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Lawrence – My Hometown
Ragman, fruit vendor and knife sharpener
Richard E. Noble
Okay, everyone out there who remembers feeding the ragman’s horse please raise their hand. The ragman in my neighborhood was a brown-skinned, chubby little guy. My staff of researchers has informed me that the ragman’s name in our era was George Layland. “Rumor” had it that George died a millionaire. He had an old horse that pulled his junk wagon. He had a thin whip and at varying intervals he snapped the horse from a slow walk to an even slower walk - my kind of horse. As the ragman rolled very slowly up and down the streets of our neighborhood, he would chant … zharr rags, zharr rags. He would buy bags of rags and old clothes. He would also take broken bicycles, wagons, busted scooters … anything. He never paid anybody very much for their junk. My mother complained about him all the time. But nevertheless, he filled that old wagon up every day. When someone from one of the tenements would halt the ragman he would tie his horse up to a telephone pole and little kids would gather all around to touch and pet the old horse. Some of us would run off hunting grass or pulling up straw-like stuff that grew around the fence edges or popped out of the cracks in the curbing. The old horse liked apple cores and bananas also. The horse always pooped along the street somewhere. My grandmother would be off her rocker and out into the street with her snow shovel. She would tote the poop out behind the garages in the backyard and spade it into the dirt around her greens and her rhubarb. It was great fun finding a kid who had never eaten rhubarb before. We would all stare silently and wait as he took his first big bite and started chewing. When his face puckered up, the roar of laughter would erupt. The fruit and vegetable vendor would set all the neighborhood moms scurrying also. He had a truck and a hanging scale dangling at the rear of his truck. I am sure the Department of Weights and Measures never accessed that scale. He crawled up and down the streets never getting out of first gear. He would yell out … Apples, peaches, water mel … loans. He would sing it. It would start off high with the apples and peaches and then trail off into the water mel … loans. Apples … peaches … water mel … loans. When the price was right my mother would buy a bushel of something and have me cart it down to the landing in the cellar. The cellar was always the coolest spot, even in the summertime. The peaches, pears or apples in the cellar landing would last a good while and provided a nice treat. When the fruit started to overripe we had pies. That was an all around good deal. Then we had the Hood Milk delivery truck guy, who arrived early every morning and left clanking glass bottles of milk on the doorstep. Each jug had a cup or so of cream floating at the top of the bottle. Me, Ray Dolan and Jack Sheehy once applied for jobs at the Hood Milk Company on one of our unemployment walking tours of Lawrence. When the man asked us why we applied for a job at Hood Milk he caught us off guard. He clarified his question by mentioning that he had placed no ad in the newspaper asking for help. Our method for finding a job had nothing to do with checking want ads. We would just go wandering off each morning and walk into anyplace that we figured had more than a mom, dad and junior employed there. The man’s question seemed rather stupid, I thought. Hood Milk had numerous milk trucks, hundreds, running all over town. Every milk truck had a driver. One of the drivers could have died over the weekend, maybe fell out of the damn truck or got a better job mowing the lawn in the Common or running numbers for one of the many local bookies. What kind of a question was this guy putting forward? Jack and I sat there dumbfounded but Ray went into a prayer type monologue about all the things he loved and cherished about Hood Milk and being a delivery man. Ray loved the white milkman suit and the white police cap that topped it off. He loved the taste of Hood milk ever since he was a baby. One look at that Hood milk bottle sitting on the kitchen table with all the thick, rich cream floating near the top of the bottle and even his mother’s breast was a second rate substitute. He finished his love story about the Hood Milk Company with, “Ever since I was a little boy, I always dreamed of one day becoming a milkman and delivering Hood milk door to door. If I were to get a position here today, it would be the highlight of my entire life – a dream come true.” The interviewer was quite impressed. A tiny tear came peeking out from the corner of his right eye. He pulled himself together, cleared his throat and told Ray that in all of his career he had never heard an applicant make such an emotional plea. Jack and I sat speechless. When we got outside to the parking lot Jack and I both