At 13, we kids in the neighborhood were beginning to branch out into new ideas for fun. It’s likely we were beginning to fray our parents nerves as we became teenagers.
Behind my grandparents house was an area we called the “chicken yard.” Grandpa had a hobby farm once, and he liked to raise chickens along with a few other animals that supported the food needs of his family. It had a few buildings there that we named. The Red Shed, The Chicken Coop, The Tar Paper Shack and the shed where Uncle Johnny kept the retired race car, Number 14.
Grandpa was an outdoorsman and a naturalist. He liked to go into the country with his boys and dig up trees from along the river and then replant them. He had at least two double tree strips to help protect the property.
There was an old cottonwood stump in the yard. It was quite large and it had suckers growing so it looked like a bush. Three to four of us could squeeze onto this stump and be hidden from view.
Phil Kobriger smoked Pall Mall cigarettes. The old fashioned ones without a filter. Up to this time, we pyromaniacs were lighting hollow flower stems and pretending to smoke. We also dug shallow pits, filled it with twigs and roasted crab apples from Grandpa’s tree. Dave Kobriger had taken a couple cigarettes from his dad’s pack. We settled onto the cottonwood stump and lit one up. I don’t recall any pleasure, but we thought were pretty cool. What we did not realize is that the smoke was curling up into the air from the hiding spot.
My dad had come home and he saw the smoke. Being worried about a fire, he came to investigate. I recall the branches parting and a large hand grabbing the back of my shirt. I was out of there and on the ground. Told to go home, I complied as fast as I could go. After a parental discussion, it was determined that I was on the verge of becoming a criminal and a thug. What would cure me of this was a job. I needed to find a job as soon as possible to save myself.
Two other neighborhood kids were working at Harolds Drive In. I screwed up my courage and went to see Harold. I told him that I knew Dave Kobriger and Jim Koehntopp and I’d like a job.
I was hired as a dishwasher for 50 cents an hour. Wow! That was my weekly allowance at that time for drying the dinner dishes each night. And so I started.
I was pretty short at that time. I need a box to stand on to reach into the sinks. I learned to keep the water changed and hot, what dishes were needed and what to prioritize, and to wash the glasses last in fresh hot water. I was a working man! Harold had so many kids working there at the time that he couldn’t remember my name. He decided to call me “Cookie” and I answered.
What my parents might have missed was that while I was just a kid , the other employees were older and mostly in high school. I recall numerous cheerleaders and popular class leaders too.
I was adopted by them and looked after and taken care of. I had never had such treatment. Gee, they were beautiful, funny and friendly. Mary Sue Dammier, Rita McAlister, Diane Bonnes, Sandy Huether. I was so smitten. I listened to all their stories. Knew about their boyfriends, the sports teams, the parties and the rumors. I remember later hearing of the scandalous “barn parties” outside of town.
My life changed dramatically as a result of this job. I became a cook and a preparation helper to Sarah Anderson. Pies, roasts, salad preparations. I learned to cut whole chickens, soak in a secret marinade and bread with a secret coating. This to be cooked in the two broasters there.
I had numerous cut and burns from the job. We cooked most things with lard then, that came in big round red cans.
We peeled our own potatoes, cut into strips. Blanched them and then put the shoestring potatoes in the hot fryer.
We scrubbed that place top to bottom. Gladys Owens, Harold’s wife, had a way of making you want to do everything you could to please her. We cleaned deeply under here supervision, at least two night as week. At the time we neighborhood kids all worked there, and it was fun.
Before my senior year in high school, I wanted more money and we had a salary dispute. I became a bagger and checker at the Randall’s store. I had a lot of fun there too, but when I decided to go to Huron College, I couldn’t get hours to make it work out. I went back to Harold and he hired me back. I ended up cooking my way through college there.
I worked there seven years total. If I was in a scrape or a tight spot, Harold always helped me out.
I didn’t become a criminal as predicted, but I sure got to experience a slice of life I would not have known if I hadn’t worked at the drive-in.