第6章 The First Job: Fifty Cents a Week (1)
The Elder Bok did not find his "lines cast in pleasant places" in the United States.He found himself, professionally, unable to adjust the methods of his own land and of a lifetime to those of a new country.As a result the fortunes of the transplanted family did not flourish, and Edward soon saw his mother physically failing under burdens to which her nature was not accustomed nor her hands trained.Then he and his brother decided to relieve their mother in the housework by rising early in the morning, building the fire, preparing breakfast, and washing the dishes before they went to school.After school they gave up their play hours, and swept and scrubbed, and helped their mother to prepare the evening meal and wash the dishes afterward.It was a curious coincidence that it should fall upon Edward thus to get a first-hand knowledge of woman's housework which was to stand him in such practical stead in later years.
It was not easy for the parents to see their boys thus forced to do work which only a short while before had been done by a retinue of servants.
And the capstone of humiliation seemed to be when Edward and his brother, after having for several mornings found no kindling wood or coal to build the fire, decided to go out of evenings with a basket and pick up what wood they could find in neighboring lots, and the bits of coal spilled from the coal-bin of the grocery-store, or left on the curbs before houses where coal had been delivered.The mother remonstrated with the boys, although in her heart she knew that the necessity was upon them.But Edward had been started upon his Americanization career, and answered: "This is America, where one can do anything if it is honest.So long as we don't steal the wood or coal, why shouldn't we get it?" And, turning away, the saddened mother said nothing.
But while the doing of these homely chores was very effective in relieving the untrained and tired mother, it added little to the family income.Edward looked about and decided that the time had come for him, young as he was, to begin some sort of wage-earning.But how and where?
The answer he found one afternoon when standing before the shop-window of a baker in the neighborhood.The owner of the bakery, who had just placed in the window a series of trays filled with buns, tarts, and pies, came outside to look at the display.He found the hungry boy wistfully regarding the tempting-looking wares.
"Look pretty good, don't they?" asked the baker.
"They would," answered the Dutch boy with his national passion for cleanliness, "if your window were clean.""That's so, too," mused the baker."Perhaps you'll clean it.""I will," was the laconic reply.And Edward Bok, there and then, got his first job.He went in, found a step-ladder, and put so much Dutch energy into the cleaning of the large show-window that the baker immediately arranged with him to clean it every Tuesday and Friday afternoon after school.The salary was to be fifty cents per week!
But one day, after he had finished cleaning the window, and the baker was busy in the rear of the store, a customer came in, and Edward ventured to wait on her.Dexterously he wrapped up for another the fragrant currant-buns for which his young soul--and stomach--so hungered! The baker watched him, saw how quickly and smilingly he served the customer, and offered Edward an extra dollar per week if he would come in afternoons and sell behind the counter.He immediately entered into the bargain with the understanding that, in addition to his salary of a dollar and a half per week, he should each afternoon carry home from the good things unsold a moderate something as a present to his mother.The baker agreed, and Edward promised to come each afternoon except Saturday.
"Want to play ball, hey?" said the baker.
"Yes, I want to play ball," replied the boy, but he was not reserving his Saturday afternoons for games, although, boy-like, that might be his preference.
Edward now took on for each Saturday morning--when, of course, there was no school--the delivery route of a weekly paper called the South Brooklyn Advocate.He had offered to deliver the entire neighborhood edition of the paper for one dollar, thus increasing his earning capacity to two dollars and a half per week.
Transportation, in those days in Brooklyn, was by horse-cars, and the car-line on Smith Street nearest Edward's home ran to Coney Island.Just around the corner where Edward lived the cars stopped to water the horses on their long haul.The boy noticed that the men jumped from the open cars in summer, ran into the cigar-store before which the watering-trough was placed, and got a drink of water from the ice-cooler placed near the door.But that was not so easily possible for the women, and they, especially the children, were forced to take the long ride without a drink.It was this that he had in mind when he reserved his Saturday afternoon to "play ball."Here was an opening, and Edward decided to fill it.He bought a shining new pail, screwed three hooks on the edge from which he hung three clean shimmering glasses, and one Saturday afternoon when a car stopped the boy leaped on, tactfully asked the conductor if he did not want a drink, and then proceeded to sell his water, cooled with ice, at a cent a glass to the passengers.A little experience showed that he exhausted a pail with every two cars, and each pail netted him thirty cents.Of course Sunday was a most profitable day; and after going to Sunday-school in the morning, he did a further Sabbath service for the rest of the day by refreshing tired mothers and thirsty children on the Coney Island cars--at a penny a glass!