Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Bookfield, Life on the Bookfield


I remember waking up in the morning at the Epps’ house. A huge white pine grew outside our window, and a mocking bird who sat in that tree would start singing at sunrise. That is how I awoke. I usually was so fatigued from the previous day, that I had slept soundly and was ready for the new day. This all happened in the rosy part of the morning before I’d realize that I had to go out and knock on doors. Nothing spoils a mood like that. Nowadays, when I get up for work and feel sorry for myself, I try to remember what knocking on doors was like.

I learned a couple of things on the bookfield very quickly. Once, when I gave my approach, the man who had answered the door did not understand what I said. He called his wife to help him out. I was at a loss, so I tried to slow my delivery by a factor of two or three. They understood me then, although I thought I sounded comical, and noted that I was a Yankee. After slowing the tempo of my words, a drawl came almost naturally. I was using a drawl consistently by the middle of my second week, “Hai there miss-us Jones, mah name is Su-san Fair-vieeew, and Ah’ve been callin’ on aull the church folks in the neigh-bor-hood, Jus wan-ted to come bah an see yeew. Y’all dew go to some lo-cal church, don’t cha?” I can still do it now, albeit after a couple of drinks and plenty of prodding.

The drawl worked wonders, but folks could still spot me right off as a Yankee. For many I was the first New Yorker they had ever seen. I decided to capitalize on that recognition. I went to a local five-and-dime and bought a New York Yankees logo baseball cap in black felt with white letters. I’d tuck my shoulder length dirty blond hair into it. It kept the sun off my head and the bugs out of my teeth, but most of all it was my trademark. I never left the house without that cap.

I was able to get into almost any house I wanted just by knocking on the door and using the Parchment approach with drawl delivery.

It was just as easy to get drinks or food. It started when I realized that if Mrs. Jones would not buy a book, she would feel guilty, and would give me something to make up for it. The company told us that we needed to drink 10 ounces of fluid at least every hour in the heat. So I would start by asking for a glass of water. Typically, Mrs. Jones would then offer a soda, iced tea or food. I’m thin enough that many times Mrs. Jones would say, “You must be hungry!”

We were also trained to offer a quarter to Mrs. Jones for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if we were hungry. This humiliating phrase worked every time, but was only required in the most desperate of situations. During the summer, most housewives were canning or putting up something. I would say, “Mmmm, smells good. What is that?” Mrs. Jones would take it from there, “Oh, you’re a Yankee, you’ve never had real southern fried chicken.”, or, “homemade succotash”, or, “my fresh peach pie”, or, “sausage and biscuits”, or, “fried okra”, or, “venison stew... Let me fix you a plate.” If I really wanted to make sure to taste Mrs. Jones” cooking I would say, “Well I did try that down the street at Mrs. Smith’s...” Mrs. Jones would always respond hastily with, “But you haven’t tasted real southern fried chicken until you’ve tried mine.” She might even make a gratuitous stab at Mrs. Smith’s cooking, housekeeping, or child rearing and that was always entertaining.

I tried to reward a paying customer by not hitting them up for food. But some of these people were just plain hospitable and offered food. It was rude to turn them down. They took real pleasure in it.

The biggest number of meals I ate gratis in one day was eight. That is not to say I couldn’t have gotten more, but that it was all I could eat in one day. I never went thirsty either. During the summer I put an additional 15 pounds on my five foot, four inch, 100 pound frame in spite of the increased activity from bicycling around the county. After a while, I really had no need to buy food.

But I did treat myself to pancakes at a diner at ‘five points’ (local name for the intersection of five roads in my territory) for breakfast that was at a halfway point some 5 miles out of Athens. Their cakes were too good to resist, and really fired me up in the morning. Sometimes I would get a bite to eat when I got back home at nine or ten o’clock in the evening. I became known for my eating ability, and would order a medium size pizza or four to five hamburgers for myself and consume them. Fortunately, the MacDonald’s on Prince Avenue was having a summer Olympics promotional game. With food you got cards with names of Olympic events. If the USA won a gold , silver and/or bronze medal(s) in that event the card was redeemable for free food. For example, the bronze earned a soda, while a gold medal would get a burger. The waitresses came to know me after a while and they would give me handfuls of cards at each visit. The USA did very well at the ‘76 Montreal Summer Olympics, and in no time I was eating free at MacDonald’s too.

10 comments:

savante said...

God, you are making me hungry. Did you know you mentioned a ton of delicious eats in your post?

Paul

Sue said...

Hey, I did gain significant weight while there. You would have too. Thanks Paul.

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