from the book Chasing the Ice Truck, Wilmington Memories

The Grit Watch and the Kerplop Sound 

by Alton E. Wood (Born 1928)

      My first experience in sales came in 1939 as a paper carrier for Grit, a weekly semi-magazine published in Pennsylvania.  I was about ten or twelve years old at that time.

      I started out with about twenty subscribers and eventually built up to in excess of fifty.  My route encompassed about twelve miles.  By the time I walked my route and spoke to most of my customers, I had consumed the better part of a day.

      The paper sold for five cents and my commission was two cents per copy, so if I sold all my papers and collected for each of them, I could easily make a dollar in one day.  That is, until I started renting Murphy Fountain’s bicycle to speed up the delivery process.

      Murphy was one of the very few boys in our neighborhood who was privileged to own a bicycle.  I had to pay Murphy one cent per copy in rent, but I cut my delivery time in half and also had the distinct pleasure of riding a bicycle for a half day.

      After delivering papers for several months, Grit informed me that I had qualified for their special Grit Carrier pocketwatch and I would be receiving it in the mail shortly.  Sure enough, after two or three weeks, the watch arrived.  It was the most beautiful timepiece I had ever seen, and it was all mine!  The case was stainless steel with the Grit logo on the back, and it came with a bronze fob and a genuine leather strap.  Until now, I had never realized the absolute importance of the exact time of day, but now I made sure that everyone around me was kept aware of the hours and minutes.

      There was a creek called Teachey Ford about two miles from our home where the neighborhood boys used to go to swim.  It was so far back in the woods that we never bothered to take swim trunks with us even if we had them.  We just went swimming in the buff and never gave it a second thought.  One day, several of us were gathered at Raleigh Jones General Store.  After checking my Grit watch, I assured everyone that we had plenty of time before dark to go for a swim.

      Within minutes, we were in sight of the creek, and in the interest of time, we began to remove our clothes even before we got to the swimming hole.  Since the diving board was on the other side of the creek, and since there was a log that had fallen across the creek, I folded my trousers across my arm and proceeded to walk along that log to the other side.  About half-way across, I heard a sound like “ker-plop.”  I thought maybe I had surprised an old turtle and that he had slid off a limb into the creek.

      When I got to the other side, however, and checked to see what time it was, my heart dropped clear down to my feet.  My new Grit watch, bronze fob, and genuine leather strap had slipped out of my pocket and into the miry muck of about two feet of decayed leaves and mud.

      Well, I literally turned that creek upside down looking for my prized timepiece, but the creek had claimed it forever.  At dark, we gave up our search and went home, but I have never forgotten that sinking feeling in my heart when I realized what that “ker-plop” sound was.

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