Rod Bernu

Special to the Dispatch

The 1930’s were tough times in our small town with a population of about six hundred people.  One of the most vivid memories that I have is of a childhood experience that took place on a hot July summer day in 1938.  Cousin Lloyd had just turned eight and he was already ahead of his time because he had been in the company of older “street wise” kids.  He was pulling his recent birthday gift, a red and white wagon, into our yard one morning while I was sitting on the steps lacing up my tennis shoes.  

My father, mother, three-year old sister, and I lived in a 700 square foot, two-story rental house located on the outer edge of the town’s low-rent district without municipal running water and sewer service. Our house was warmed with a wood stove and we got our drinking, bathing, and clothes-washing water from a sand point pipe driven in the ground next to the house.  We had an outside toilet in the back yard, no telephone, a small table-top radio, and of course, no television. 

As always, Lloyd’s faithful, cross-eyed, drooling-mouth bulldog Skippy was following along, sniffing and watering the surroundings.  Skippy, no doubt, must have been the runt of the litter.  One of his many oddities was that he always looked like he only had three legs because he ran sideways and from time to time his tail bone popped up like he had stepped on a sticker or a sharp rock.  

I asked, “Where are you going?”  Without pause, Lloyd asked me to come with him to our town dump to look for something that we could sell. We walked west, pulling his wagon on the dusty dirt road past the town stockyards, pickle warehouse, gasoline storage tanks, and cemetery, toward the garbage dump.   As we passed by the local bum jungle (as it was called by our elders) located next to the railroad tracks that ran parallel to our destination, one of the itinerant travelers on the other side of the tracks yelled, “You boys got anything to eat with you?”. I waved and said, “Out wagon is empty and we’re going to the city dump.”  I guess that either satisfied or confused him, so he just waved as we continued on our way.  

We scoured the dump like a couple of professional scavengers.  Lloyd told me to look for aluminum pots, pans, and cans, and lengths of copper-encased wire.  After about an hour, we pooled the items we had found into Lloyd’s wagon and headed for Mr. Kapanen’s town junk yard.

As we neared our destination, Lloyd suddenly stopped and said, “See that pile of marble-sized rocks next to the railroad tracks?  Go over and pick up a couple handfuls and bring them to the wagon.”  I said, “What for?”  I came back with my hands and pockets full of stones and he showed me how to fill the aluminum cans with the stones and pound them with the big rock until they were completely hidden.  Lloyd said, “I learned this from my neighbor and the aluminum cans and pans will weigh more so we will make more money.”   

Suddenly, Lloyd surprised me once again. He pulled the lengths of copper wire from the wagon and asked me to stretch them on the railroad track. He then pounded the wire insulation cover until he exposed the shining copper wire.  As he finished, he said,” Wrap that wire into a coil so we can sell it.” 

We started on our way again, but Lloyd suddenly stopped in his tracks and muttered “Oh, oh!”  Standing in the middle of the road, with his arms crossed over his bib overalls, was the gruff-looking jungle traveler who had asked us for a sandwich.  As we pondered what to do next, a Model A Ford with a star emblem on the door startled us as it honked its horn to give it room to pass. The driver of the car was our town constable.  He stopped when he got to the big fellow standing in the middle of the road, after a short discussion, the big fellow sauntered back toward the jungle camp. We never learned what that was all about, but it sure resolved a scary situation.    

Mr. Kapanen was sitting in the shade on his wooden lawn chair when we entered his driveway with our booty.  He got a big smile on his face as he recognized Lloyd and said, “You boys look like you’ve been busy.”  He got up from his chair and picked through our pile of junk.  His smile broadened when he heard a rattle in a couple of our crushed aluminum pans; he let us think that we pulled a quick one on him.      

We walked away from our small-town ice cream shop with a little jingle in our pockets enjoying the fruits of our labor, eating double-scooped chocolate ice cream cones as Skippy went about his business.  It was then that I came to appreciate my “older” cousin Lloyd.  Entrepreneurs!