Did you ever have a summer job when you were a kid? The only paying summer job I had was when I worked in a clothing store on Main Street in Louisville, Mississippi. I had several summer jobs, but that was the only one that paid me for my time. It was a whopping four dollars a day.

Some of my buddies in town had summer jobs mowing yards or delivering newspapers. When I was a kid the closest thing I had to a summer job was picking up pop bottles along the side of the highway or selling vegetables from our garden. After we had canned or frozen all the vegetables our cabinets and freezer would hold I was allowed to pick and sell what was left.

Peddling the vegetables came only after I was old enough to drive my father's truck into town. Before that, I scavenged the side of the in front of our home for pop bottles.

I had an old Radio Flyer wagon I put the bottles into as I pulled it along the side of the road. When my father went into town he would take them to my Uncle Wilbur's Sinclair Service Station on South Church Street and redeem them for one or two cents a piece. At one point in time they reached the awesome price of three cents a bottle. That’s when I learned to watch the market and hold on to them until the price was higher.

When my father bought a piece of property that connected to our farm in 1964 I rambled through the old buildings to see what was in them. When I opened the door on one of them I stood there for a moment not believing my eyes. There before me was a gold mine in old pop bottles stacked to the ceiling. They were still in the wooden cases they had been purchased in. I was beside myself. I had hit the pop bottle lottery! The only down side was some of them were so old they were obsolete and could not be turned in for a refund. But, there were still enough good ones that I knew I would end up with some paper money rather than a few coins.

My father conceded that I had found them first and he let me collect the bounty from that haul. I, personally, escorted that treasure to my uncle's gas station and held out my hand as he forked out the money and placed dollar bills in my hand. "One dolla', two dolla', three dolla'... and on it went until all the bottles had been redeemed. I grew to love that word redeemed. ... Kind'a like the fellow in the movie O' BROTHER WHERE ART THOU when he emerged from the creek after he had been baptized; He came staggering up the bank to his friends and proudly proclaimed, “Friends, I have been redeemed. All my sins have been washed away in that water back there!” I felt like I had been redeemed, too... only that time it was financially.

I found that treasure back in 1964. I still have one of the bottles that I could not part with. It is a bottle about six or seven inches tall and it has “Louisville Bottling Works, Louisville, Miss. stamped on it. Tiny air bubbles suspended in the greenish-blue glass indicate the inspector let it slip by him. It is scratched and has stains on it I could never scrub clean. I have held on to it all these years to remind me my first job and the day I discovered that treasure trove of old bottles. It was a time when I redeemed old bottles for pennies and then one day I stumbled upon the Mother Load.

But, thinking back, it isn’t all of those old pop bottles I stumbled upon that I treasure most. It is the memories that came with it. The memories of my father struggling to make a living on a small farm in Mississippi, my uncle who redeemed the bottles when I took them to town and the memory of a young boy who thought financial freedom was delivered in pop bottles lying by the side of the road or discovered in old farm buildings.

Ahhhh, the innocence of youth… where did it go?

Rick Algood
June 18, 2011


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