Opinion Columns & Blogs

Selling peanuts on the streets of Perry

wmarshall@macon.com

Last week it was getting the peanuts boiled, sacked and ready for sale. This week it’s time to hit the sidewalks, stores and courthouse (a really good place to make sales) and exercise our budding entrepreneurial skills. It’s a little daunting for David (age 8) and me (age 13), but we move forward.

It is white-hot (above 90 degrees) on this September afternoon in 1955. Only two establishments in downtown Perry have air-conditioning — Dr. J. L. Gallemore’s and McClendon Electric. All the other stores have open doors and we are immediately confronted with a wide variety of odors. Feed and chickens from Gray-Walker Supply; candy from J.W. Bloodworth’s Grocery; fish from Ellison’s Grocery; beer from Nick’s; flowers from Norwood’s Florist; etc. I am reminded as I have visited large, vibrant cities in this country, and especially ethnic neighborhoods (Little Italy in New York, Chinatown in San Francisco, etc.), of how Perry used to “smell.” It smelled like life. All in all, it was not unpleasant.

The streets of Perry are bustling with people. Farmers in town on Saturday to buy supplies. Housewives headed to the beauty shop while their husbands get a haircut from B.W., Strip or Mr. Summer. Young people heading to or returning from the movie. There is a great deal of activity, and we do not walk far before we sell several bags. I make the change and David keeps handing out the peanuts.

We pass Nick’s place — we are afraid to go into a beer parlor — and head to Mr. Cooper Jones’ pecan shop. We know we will receive unmerciful teasing — “do you boys have a girlfriend,” etc., but know that he likes us and will buy two or more bags. We are right — about the teasing and the purchase — and he actually buys two bags. A “Yankee tourist,” who is in his store and is receiving much ridicule from Mr. Cooper, wants to know what we are selling and buys one bag. He immediately samples his purchase, and it is obvious we do not have a satisfied customer.

And so it goes — up and down the streets of Perry — until all 120 bags are sold. It takes us about two hours and we have our $12. During these two hours, we have learned valuable lessons in math, economics, sociology and psychiatry — we just didn’t know we were a part of these sophisticated disciplines.

It’s 5:15 p.m., and Daddy meets us at Gray-Walker Supply. We give him the $12 for safe-keeping, which we will take Monday afternoon to Mr. Marion Houser at Perry Federal Savings and Loan Association for even better safe-keeping, and for eventual use to help both David and me with our college educations.

Indeed, the “college education” time came much sooner than I ever expected it would, and the $1,500, or so, that I had saved selling boiled peanuts and doing other “work,” certainly helped in 1960 when I went off to the University of Georgia. But, truthfully, I think the work experiences were more important than the money earned and saved, and the selling of boiled peanuts on the streets of Perry might have been the most helpful experience of all.

No, ours wasn’t Hardy Farms, and never would be, but the Walker Bros. Peanut Co. was pretty important to my education. Let’s see: David and I dealt in labor, finance, politics and family. And David and I ended up becoming law partners. We both went to the University of Georgia Law School, and we have been law partners for 41 years. If we hadn’t learned to get along with each other in our peanut business, it might not have been as good and pleasant as it has been all these years.

Could any of my grandchildren sell peanuts in downtown Perry, today? I doubt it. First, would you have to get a business license? Probably so, and you probably couldn’t get one. And, what about the Health Department — especially when they found out you washed the peanuts with a hose and cooked them outside in a wash pot? And, would the merchants allow them and their peanuts into their stores? Probably not.

Well, it’s a shame that youngsters don’t have more meaningful work experiences today. I know what the “peanut business” did for David and me, and I wish some of my grandchildren could do it, but I know it won’t happen. Still, they do have those handheld devices to keep ‘em interested and occupied. That’s good, isn’t it?

So, that’s how it went for David and me selling boiled peanuts on the streets of Perry. I am appreciative of the experience and thank all the people who bought a bag of our peanuts. I believe you got good value for your 10 cents.

Larry Walker is a practicing attorney in Perry. He served 32 years in the Georgia General Assembly, and presently serves on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. Email: lwalker@whgmlaw.com.

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