by RD Foster
My first Christmas on the Mill Block, I got a brand-new bicycle and that was the best Christmas ever, so far. I was five years old. The bike was an eighteen-inch with hard rubber tires and training wheels. The training wheels were quickly disposed of, and my brothers took turns holding me up right and then pushing me, crashing quite often until I had it down.
Johnny and Frank, my brothers, got jobs throwing paper for the McKinney Daily Courier Gazette, which was an afternoon publication. Johnny’s route included the Mill Block, so he attached my old backpack to my little bike and that became my afternoon route. At the same time, we had the Dallas Morning News route for the entire town. We would get up very early again, around 4:00, Mom and the three boys would go to the bus station and pick up our stacks of papers, still hot off the press. Then we would go to a little building just west of the downtown square, where we would roll them. There was a machine that tied the string around the roll. It was a very dangerous piece of machinery, but none of us ever lost a finger.
We could roll those papers pretty fast; however, rainy days and Sundays were double hard. On rainy days we had to roll them in wax paper and on Sundays, the out-of-town papers, especially the Morning News, were huge. We didn’t look forward to Sundays. Once they were rolled, Johnny and Frank would take off on their bikes down the dark streets, and Mom and I, with little Donnie asleep in the back seat, would throw our route from the car. Johnny saved his money and in a short while he bought a Wizzer motor bike. Once the papers were delivered, she would go to work, and the boys would go to school. On extremely cold or rainy mornings we would have to do the entire route in the car. During those years we would throw the McKinney paper, Dallas Morning News, Dallas Times Herald, and two Fort Worth papers, the Star Telegram and the Press.
Another way we found to make money was by collecting and selling empty Coke bottles. Of course, the word “Coke” was used for any soft drink; for example: “Can I buy you a Coke?” “Sure, I’ll take a Dr. Pepper.” Soft drink bottles were like gold; they were worth five cents each. We found them in the tall grass alongside busy streets; construction sites in the evenings; and one of the best places which took a little thirst for adventure, under houses. Most of the houses in our part of town were built on wood blocks, with usually about two feet of crawl space. Not only did we find bottles discarded by the carpenters who built the houses, but sometimes snakes and scorpions. We looked at it like going down in a mine, there were treasures but also danger. Other than Coca Cola and Dr. Pepper bottles, there were Royal Crown (RC), 7Up, Upper 10, Barq’s, Dad’s Root Beer, NeHi, Grapette and chocolate soda.
When we had collected a good supply of empties, we would load them up in a little red wagon and pull it to one of the neighborhood stores within walking distance. There was the Village Grocery, owned by Ray and Renee Davidson and Andrews’s gas station and store, owned by Beulah Andrews. She had a meat section where they sliced cold cut loaves for sandwiches and also sold ice cream cones. There was also Hill’s Grocery and Blaylock’s, which was located on the southeast corner of the South Ward playground. They were tiny stores with only the essentials: bread, milk, canned goods, snacks, candy and soft drinks. Most of the time we ended up spending all the money we just made buying our favorite snacks and drinks. We pulled our empty wagon back home ready for new adventures the next day.
We grew up learning the importance of hard work. Whether it was my grandmother, or my mother and father, they showed us through their example the value of working hard every day.