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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Mission Orange - This Negotiator's Drink of Choice


It's funny what we remember from our childhood. My first job was as a paperboy for the Cleburne Times Review, riding the Keene, Texas paper route Sunday through Friday, about 5 miles a day.  I spent about 4 hours on Sunday morning collecting for the paper and used to end my route and my grandmother's house. I'd stop by for a visit and usually got a Dr. Pepper and a longhorn cheese sandwich. My Honeymama (the name her grandkids knew her by) was a firm believer in young people working.

When I was starting high school, my mother demanded that we give up the paper route. My sister and brother also ran short paper routes and Mom had to take my sister on her route in the car in bad weather or when she didn't feel like riding it. It probably cost them more than Debbie earned to keep the route. I rode in all kinds of Texas weather, including one time when I rode the route in a 22 degree driving snowstorm. I had to stop periodically and turn my back to the wind in order to get my body temperature back up enough to ride into the wind again.

I went to work at E.K. Birdwell's broom and mop factory in Keene Texas when I was barely 15. I may actually have not quite been 15 yet. My grandmother, a firm disbeliever in unemployment of young boys, hit up Mr. Birdwell on my behalf. E.K. came by my house and asked me if I wanted to go to work for him in the mop shop. I said okay and showed up for work the next day.

The job was combing out the tangled yarn of newly made mops, taping the end of the yarn and trimming them. Then we'd wrap them in bundles of half a dozen mops and stack them in the warehouse. We used these incredibly sharp-edged scissors and I still have some nasty scars on my left hand where I snipped off skin from my knuckles. I probably should have got stitches, but, hey. Later I used to claim they were dueling scars. Not that anybody believed me you understand.

Later I picked up some new scars when E.K. moved me to the mop-making machine when I turned 16. It was entirely piecework and I had to work very hard and very fast to make anything close to minimum wage - a new innovation at the time. We were allowed one break. We didn't get paid for the time.

There was a little gas station next to the mop shop. My favorite break snack was a Mission Orange and a candy bar. I never really had a favorite candy bar, but my drink of choice was either a Mission Orange, Dad's Root Beer and Dr. Pepper. Sometimes I'd get one of those packages of peanut butter crackers - the unearthly orange looking kind that probably had enough red dye #40 in it to sterilize a water buffalo, but oddly it didn't seem to effect me at all so far as I can tell, although others might dispute this.

Kids today would consider those kinds of jobs slave labor these days, but they prepared me for later jobs that were way better than the paper route and mop-making. One of my favorite moments of my life was telling Mr. Birdwell I was going to quit and work at summer camp the summer of 1971. I was a newly baptized Christian and ought not to have enjoyed quitting that job so much, but I did. Mr. Birdwell asked me where I thought I was going to get a job when I came back?  I told him I'd find something.

It's hard to tell you how empowered I felt. That summer I worked for the ridiculous sum of $10 a week hauling trash, cutting wood and painting anything that was anchored to the ground with barn red paint. It was the best job ever!  We got to water ski on our lunch break. We paddled canoes around the lake at night with actual girls in the boats with us. The director gave me an $800

I worked there for 5 summers, working my way up to waterfront director. The job changed my life. I learned how to be a leader, how to give my best and how to teach. I learned how to work with a team. I even learned to stand up for my team with the boss when he was wrong. I also learned how to see things through the boss's eyes too and learned to negotiate agreements that helped both sides of an argument get what they wanted. I also learned that some problems cannot be solved and that you had to learn to walk away.

I drank a lot of Mission Orange - the 16 oz. bottles - during breaks in the day's work. There's nothing like a Mission Orange for cooling you down and restoring your damaged calm.  I miss them. I really do. I don't think they make them anymore, which is kind of sad.


2 comments:

Mark Milliorn said...

I had forgotten about Mission Orange. It was my favorite until I discovered Grapette soda. God alone knows what they used to make that purple soda, but it was my favorite until the county fair came to Azle, Texas. I drank two of them them, then rode the Tilt-A-Whirl ride three times in a row. When I got off the ride, finally, I took about a dozen steps and promptly lost all the junk food I had eaten that afternoon. Using 10 year old logic, I came to the conclusion that it was the grape soda that had made me sick. I promptly switched to Dr. Pepper. It has been more than 50 years and I still haven't had another Grapette.

Tom King said...

My grandmother used to give me Dr. Pepper in a bottle when I'd stop by her house after my paper route. Older now, I prefer Diet Dr. Pepper. In East Texas a coke is a Dr. Pepper. Grapette was my second favorite after Mission Orange and just ahead of Dad's Root Beer. On hot summer days in the unair-conditioned mop factory, I used to really look forward to stretching out on the dock on a stack of pallets and pulling on a 16 oz Mission Orange. They were well worth the 15 cents let me tell you.