neither can “no money!” However, money does take the sting out of
I grew up poor, so I speak from personal experience. The most amazing
thing about our poverty was that we were poor and we didn’t know it. I
do have to confess, there were occasions where I suspected it.
When you have ten brothers and sisters, hand-me-downs was the only
kind of clothes you ever had, many of which came from our cousins,
friends and neighbors. I don’t ever recall having a new pair of shoes.
Shoes were always a challenge because when you wore out the soles, it
required creativity. I worked at my uncle’s grocery store so I managed
to manufacture a supply of shoe inserts out of corrugated boxes. I
found a cardboard insert could last several days if it didn’t rain
Mending torn clothes was second nature to all my brothers and sisters.
The most expensive problem was when I’d break my glasses frames
playing backyard football. Thank God for duct tape.
Being poor dictated that we worked from the earliest possible age. I
recall bagging groceries at Mack’s Cash & Carry, my uncles’ grocery
store in the tiny village of Lexington, SC at the age of five. I would
even peddle groceries to local customers who called in their orders.
I’d earn a dollar a day plus any tips. Trouble was, most of the people
who shopped there were just as poor as we were.
In fact, my uncles, like their father before them, extended credit to
most of their customers because many people, like teachers and county
workers, weren’t paid but once a month. Of course, the credit was
always extended interest-free. There were no credit cards in those
When I turned ten, I began pumping gas at Redd Powell’s Esso Station
at the corner of Main Street and South Lake Drive, working around my
Little League baseball schedule and the weekly Boy Scout meetings.
I occasionally helped my uncles as well, giving me a pretty good
income from several sources, all of which we delivered directly to
“Mama Alice” to run the household.
When Ralph Corley took over the service station from Redd Powell, my
pay improved to a dollar an hour, which was cool because during the
summer I would open the station at 6:00 a.m. and would work until
midnight when we closed, getting in as many as 126 hours in over a
seven day week.
In those days, there was no Interstate highway system. All traffic
from Maine to Florida came down US Highway 1, which paralleled the
east coast for nearly 2,369 miles from Ft. Kent, Maine at the Canadian
border to the tip of the Florida Keys. Consequently, we pumped
hundreds of thousands of gallons of gas every month.
If memory serves me, fuel costs were only twenty-five cents a gallon.
Customers never pumped their own gas. When they’d come into the
station to gas up, they would get a full tank of fuel and all the
extras they wanted. We would happily check under the hood or gauge the
tires. We would even vacuum out the car and wash all windows for the
price of a gallon of gas.
When I got into high school, I began writing for area newspapers as a
“stringer.” My articles would often appear in the Lexington
Dispatch-News as well as papers in Columbia (The State), Irmo, Chapin,
Cayce-West Columbia (The Journal) and Batesburg-Leesville, SC (The
Twin City News).
Some of those papers are now defunct. The Lexington Dispatch-News is
now The Lexington Chronicle. This column, which now appears in 1,300
newspapers in some 30 countries, still appears in The Lexington
Chronicle. Go figure… back to my roots.
Between writing as a stringer for the local rags and working at the
gas station, I was able to earn some serious jack.
I began driving a school bus as a junior in high school (yes, students
drove their peers in those days). That earned me $35.00 per month and
provided me transportation to and from school. I also drove the bus
home after football, baseball or track practice and parked it across
the street from our home on South Lake Drive, right next to Howard
Hobbs’ Barber Shop.
Now that I think about it, cutting hair was about the only thing I
didn’t try. Those were the days my friend!
* * * * *
Michael Aun is a syndicated columnist and writes a weekly column for
this newspaper. To contact Michael Aun, email him at