ABOUT THE BOOK: Experience the joy of a carefree Saturday and the blistering pain of feeling not quite good enough as you hop on a bike and ride into town with two delightful young boys who find adventure at every turn. Shawn and Willie Daniels live in the woods with no indoor water or plumbing. Dad spends most of his hard earned money on beer. Prejudice, class division, alcoholism, poverty, injustice, and bullying are cleverly woven into this 1950s adventure short. PURE TRASH is a prequel to the author’s upcoming debut novel.
As a baby boomer that grew up in an average middle-class family in America during the 1950s and 1960s, poverty was not something I had to dwell on or even think about as a child or as a teen. As an adult, I learned what living in poverty was like from friends and acquaintances that grew up in this invisible (to me) world―one where being poor was an accepted part of life for those who lived it. I became intrigued by some of their stories. ~ Bette A. Stevens
“It’s 1955 and we’re entering scene 2. So hop off your bike…
(That’s right—the one you hopped on in scene 1 and pedaled for three miles to get here.)
Get ready to head into Stark’s General store with nine-year-old Shawn Daniels and his younger brother Willie.”
PURE TRASH (scene 2)
Brakes, bike tires and a cloud of dust announced our arrival in the gravelly sand covering Stark’s parking lot. I was feeling like David right after he conquered the giant Goliath. That’s when I looked up and spotted Mr. Wentworth pointing over at Willie and me from his brand-spankin’ new 1955 Ford pickup. That red truck shined just like the candied apples Mum made for us kids in the fall. I could hear his deep-throated laugh as he stared at us from across the lot.
“There’s Eddy Daniels’s boys, regular chips off the old block,” I heard him telling Tom Matthews, the town barber.
As the men laughed and talked, Mr. Wentworth’s steel-like eyes never lost sight of Willie and me.
Sometimes I hated coming to town. Like I hated going to school. Folks like the Wentworths always made me feel like a nobody. The minute I’d spot them, I could feel my breath stop. My hands, my teeth and my stomach all got sucked in together. I wanted to throw up. I hated that feeling.
Thinking about those people made me sick. Folks like that always got a big kick out of making fun of Eddy Daniels’s kids.
Mr. Wentworth hollered over to me. “Hey boy! Your pop too poor to buy you a real basket for that bike? He sure had plenty of cash for beer last night.”
I hated it.
When he said that, I couldn’t help but think about how Mum had bawled her eyes out when Dad brought home that brand-spankin’ new Zenith TV. She said that if he’d had money to buy a television, he’d better find the money to start fixin’ up the house. I hated them fighting, too.
Mr. Wentworth’s eyes glared straight through me. He grinned like he knew how it made me feel.
I forced my eyes to look at the ground in front of my shoes, while the men joked and laughed. My hands clenched and unclenched. I pretended not to hear them. Willie was still looking straight at them with an open-mouthed grin. I could tell he was ready to holler right back at them. Willie was a talker. Mum calls him “The Social Bugger.”
Carefully, I unhooked my basket, shot a quick glance at Willie and whispered, “Hush. You just grab your bottles and follow me.”
We headed straight for the twelve wooden steps leading up to Stark’s General Store.
Mr. Stark himself was behind the counter today. I always liked to see him. He was smiling back as if he was glad to see us, too. Empty bottles and all. Most of the clerks hated to see empties. They’d roll their eyes and shake their heads as if to say, “Not you two, again.” But not Mr. Stark. He was a different sort. His silver and black speckled hair had waves that curled around his face. His haircut sort of fit right in with his smile. Bright blue eyes sparkled and danced inside those wire-framed spectacles that looked way too small for his big round face.
“Hi, boys! Looks like you two young’uns are in for some extra treats with all those empty bottles.” Mr. Stark smiled at Willie and me as he counted them up. “Forty-eight cents,” he said, reaching into the cash drawer for the four dimes and eight pennies that he pressed into my hand as he winked and smiled.
I was sure that Mr. Stark knew I’d divide the money between us. The other clerks would have tossed a quarter, two dimes and three pennies right down on the counter. But not Mr. Stark. He closed my fingers around the coins with his huge hand. It felt like a big friendly hug. I knew why I liked him a lot.
“Thank you, sir!” I smiled back at Mr. Stark and then down at Willie. Willie and me headed straight back out the door. We sat on the steps and began our storefront ritual. We had all the time in the world today. We were as free as the birds and the bees. We had our bikes and plenty of money to boot.
“What a day, Willie! We’ve got enough for ice cream, some soda pop and probably a bunch of penny candies, too,” I said. Then I handed Willie his share.
