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Aaron Johnson: Ditch work

Making spending money can be difficult for a kid who is not old enough to mow yards. At least, that was my experience.

Before I began mowing yards for $2 per acre, I made my spending money patrolling the ditches and roadsides for empty Coke bottles. It might be worth noting that in the south, all drinks are Cokes. The soda might be a Pepsi, Dr Pepper, or anything else, but we still call it a Coke.

Empty soda bottles of any kind would do. A kid could stake out an area around his house and keep the roadside free of redeemable trash. When I first began, each bottle won me 3 cents. That means that with roughly 33 empty bottles I would earn a dollar. The feeling was inexpressible when the store owner handed me my dollar and pennies as I redeemed those bottles.

Words can’t express my delight when I took my collection to Piggly Wiggly and they gave me a nickel for each one! That was a 66% raise that I didn’t even ask for! Now it only took 20 to have a whole dollar.

A little later in life, during the lawn-mowing era, I found a way to supplement my wages during the off-season. I grew up on Stephens Street in Boaz. Stephens is one block away from the high school football stadium. On Saturday mornings after a football game I would climb the fence and look for change under the bleachers. You laugh, but it was cash to me. Once I found a dollar bill. I just got a tear in my eye thinking about it.

As I look back it seems I was an early adapter in the recycling business. They never complained when I brought in bottles filled with mud, trash, or liquids without identification. They just took them and paid me. My transaction ended when the coins hit my palm.

The summer after I graduated from high school, I worked at the RC plant in Boaz. I worked for a good friend who managed the warehouse. My job was to load trucks when they came in each afternoon. The drivers would give us a sheet of what they wanted in each bay of the truck and we would fill that order then park the truck. Three of us worked as hard as I have ever worked that summer.

It was dirty, hot, heavy, and I loved it.

The worst part of the job was separating the empties. In other words, sifting through the bottles others had redeemed. After they were separated into like labels, they were delivered to the wash room. There a huge bottle washer consumed the bottles one at a time. They were washed in boiling water, sanitized, and washed again.

After the wash they marched in single file between bright lights and an inspector. The inspector was to spot any spot or blemish in the freshly washed bottles. Then they were filled with any one of the delightful flavors we sold. I could use a Nehi peach drink right now.

Only after redemption, and cleaning were the bottles ready for filling. Come to think of it, it sounds a lot like my life. Just maybe I’m not the only one who has found himself in the ditch, or under the bleachers, abandoned, filled with trash, and unable to redeem himself.

Just maybe. As I look back at my life, I am most grateful for those who met me in the ditches of life. Sometimes, church folks don’t like a dirty faith.

Seems to me, that is where we should do our best work.

Aaron Johnson is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and the pastor of Christ Redeemer Church in Guntersville.

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