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JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories–Worms 2


(How little Jean became a pro worm man.)




In the Springtime, digging for worms is groovy, because there’s been snow and rain, and there’s a lot of worms.  This is a great time for wormers.  That is one of the reasons I’m telling this story now.  Because these are exciting days when you’re an ex-worm man.  You walk out and you smell that brisk spring air out there and you know that this is worm time.  Once you’ve been steeped in the worm mystique, there is no conceivable way you can ever get it out of your gut.  Like old fire horses—every time they hear a bell they want to run off to the fire.  Well, this is the way with old worm men.

Any time you sniff that air and you see the slight hint of rain in the air your hand itches to get at the shovel.  You want to see the sight of a great big night crawler quietly attempting to elude your shovel as he goes deeper and deeper and you start digging faster and faster until finally you pull him out and you’ve got him!  He struggles to get away and you drop him into the Prince Albert can and once again you have brought home another trophy, a magnificent worm!

The old man would say, “Get me some worms.”

In the beginning of spring it was great.  You’d go out and half an hour later you’ve got a couple of hundred worms—no problem.  Well, as the year would progress and as the sun would get hotter and as summertime would get more malevolent, the worms would become more and more scarce until finally, around the middle of July, if you want to dig up a worm you’ve gotta go halfway to China.  And even then, the worms you get are very reluctant.  These are not cooperative worms.  So there’s a big difference between a July worm and a May or a June worm.

As an old worm man, I’m going to tell you how I got into the worm business.  It’s like Henry Ford talking about how he finally started to make them cars, you know?  Well, this is the way it happened, see.  I’m about fourteen and I’m feeling my oats, walking around, and the old man, one weekend, says, “Listen, I gotta have some worms.  We’re gonna go fishin’, me and Gertz and Zudok, next weekend.”

Immediately, because it is late in May or early June, I gripe, “Ah, gee, why?  I don’t wanna dig old worms.”

He says, “Look, I’ve gotta have these worms.  I want to have them by Saturday.  I don’t want to hear any crying or complaining.” With that, my mother, who’s hanging over the sink, says, “The least you can do is offer him a quarter!” Well, this is a new concept to the old man, see, because I have this allowance, which is seven cents a month—give or take, and the idea of giving me a quarter for digging worms is a new idea. He says, “Alright, okay, you get me some worms and I’ll give you a quarter.”


That puts a whole new light on the situation, so now I’m out in the vacant lot and it’s about Thursday, because, you see, I’ve learned something early in the game, that if you dig worms on Monday for the following Saturday, forget it—they’re just gone.  So I’m out there Thursday digging away there, and I come across these worms.  It’s a typical day, so I have myself a can of worms now, and I bring it in and I’m very proud of my worms, because, you know, I’m getting paid for it.

So the old man comes home from work and he says, “How about them worms?”

I say, “Okay,” and I reach under the kitchen table.  We’re all sitting around having dinner and I take out this big can of worms.

My mother screams, “Get them off the table aaaaagh!”  My mother never did get interested in worms.  Funny thing.  There’s no accounting for taste.  I always thought they were beautiful.  I still do.  They’re so…so earthy. 

He says, “Let me take a look at them.”  He shakes the can.  A real fisherman can tell how the worms are by just shaking the can and looking in.  “Not bad, not bad!”

He reaches in his pocket, gives me the quarter, and I am now a professional.  The minute that you change your status and leave the amateur ranks in anything, your whole outlook changes.  I became a pro that minute.  No longer am I a dilettante.  I have the two bits in my pocket, the old man has the can of worms, and Saturday he goes off fishing.  I do not at that time realize the import of that exchange—which became very interesting later on.



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