BAINBRIDGE

by Randy Reynolds

The dime bags I sold on the streets of Bainbridge, Georgia, in my youth were different from the dime bags of today. These days, a dime bag means ten dollars worth of marijuana. (I looked it up.) The dime bags I peddled back then were bags of boiled peanuts that really cost a dime.

I wandered the town barefoot, pushing my dime bags to a wide variety of otherwise respectable citizens. Some were furtive about the transaction, looking one way then the other before giving me their dimes and stashing the little sack in their handbags or pockets and hurrying away. I brazenly took my product into secret city council sessions (there were a lot of those back then, just as there are today.) Proceedings came to a standstill as the mayor and councilmen fished around in their pockets for their dimes. (At least they fed their habits out of their own funds and not at taxpayer expense.)  I got two cents profit from every bag I sold and didn't have to pay taxes on it nor have a social security number. My school didn't have any rules about how long I could work, nor did the city require me to have a permit.

One of the biggest differences between then and now was the lack of air conditioning, which forced people to sit on their front porches and get to know the folks on the porches next door and across the street. Everybody had a dog and all the dogs ran loose. As did the children. Everybody knew not only their neighbors, but their neighbors' children and the names of the neighbors' children's dogs.

There were no cellphones, but we had an information network that cost nothing and never had an outage: When Mother wanted me to come home, she went to the front door and yelled my name. Down the block, some kid on a bicycle heard it and told another kid leaning out of a car window at a filling station, who told another kid riding toward the park, who saw me playing ball and said my mom was calling. I didn't just go home, I boogied on my chrome-laden bike with its fenders, luggage rack, basket, headlight and push-button horn. (Riding a bike was much better exercise in those days.)

There was no arguing over menus. Mother decided what to fix--the verb for preparing a meal was "fix," not "cook;" as in "Go fix breakfast!" "Whatcha gonna fix for dinner?" "Fix me some supper, woman!"  We ate what she put on the table or went hungry. We got Co-colas once a week. They were smaller then, six ounces in a thick bottle. And no matter what they say, Co-cola tasted better from those bottles!

Toys were a whole lot simpler, too, (and required no electricity!) High-tech to us was Mr. Potato Head (the first toy ever advertised on TV.) We amused ourselves for hours with a plastic ring called a Hula-hoop, a coil of wire called Slinky, and lots of items made of wood and string, including yo-yos, tops and stick horses. Most boys had six-guns and cowboy suits. Girls got dolls that wet their diapers and said "Ma. Ma." whenever they needed anything.

I got my first bee-bee gun in second grade, and only one of my siblings ever got shot with it--I shot my sister Ronda in the BE-hind. (Emphasis always on the first syllable.)  Daddy put some emphasis on mine that day that deterred me from ever shooting another sibling, no matter how much they deserved it.

In fifth grade, my grandpa bought me a Barlow knife. I took it to school and played mumblety-peg with other boys at recess--a game in which we threw the knives at each other's feet to see who was brave enough not to move. Most boys brought knives to school, but the only time I ever got stabbed, the weapon wasn't a knife. Another boy asked if I thought he would stick me with his pencil. I said he was too chicken. (What was I thinking?) I can still see the lead beneath my skin--only it isn't lead; it's graphite. (The only way to get lead from a pencil is by chewing off the yellow paint from the outside of it, which we all used to do.)

We said the Pledge of Allegiance every day, (the one written by a socialist Baptist preacher in 1892 that didn't mention God.)  Students in several communist countries started their schoolday the same way with the exact same pledge (except for the name of their country.) In 1954, Congress added the words the socialist Baptist preacher had left out:  "under God" and the communist countries didn't copy that. I don't remember any prayers in the classroom, although a lot of praying undoubtedly went on, then as now, during test days.

Whites and blacks didn't go to school together then in South Georgia, but we sometimes got together to play baseball on the sandlot. We also dared and double-dog dared each other to do dangerous things, such as walk the rafters of an abandoned warehouse and jump off a shed into bamboo canes that bent beneath our weight and set us aground--often without injury.

There was no Internet then and no dirty magazines at the convenience stores. Come to think of it, there was no such thing as a "convenience" store. We had "filling" stations, though, where a boy could fill up on a Co-cola and a 3 Musketeers bar for a dime, or for 5 Co-cola bottles.  The refund on the bottles was 2 cents each and we could collect them from the ditch on the way to the filling station.

Back then, there was no Cable TV to scare us with "Breaking News." The network news was only 15 minutes, but young folks never saw it because it came on before the sun went down, which meant that we were still outside playing.

All the news we needed to know we heard from the pulpit Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, Friday night, and every night during revivals and camp meeting.  It was obvious that the end of days was near, what with polio on the loose, communism on the march, H-bombs being tested, black folks demonstrating for rights even after all we've done for them, (said the old folks.) Worst of all,  according to the preachers, Elvis was corrupting the young people (and, truth be known, some of the not-so-young, such as my mother who was in her twenties in the 50s.) Just to be on the safe side, we were invited and/or brow-beaten into going to the altar at the end of every service to confess whatever we had done wrong since the last time we had been in church.

(Full disclosure:  I didn't always confess because if God didn't already know what I had done, I wasn't going to tell Him. Besides, He knew the future and therefore had to know that someday the government of the USA would invent the Internet and that He would find out all my secrets just by reading the things I would write thereon.)