confessed to Ray that we had similar thoughts as children ourselves. The white uniform and the white police cap were especially vivid memories. Ray said, “You guys got to be kidding me. I hate milk. The sight of the stuff makes me gag. I never thought of being a milkman once in my life.” “You made that whole thing up? How did you ever think of that?” “Well, I figured here’s this sucker stuck down there in the Hood milk building all his adult life. He probably started out as a milk delivery man himself. He is sitting there looking out the damn window thinking how he has wasted his whole life peddling milk. I figured what would a poor slob like that like best to hear? How about a story about a kid who spent his entire childhood dreaming of becoming just like him? He had probably been sitting staring out that window all morning. Hasn’t had an applicant in three weeks. He probably has nothing to tell his wife when he gets home from work every night. Tonight when he goes home he’ll have this great story about a boy who always dreamed of becoming a milkman.” “So you made the guy’s day?” “Why not? What else am I doing? I’m unemployed, remember.” And how could anybody ever forget the Cushman Bakery delivery man and the tinkling bell of the ice cream truck, or the block ice delivery man. He had those huge ice tongs and that leather sheath he threw over his shoulder and last but not least, the knife sharpening guy. The knife sharpening guy had his own rig. He was another very old man. He had a wheelbarrow type thing that he pushed down the street. He had a chant also but I don’t recall how it went. In place of the carry bucket on his wheelbarrow he had a giant stone wheel. As I remember the big stone was white in color. I remember my mother frantically searching out every dull knife in the silverware draw, sticking them into a paper bag or wrapping them up in a towel and sending me out in a run after the old man and his giant stone. I guess the “don’t run with scissors” admonition was also after my time. Of course, children were a good deal cheaper in those days. This guy had a neat business though, I loved to watch him. First he would set his wheelbarrow down and then he would flip back this buggy seat he had folded over at the handle end of the barrow. He would climb up into his buggy seat and then put his feet on the bicycle peddles he had hooked up to his stone. He would peddle his stone and get it rotating and then start edging the knives. It was neat to watch him. He had a rhythmic pace to his peddling and scraping. He also had a water bottle and he poured water onto his rotating wheel occasionally. He would test the knives for sharpness by touching his thumb along the edge. When I would get the knives home both my mother and I would test a knife edge as the old man had done and invariably we would each cut our thumbs. I remember examining that old man’s thumb each time I brought him knives. He had a mean looking thumb, man, let me tell you. Wow, if thumbs could talk. That thumb had obviously been to hell and back. Hey, somebody ought to write a book with that title “To Hell and Back.” That would be a million seller, I’ll bet. PS – Don’t write. I know all about Audie Murphy.
Richard Edward Noble is a freelance writer and columnist. His local column, the Eastpointer, won the first place 2007 humor award from the Florida Press Association. He has published several books. All of his books can be viewed and purchased on Amazon.com. Contact Richard at Noble Publishing firstname.lastname@example.org for bookstore discounts and volume sales.
Books by Richard Edward Noble. Click on covers below for more info and purchasing instructions.
Classic Tragic Novel
Don't Laugh - This Could Have Been Your Life
Funny stories and some strange characters.
Monkey Dishes and Cocktail Fawks
My Harrowing days in the restaurant business. Great Read.
It's a Long Story
Long Short Fiction - Great stories!
Bloggin' Be My Life
"Bloggin' be My Life" contains a selection of some of my more popular Hobo Philosopher blogs.If you enjoy reading this blog, you should love Bloggin' Be My Life.
It's All About Love
It's All About Love is ... all about love. This is the 2nd book of poetry from The Bard From Chelmsford off Arlington. Every poem in this book comes with a prose introduction. If you enjoy poetry this is a simple choice. Have fun!
A Little Something
Traditional poetry from The Bard From Chelmsford Off Arlington with some poignant prose introductions. If you enjoy any type of poetry, you will enjoy this volume. Thanks.
Talking To Myself
This is my third book of poetry.
Bits and Pieces
The Hobo Philosopher - My first book using the Hobo Philosopher brand. Featuring a variety of writing styles and ideas. Look for the Thoughtful Hobo on the cover.
A Baker's Dozen
The Hobo Philosopher: My Second book of Fiction, Creative Non-Fiction and Short Stories. All varieties of short stories - lots of laughs!
