeam bread behind his bread. Hostess would leave 11 packages of cupcakes instead of 12 if you happened to be busy with a customer.
The real challenge came when my father was disgnosed with cancer. He suffered very much as a result of surgery and radiation treatments and became severly depressed. We had to learn to cut meat. The delivery guy taught me how to hang a side of beef in our cooler so I could "break it down" right on the hook. Eventually, I could cut and cleaver pork chops, slice a round steak or tie up a rump roast as good as any butcher.
By age 16 my mother and father were divorced. I quit school to help with the work in our store, pricing goods, stocking shelves, cleaning fruit and vegetable bins, refrigeration cases and defrosting freezers.
My mother was a strong lady and an astute business woman. From her I learned about cash flow, markup, inventory, profit and loss and customer relations.
We spent idle time playing Scrabble and we would compete on who could take the biggest grocery order over the phone and fill it from memory. Of course, delivering the order was always my job, wagon and bicycle.
Our store was open from 8 A.M. to 8 P.M. and with my brother and
sister still in school, we had many dinners cooked in an electric skillet we kept in the back of the store. We often had to eat in between customers and some meals and desserts were made from our fresh foods that might otherwise spoil.
J&R Foods - Our Corner Grocery
But, before long there was a new trend in grocery shopping called a Supermarket
. These big stores ran ads that tricked our customers into believing their pre-packaged goods and self-service was a better deal than our fresh foods and personal service.
I still remember a customer complaining about our price for bologna. We sold it for 69¢ a pound and the supermarket advertised bologna for 59¢. However, the "fine print" on their ad said "11 oz pkg." That customer, like many others, didn't realize that they were actually paying a whooping 86¢ a pound for their prepackaged bologna.
One day I decided two could play their game. We had an overstock of canned cherry pie filling. It was February so I decided it was a good time to employ a supermarket trick to sell out that cherry pie filling.
I constructed a display with an attractive sign, "Bake A Cherry Pie For Washinton's Birthday." Then I repriced our entire stock of 29¢ cans of cherry pie filling at 3-for-a-dollar. My Mother was appalled at the 13¢ price increase but we sold every can of that cherry pie filling.
Our customers were not being cheated but they were being out smarted
. The next time someone tells you you don't need to study subjects like algebra
, you are being set up to be cheated. Have some fun by checking out the 8th grade exam from 1895 in the "Ancestry" section of this autobiography.
In highschool I joined the radio club where I learned electronics. At age 14 I passed the written FCC exam, sending and receiving Morse Code at 5 wpm, earning my Ham Radio
license KN8ARV. During highschool I operated my station from the school's club.
There was no salary working in the store and tipping for grocery delivery wasn't a common practice, although on some occassions I might be given a cookie. So I resorted to doing odd jobs for neighbors in order to buy my own radio equipment.
I cut grass and washed cars. One neighbor taught me how to clean and hang wallpaper. For her I also shoveled coal, taking it by wheelbarrow from the street, where it was dumped, to the coal bin. During the winter I would go every night and "bank the fire" in her furnace so she and her sister would have heat in the morning.
K8ARV - My Ham Radio Station
Eventually I earned my "General Class" FCC license and enough money to buy a used receiver and a 35 watt voice transmitter that I built from a kit. But, working in the store, doing odd jobs and going to highschool at night, left very little time for my radio hobby.
I kept working, though, and
eventually I earned enough money to upgrade my ham equipment to the SX70 receiver and Viking 75 watt transmitter in the K8ARV photo shown below.
The store continued to demand more and more time and profits were slim. My grandfather, who aparently had some money in the store, convinced my mother that we should "remodel" the store to be more like a supermarket. The move was a disaster and we lost even more customers.
I was soon to be graduating and I wanted a car. My brother was old enough to help with cutting meats and I set out to find a "paying job." It was a struggle because I was not 18 at the time. Surprisingly enough, though, I found a job at the downtown Cincinnati Public Library where I would work for the next four years.
My sister, brother and I were just one year apart in age and by now they both had graduated highschool. My sister became a secretary and my brother went to work cutting meat for a supermarket. My mother was working too hard trying to keep the store profitable and we decided it was time to sell the business and move on.
Sadly though, we moved to an apartment where we couldn't keep our dog, Teddy. I cried for weeks when I found out my mother had him put down. He was only about six years old so I truly hope there is a "rainbow bridge" so I can tell him how sorry I was for his short life.
My mother took a job at the library in the catalog department and I finished highschool. I bought a 1957 Chevy that became my pride and joy. I even bought a Gonset G76 mobile unit so I could operate my ham radio station from the car.
My 1957 Chevy
With everyone in the family working we finally rented a cute little house on Chambers Street. All of our money went into a family fund.
Mom, who hadn't driven since before WWII, bought a Nash Metropolitan and then a Chevy II. My brother bought a 1950's Ford and I enrolled in Engineering at the University of Cincinnati.
For awhile life was normal. My brother and I double dated. It was the days of drive-in movies, minature golf, Rock & Roll, and car hops on roller skates.
My pay at the library was low compared to the Union wages my brother earned at the suprmarket and my mother convinced me the library was no place for a career. I left the library and went to work for the supermarket. They put me in charge of their "Deli." It was like having our store back again but within the year I was "laid off."
The miliatry draft was closing in, so I decided to enlist in the Air Force. The best part would be getting more training in electronics and, after my enlistment, my college education would be VA subsidized.
Then, on my first leave home after basic training, I found everything of mine gone
. No more car. My brother had totaled it. No more ham equipment. My Mother had sold it. And no more Hi-Fi and 45 rpm records. My sister had taken possession.
When I left Cincinnati after my military leave, it was many years before I ever returned.