“Dang it, Shawn. You mean I get to hold on to my own money today?” Willie shook his head and quizzed me as I handed him his share of the cash.
“You sure do, Willie. I think you’re getting big enough now to do some figurin’ on your own. Just give a holler if you need any help.”
We grinned at each other. It was like we were sharing one of the world’s best kept secrets. Then, we marched right back up over those twelve steps and headed straight inside Stark’s to pick out our loot.
I sure wasn’t in any kind of a hurry. Stark’s carried just about everything anybody could think of. I liked to wander around and look over the fishing gear. Today I had plenty of time to check out lots of other neat stuff, too. I knew Willie would head straight for the ice cream freezer.
I headed around the store to get a peek at all the stuff I’d never had time to take a real close look at before. Sporting goods. I loved to go fishin’. The glass case came nearly up to my shoulders and ran the length of the back wall, except for the space where a clerk could get in behind. The bottom shelves held knives of different shapes and every size you could imagine. Some of the knives were simple, others downright fancy. There were smooth leather covers and holders for those blades that likely cost more money than I’d ever see at one time. On the next shelf were handguns. One was so small it looked just like a cap gun and there were lots of other pistols. Rifles and shotguns, too. There were even fancy leather holsters just like the ones Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger and all the cowboys wore on TV and in the movies.
On the back wall above the glass case hung bows and arrows, and gun racks filled with rifles and shotguns. There were jackets, vests, fishing gear and even bags to carry your trout back home in. Best of all were the fishing poles. How I longed for a real pole. One with a spinning reel and some store-bought hooks. Oh sure, I’d still use worms. They worked real good. Didn’t need all those fancy doo-dads made with feathers to get fish to bite. Didn’t need a store-bought pole either. But, oh, how I wanted one. “Someday, I’ll have me one just like that,” I told myself, spellbound by the shiny green pole and black reel that hung high over the glass counter. Someday.
“Yes. Someday, I think I’ll get me a store, just like Mr. Stark’s. I’ll work at the counter every Saturday when all the kids come in,” I thought dreamily, smiling up at that perfect, shiny green pole.
“Hey, Shawn, whatcha get?” Willie hollered right after he rammed his shoulder up against my arm.
I jumped out of my daydream and shook my head. Then, I turned around to meet Willie’s ear-to-ear grin.
“You owe Mr. Stark five cents for my Good ‘n Plenties, Shawn. I already opened ’em up. Can’t put ’em back on the shelf now.”
Willie’s hands were full. One held his soda pop and a small brown bag that I knew was chock full of his favorite candies. The other held his ice cream. Willie was more than ready to devour it all right on the spot.
“I’ll take care of it, Willie,” I said. “I’ll meet you out front in a couple minutes. I’ve got to get my stuff and settle up with Mr. Stark.”
Sure, Willie spent more than his twenty-four cents, but that was OK. Willie loved his sweets.
Willie sat on the step licking the sticky remains from his lips and fingers by the time I’d finished up inside. The only thing left of that ice cream was an empty wooden stick. His face said it all. When it came to ice cream, chocolate was Willie’s favorite.
“Hey, Shawn, what we gonna do when we leave Starks’s? Whatcha say we stop over to the school playground before we head back home? Can we? Can we, please?”
Willie’s endless words only stopped every now and then so he could pop a cherry-coated Tootsie Pop onto the tip of his tongue and snatch it in for a lick or two.
“You promised we’d have all day, Shawn. I want to swing right over top of those bars and then hang upside down on the tip top of the jungle gym. I ain’t s’posed to do that at recess, Shawn. This might be the only chance I got. Please?”
“We’ll see, Willie,” I told him as I licked the last smooth bite of ice cream from my stick.
I still had money in my pocket. “Come on, Willie. Let’s go back inside and get a soda pop. We can share an Orange Crush out here, turn in our empty and grab some more candy before we head out.”
Willie’s eyes lit up like fire crackers.
“So long, Shawn and Willie. Now, don’t you boys eat all of those sweets at once,” Mr. Stark said as he smiled as we turned in our bottle and headed out the door cramming licorice sticks and bubble gum into our pockets. “See you boys at church tomorrow morning.”
“See ya tomorrow, Mr. Stark,” I called back and smiled.
“Can we head over to the playground, Shawn? Right now? Please, please, purty please?” Willie begged.
I finally said, “Sure, Willie, let’s go!
Find Bette’s books at http://www.amazon.com/author/betteastevens
You can find out more about Bette’s perspective on poverty and prejudice in her guest post on author MCV Egan’s blog: http://ishistorytheagreeduponlie.blogspot.com/2013/10/poverty-prejudice-yesterday-today.html