Cat Point - and Them Dang Oyster People
Cat Point is the sequel to "The Eastpointer." Both books contain humorous tales about life in a fishing community on the Florida Panhandle. Lots of laughs.
Won 1st Place award for humor in 2007 from Florida Press Association. More wit, wisdom and humor from the yet to be world famous author, R.E. Noble
A Summer with Charlie - Lawrence
Fiction - Salisbury Beach, Lawrence, Mass. Featured in Merrimack Valley Magazine July /Aug. issue 2010
Travel, Humor, Commentary on migrant farm work and illegal immigration still very pertinent today.
"Just Hangin' Out Ma"
Thank God for the Street Corners of Lawrence, Mass. Anecdotes and humorous escapades about growing up in an industrial mill town in the 40s,50s and 60s.
This is the sequel to "Just Hangin' Out, Ma"
That Old Gang of Mine
This is # 3 in my Lawrence Hometown series. The series is about growing up in the 40's, 50's and 60's in an industrial mill town. Sorta like a Huck Finn goes to vist Uncle Ralph, the bus driver, who lives in a big, rundown city. Lots of fun.
Come On-A My House
This is # 4 in my Lawrence Hometown series.The old homested at 32 Chelmsford ST is pictured on the cover..
Down By The Old Mill Stream
# 5 in the Lawrence My Hometown series.
Standing on the Corner is # 6 in the lawrence My Hometown series.
The old Howard Playstead on Lawrence St.
Eat, Drink and Be Merry
# 7 in the Lawrence my Hometown series.
Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother
Classic tragic novel written from child's perspective. Deals with abuse, poverty, unemployment. Pulls no punches.
Noble Notes on Famous Folks
Humorous, satirical notes on everybody from Constantine to Bill Clinton. Inspiration: Willy Cuppy.
America on Strike
History - documented survey of labor strikes in America
Mein Kampf - An Analysis of Book One
Who are the American Nazis - the Liberals or the Conservatives?
MY NAME IS RICHARD EDWARD NOBLE. I AM A FREELANCE WRITER AND I HAVE PUBLISHED 12 BOOKS:"THE EASTPOINTER" - SELECTIONS FROM AWARD WINNING NEWSPAPER COLUMN - "A LITTLE SOMETHING" - POETRY WITH PROSE -"HONOR THY FATHER AND THY MOTHER" - A NOVEL ABOUT GROWING UP IN THE NEW ENGLAND MILL TOWN OF LAWRENCE, MASS, "HOBO-ING AMERICA" - A WORKINGMAN'S TOUR OF THE U.S.A. - "A SUMMER WITH CHARLIE" - THE STORY OF A YOUNG SAILOR'S LAST DAYS AT SALISBURY BEACH, "NOBLE NOTES ON FAMOUS FOLKS" - HUMOROUS ANECDOTES ON FAMOUS FOLKS IN HISTORY,
"AMERICA ON STRIKE" HISTORY BOOK - A SURVEY OF LABOR STRIKES IN AMERICA; "A BAKER'S DOZEN" A BOOK OF HUMOROUS SHORT STORIES; "JUST HANGIN' OUT, MA" - GROWING UP IN THE 40'S, 50'S AND 60'S IN LAWRENCE, MY HOMETOWN, "TENEMENT DWELLERS" - SEQUEL TO JUST HANGIN OUT, MA; MEIN KAMPF - ANALYSIS OF BOOK ONE - HISTORY. CAT POINT - AND THEM DANG OYSTER PEOPLE - SEQUEL TO THE EASTPOINTER
All 12 BOOKS ARE AVAILABLE ON AMAZON.COM, BARNES AND NOBLE AND OTHER INTERNET SOURCES OR FROM NOBLE PUBLISHING. ALL 12 OF MY BOOKS ARE NOW ON KINDLE AT BARGAIN PRICES TOO. IF YOU WOULD LIKE MORE INFORMATION ABOUT DISCOUNTS AND SPECIAL OFFERS E-MAIL ME. MY EMAIL IS ON MY PROFILE PAGE.