Monday, November 16, 2009

Karl, Ed & Billie

Now anyone who's lived in Firth during the last few decades will know about Karl, Ed, & Billie. These three were the Jenkins brothers and lived in Basalt for years. For whatever reason, all three of these grown men were mentally handicapped. They also became known as the town "characters" and many a story was passed along regarding them. Each brother had his own quirks and personality. After someone told Karl that he'd go to hell if he didn't go to church he started attending regularly. He wasn't always happy with what he heard however, and occasionally would stand up and shout "You're a damn liar!" (I suspect others in the congregation may have had similar thoughts.) You rarely saw him without a big old cigar in his mouth and he was the more intimidating of the three brothers for me.

Billie was in love with his bicycle--I never saw him without it. He was of slender build, sat with his legs crossed at the knees, and while smoking his cigarettes, often observed those around him as if they were inferior to him. He was the quieter of the three brothers and I don't remember much about him.

And then there was Ed. Now Ed and I had a personal relationship--unbeknownst to me. I worked at the Tree House when I was a teenager and Ed came into the restaurant on a frequent basis. He usually came in for a cup of coffee and some chatter. Mostly he ranted and raved about how he was "gonna get DRUNK!" Apparently that statement got a "rise" out of people so I think he said it often for that intended purpose. Being the only young girl working at the Tree House, Ed developed a crush on me. He would often order his cup of coffee, give a quarter tip to the waitress with express instructions to give this to "that other girl". I got razzed about it from my friends and co-workers. Then came Valentine's Day. Ed went all over town telling people that he had given his girlfriend "chocolates" for Valentine's Day. Girlfriend--being me! Well, I got no chocolates from Ed--nor from anyone else for that matter. But I got the teasing! A few weeks later I was talking to my Aunt Loraine and she was telling me that her best friend Wanda was surprised on Valentine's Day to open her front door and find a box of chocolates sitting on the step. Wanda had gotten MY CHOCOLATES! What's more--Wanda had eaten those chocolates. I got the razzing--Wanda got the chocolates! The only consolation I got from that situation was the knowledge that Crazy Ed had no idea where I actually lived! Thank heaven for BIG favors!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Woodward Brothers Potatoes

My mother worked in Firth as a bookkeeper working for two brothers, Jay & Glenn Woodward, at their potato packaging business. Mom always loved numbers. From the time she was a small child she loved to watch her grandfather *work the numbers* at the Dye Mercantile in Basalt--numbers fascinated her. Once I was old enough to work (age 14), she was able to secure a job for me after school and on weekends. Since my mother was widowed at age 36 I think the Woodward brothers saw this as an opportunity to help her.

I actually enjoyed the work there--it wasn't bad and the pay was good. It gave me cash to buy school clothes and other things I needed. Woodward's was located east of the railroad tracks right across from the current taxidermy shop. It consisted of several small old wooden buildings--one housed the office--the rest of them housed the equipment and machinery. Trucks loaded with potatoes would empty onto a belt which transported the spuds into a water spray for cleaning, on to another bed to be sorted and then routed to their packaging destination. That's where I came in. I stood at a hopper filled with potatoes. I pushed a button until the potatoes filled my bucket which also determined their weight. We usually filled 10# bags. If too many potatoes filled my bucket I had to throw some back until the weight was approximately ten pounds. The bags were placed on a belt behind me where another person would staple or tie the bags shut. They were then placed into a larger 50# paper bag and loaded onto a waiting railroad boxcar outside the front double doors. All of this was done manually--and with a large amount of "chatter". We often rotated positions so no one got too tired doing one thing. The first hopper naturally filled faster and was more work. We rotated down the line and then got to work behind the line stapling. This was a nice change as it could be done while sitting. Then on to "flipping" the bags into the larger paper bag. There was quite an art to getting five smaller bags into that larger one and it took a bit of practice until I could get it right. Sounds easy and it was (kind of) until we were busy and the potatoes were coming faster than we could keep up. Occasionally they would have to stop the whole operation and give us time to empty our hoppers--then on we went again. What I remember most about Woodward's was the musty, earthy smell of wet potatoes. To this day--some 45 years later--I can still smell Woodward's Potatoes and with it comes many pleasant memories. I enjoyed the people I worked with, enjoyed the work, and loved being able to see my mom during breaks and at lunchtime. Thank you Glenn and Jay--thank you so very much!

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Melba Theatre

Ok folks, this movie theatre was before my time but I feel I need to include what "little" I know about it. My mother always spoke of a theatre in Firth. It was hard for me to imagine any building large enough to provide entertainment on that level. The building was owned by Grant Collet and shared a common wall with Collet's Bar. It sat north of the bar and was in operation during the 1940's. Admission to the movies was probably about ten cents and it was a rare treat for the children in the community to be able to attend. Mr. Davis operated the Virginia Theatre in the neighboring town of Shelley. He agreed to bring movies to Firth and show them at the Melba (named after Grant Collet's wife) once they had already been viewed at the Virginia Theatre. I'm not sure how long the Melba was in operation but I know that it was not operating when I was a child in the 1950's. The building sits vacant to this day.

When I was a teenager some of my schoolmates decided that the old theatre would make a great place to hold dances. They formed a band and needed a place other than the school (too many rules and regulations) where they could rock and roll to their hearts delight! I can't honestly say they were good, but I remember they were LOUD--and they had fun. The building was "cleaned" and the old seats were removed to provide space for dancing. I went to a couple of these dances and while they were fun there was one persistent problem. The floor was slanted to accommodate movie viewing! I remember constantly having to "correct" my position on the dance floor. Everyone kept migrating to the bottom of the stage. The top half of the dance floor was conspicuously empty.

The building serves as a sad reminder of days gone by where a very active social life thrived in "downtown" Firth--wish I'd been there then!