The Edisons and I
As I sit here watching the gathering arctic mega-storm approaching, I can’t help but wonder how our power grid is going to hold up over the next few days. The politicians first assure us that we’re totally safe from outages. Then, in a revised press release, they tell us that there’s actually no 100% guarantee. Aren’t we entitled to some reliability in our electricity provider? Oh where is Thomas Edison when you really need him?
My brief period of musing led me back to my childhood and how, by chance, I touched the hem of greatness. Well, not exactly the hem, and I was actually the “touchee” in a particular instance. But all will come clear as I reconstruct the background. It was 1943, we were at war, and my Dad had been drafted into the army. His pay, as I remember, was $21 per month, and the government chipped in a few dollars more for “family support.” We were instant paupers in our household, so Mom went to work and I, at age 10, became the temporary man of the house, with two younger siblings to watch over and a yard to mow and shovel. I delivered papers and went up and down the street with my yard tools, soliciting business from the neighbors. The work was less than rewarding, and there was always too much month left at the end of the money.
We lived in a Northern New Jersey town that was composed of some very rich people and a much larger percentage of working poor. The rich section was separated from “us” by a six-foot brick wall that encompassed some miles of estates. Some of those owners’ names are still big stuff on the Fortune 500. Living just on the “other” side of the wall, I lusted after the business in “The Park,” so I decided one day to scale the wall (illegally) and go looking for work at some of the mansions. After a number of disdainful turndowns from estate managers, I began to pick up occasional little jobs pruning shrubs, edging lawns, pulling weeds and similar menial jobs. My pay was usually a dollar a day, and I was the proudest little guy in the world to have it. I would take the money home to Mom, and watch her cry as she took it, racked with sobs. Which made me prouder than ever, because Mommy’s Little Man was helping to buy groceries for the house.
One day my search for work took me to the Edison estate. By then, Thomas A., the famous inventor, had passed away, but his family remained in his multi-acre estate. It’s useful to note that Mr. Edison had his original laboratory in the town, West Orange, and a huge factory where his light bulbs, gramophones and all kinds of his inventions were mass-produced. So I rang the doorbell and was greeted by one of the staff, who directed me to a separate building.
There I met Tom, the Scots overseer of the estate, which, he told me, encompassed about twenty acres. And I got a quick tour of the facilities: barns, fields, manicured crushed gravel paths lined with fruit trees and berry bushes, plus cows and a few sheep. These folks were not only filthy rich, they were self-sustaining. And the place was only twenty miles from New York City. Tom, a really stern supervisor with a strictly old-country outlook, put me to work weeding vegetable beds. I worked eight to ten hours a day, and if Tom didn’t like my output, he didn’t pay me! It only took one of “those” days to turn me into a model employee. Well, mostly.
One day I was assigned to pick berries, which grew alongside the walking-riding paths. I started at eight a.m. and worked lining little grape leaf-lined boxes with berries. Around ten a.m. I decided to take a short break, so I sat down under a tree and began to munch on a few of the berries I had picked. Suddenly, without any warning, I felt a very sharp WHACK on my little butt. It stung pretty good, and I was so startled that I jumped straight up and was about to take off running, when I heard the voice of my tormentor. It said, in the hoarse, crackling voice of what must have been a witch, “Stop right there, young man.” I stopped right there, quaking in my sneakers.
I had been “caned” by this little old lady who had come up behind me without making a sound. She looked just as old as she sounded, but she was elegantly dressed in some kine of shiny-looking antebellum outfit. Her look was more terrifying than even the nuns at my school. She carried her cane – the instrument of my recent torture – in one wizened hand, and I wonder how she could have delivered such a fearsome blow with that little hand. But right then, I saw that she was riding in a cart that must have been some kind of bicycle, for it was totally silent. At first I thought to look for the pedals, as the conveyance must have needed leg power.
But I wasn’t given time internalize my predicament. The little old lady spoke again, this time almost hissing. “Young man, I caught you sitting down on the job, and if it happens again you won’t be allowed on this property again.” Then she did something magical with an unknown mechanism, and silently drove off down the path. I halfway expected that the conveyance was going to lift off the ground and disappear over the trees, but I just stood there, stupefied, until I could gather what was left of my wits and start picking berries again. It was more magic, as I was now able to pick twice as many as before.
The mystery unfolded when I came back to the barn to eat my sandwich. I was confronted by mean old Tom, who said, “I hear you met Mrs. Edison this morning.” He was smiling, sort of, the first and last time I ever saw him looking anything but grumpy. He took a
little time to share with me the fact that Mrs. Edison, at age 95, still ran the show, as she toured the estate regularly in the electric cart that her husband had invented ‘way back in the ‘30s. I was given to understand that it was one of only two ever made, but that someday there would be a big market for them. How did that turn out, all these years later?
I didn’t last much longer at that job. When my Mom saw the welt on my rump that the caning had left, she forbade me to ever return to that wicked place, full of ogres and witches. Well, she was Irish, and you can’t fault us for our traditional beliefs. I read soon afterward that Mrs. Edison had passed on, and I’ll bet that she drove her electric cart to Heaven.
Another true story from Lubbock’s own, George Thatcher! Y’all should meet him sometime!
George is an American Bad Ass. He grew up in Jersey, flew B-52s in Vietnam, taught English, Spanish and other languages to children around the world, makes his own salsa, has been known to enjoy a beer or two and has called Lubbock home for a few years, just to entertain the locals. Welcome to Raiderland, Major. We are going to feature some of his writings going forward. Some new, some old. Some rhyme, some don’t. When it comes to George, there’s no box. So… enjoy our friend and enjoy his writings! – Hyatt