Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Business of Our Own!

My cousin Karan and I were inseparable as children--we played together, slept together, talked on the phone together, and drove our mothers crazy together. Unfortunately for my Aunt Loraine, my mother worked--which meant Loraine had us most of the time. I remember one particular day Karan and I crossed the irrigation ditch and ventured out further than we normally did. As we came up over the canal bank we saw the most spectacular field of pretty purple flowers. There were tiny purple flowers everywhere. We sat ourselves down right in the middle of them and marveled at the glorious spectacle we'd stumbled upon. Surely others would appreciate these beautiful creations if they could just see them. Then we hit upon a brilliant idea! What if we could sell the flowers? We'd be rich! We ran back to the house, grabbed my little red wagon and a couple of big spoons, and headed back to that glorious field. We dug up as many clumps of "flowered" dirt as we could fit into the wagon and headed off to sell our goods. We pulled that wagon all over the neighborhood but nobody was buying! Couldn't they see the overwhelming beauty for themselves? Apparently not. As the afternoon progressed, the wind began to blow, the dirt dried out, the flowers wilted, and our business venture came to a disappointing and dismal end. Apparently some people just have no vision!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Oolee's Burger Hut

During my childhood there was no such place as McDonald's, Burger King or Taco Bell. The nearest place to buy fast-food was Mertz' Bar in the neighboring town of Shelley. I believe we went there, hmmm . . . let me see. . . once! That all changed when one of the local boys returned from his mission to the Polynesian Islands and decided to purchase an old abandoned gas station and turn it into a "hamburger joint". I clearly remember the building "pre-Wilford Chapman". It was a run-down wooden building (located right on the corner where the current Firth Plaza now resides). There were old rusty gas pumps out front, and a "not a snowball's chance in hell" attitude! But Wilford was a fine businessman and he saw a nitch in Firth that no one else was attempting to fill. He cleaned the place up, removed the gas pumps, put in a sliding window for ordering, and he was in business! He named his new venture "Oolee's Burger Hut"--Oolee being the nick-name he acquired will serving in the Tongan Islands. Now I don't recall ever actually eating there; we just didn't have the money. But years later I worked there as a teenager. By this time Wilford had sold the business and moved on to bigger and better things. He sold to the Simpson family from Shelley and they ran the restaurant for years. I worked for June Simpson and her mother--two of the kindest, sweetest, hard-workin'-est women you'd ever want to meet.
Along with new owners, the burger joint also go a new name--The Tree House. Now the food at The Tree House was F.A.N.T.A.S.T.I.C.! They had the best french fries ever (naturally so--since we were in the heart of potato country). Each morning they'd wash, peel, and slice boxes of potatoes which then got an ice cold soak in buckets of water and stored in a fridge in the back room. They had terrific milkshakes (lime was my favorite), burgers, sandwiches, popcorn shrimp (gourment for Firth) and desserts. The thing I remember the most was the great Coca-Cola served there. Back then we measured out the coke syrup, filled it with soda water, stirred it, loaded it with ice and it was ready to go. The best Coke on the planet.
The building sported two short, L-shaped, counters with bar stools. On the south side was a very small dining room with approximately three booths and two sets of table & chairs. The Tree House managed to do a good business and was particularly busy during the lunch and dinner hours. Kids would stop in after school for some of those tasty fries with that creamy, rich fry sauce. On one wall sat an old juke box which played 45's. (For all you "sprouts"--a 45 is a small record which held only one song on each side). Sometimes, if it was slow, June would let us take dimes out of the machine and listen to music. Songs like "Abraham, Martin, & John," "I Heard it Through the Grape Vine", "Louis, Louis", and "I Want to Hold Your Hand" sounded through that small old 'gas station' while we scrubbed the place getting ready to close for the night. I've always been fortunate enough in life to have been able to secure a job when I needed one. Oolee's may not have been the best job I've ever had, but it certainly was the tastiest! Mmmm . . . I think I'm gonna go fry up some spuds!