Enjoy these Front Porch Moments from Bill and share your favorites with your family and friends. He'd love to meet you at Front Porch ice cream events. Oh, and by the way, his favorite flavor is Nana’s Banana Pudding.
In the Spirit of Free Enterprise
My family had a little store in Hallsboro, North Carolina, when I was growing up. As soon as I was able, I was put to work in that store doing small chores. My father said it was part of my family responsibility. I thought I should be paid. He reminded me that I had a place to live and food to eat. So much for that discussion.
However, some entrepreneurial spark still flickered as I tried to think of ways to earn a little cash. So in the summer of my thirteenth year, I determined that I would start my own lawn care business- just mowing- no shrubbery to trim or plants to care for: just mow the yard.
My father told me I’d have to furnish my own equipment since this was to be a lesson in free enterprise. The only equipment I figured I would need was a lawn mower which we already had. My father informed me that he would rent me the family mower for fifty cents a month. Reluctantly, I took him up on his offer since I had no money for capital investment.
I began my quest for customers by going to the neighbors and offering to mow their lawns at fifteen cents per lawn. I didn’t take into consideration the size of the lawns. I wanted to keep it simple. I got few responses.
I also didn’t take into consideration that the summer heat in the South, particularly my part of the South down in the swamps, could be a major factor in my ability to get the job done in any kind of timely manner. Sometimes it would take a couple of days to mow one yard. You see, I was using the old push mower, not gasoline powered, but boy-powered. Using that type of equipment was rough on a spindly boy like me. But I was determined to make my summer fortune despite the weather, physical limitation, and lack of customers.
Just down the street from my family’ store was Miss Thelma’s Shop. It was a unique institution that sold notions (shoe laces, pencils, thread, buttons, etc.) soft drinks, crackers and, most importantly, comic books and ice cream.
Miss Thelma had known me since I was born and I was frequently in her store. I seldom bought anything but she would let me read the comic books for free. In that hot summer of 1955, I asked Miss Thelma if I could mow her lawn. She lived just down the street in a small house with a very small lawn. She told me I could.
It took me all day to mow her lawn and when I finished I went by to collect my fifteen cents. What I presented to Miss Thelma was a skinny, sweaty, dirty, disheveled and weary waif of a boy, discouraged to the point of dejection. I don’t think she even checked on the condition of the lawn.
She said, “Come in, William, and sit down in front of this fan and cool off.” I complied. Then she said, “Here, eat this cup of ice cream. Now, eat it slow so you don’t get sick.” It tasted cool and sweet as I slowly savored each wooden spoonful. I felt justly compensated for my labor.
Miss Thelma was my only customer that summer. My father waived the rent on the lawn mower. Each week Miss Thelma’s payment was in the form of ice cream. All in all, I felt I had triumphed in the world of free enterprise.
About Bill Thompson
For over 40 years, Bill Thompson has traveled the Carolinas delighting folks with his commentary on Southern staples: food, farming, music, family and neighbors. He's been the master of ceremonies for hundreds of events celebrating the things that make the South special - from the Hollering Contest in Spivey's Corner to the Wolly Worm Festival in Banner Elk, the Grits Festival in South Carolina, and he's even judged a sweet tea contest in Georgia. In the process, he's had the chance to meet some fine Southerners and hear their own stories. He's authored three books, one named, "Sweet Tea, Fried Chicken and Lazy Dogs: A Reflection of North Carolina Life."