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JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories–Worms 8

“I laid in a stock of helgramites.”

I said, okay, I’ll find out how ya grow worms.  And I did.  It ain’t easy.  Do you think you just put a bunch of worms in a can and they start growing?  No sir!  Growing worms is another kettle of fish.  Another can of worms.  So I began to grow worms and my business went to hell.  Oh yes.  When you make vast technological changes you must accept the fact that you are investing in the future.  You are not investing in the now.  Oh no!  Because obviously, if I was growing worms I couldn’t be selling ‘em.  So I had to plow my profits back into the worm-growing mechanism—which I began to set up.

All though that August I studied—I went to libraries, everyplace I could lay my hands on material RE: worms.  All through that winter I was downstairs growing worms while other kids were out running around, standing in line to give their wishes to Santa Claus while  Shepherd was downstairs making sure there’s gonna be a Santa Claus!  In fact, if there’s gonna be any Santa Claus in this neighborhood it’s gonna be Shepherd.  So all winter I was growing worms.  It was not easy because first of all, my mother was pretty bugged about this whole thing.  And my father said it was sick.  My kid brother laughs.  And I had the whole basement all that winter filled with cases that I had built out of orange crates.  They are excellent worm boxes.  These big divided orange crates, the big, deep ones.  What do you line it with?  Get a fine mesh screen.  It doesn’t let the earth out when you put the earth in there.  The medium—we technical people refer to it as “the medium”—it will not go through this screen.  A few little grains will drop out but what it does, you see, it allows the medium to breathe!  You don’t just put dirt in there.  You lay the medium in there in layers.  You have layers of various types of material that you put in this thing until finally you get this beautiful, beautiful medium!  Sometimes I get so excited when I think of worms I just don’t know what to do!

By the following year Shepherd was ready to turn it on to the market.  And I began to move.  I want to tell you, I had the most beautiful—in fact, I had prize-winning night crawlers.  I had the type that, had I decided to go into open competition, it could very well have been top brood stock.

I had night crawlers—the kind of night crawlers you could actually fall in love with them.  Beautiful.  Oh yes.  I had maybe two or three prime night crawlers.  I had magnificent earthworms.  And what was even more interesting, I was one of the few guys who managed to grow grubs.  Which is a difficult thing to grow.  So I grew grubs, and I laid in a stock of helgranites.  You know what is it a helgramite?  Well, I suggest you look that up. H-e-l-g-r-a-m-i-t-e.  You look it up in your dictionary.  Helgramite.  I laid in a stock of helgramites.

By the middle of July of the second year I was knocking down so much money that the old man was getting mad.  Have you ever seen your old man get mad?  He brings home his paycheck and you’re downstairs in the basement and you’ve got ten dollar bills piled up.

I had a business going that got to the point that my mother said, “Listen, you’re going to have to put on that sign of yours out there that nobody can come after eight o’clock.”  Because guys would show up at two in the morning—all of a sudden they got the urge to go fishing.  The phone rings.  Guys would be pounding on the door.  “Hey, we need some worms!”

By mid-July, Shepherd’s making dough—hand over fist.  And the neighborhood kids are all bugged because, among other things, I went out and bought myself a brand new Elgin bicycle.  I’m sitting in the basement smokin’ big fat chocolate stogies.

And I begin to have labor troubles.  My kid brother, for example, helped me and I gave him two dollars a week and his job was to go down and feed the worms.  And if you would bring me a coffee can full of the feed that I used, I paid fifteen cents a can and the stuff was coming in from all different directions.  Guess what I used.  It was the first time anybody had found any actual use for this stuff.  And the worms loved it.  And it was my kid brother’s job to feed them.  But one day I came down there and the medium was all dry on top, and I holler, “Hey, Randy, what the heck are you doin’ with the worms?  Come on, for cryin’ out loud!”

He was very reluctant.  He said, “Aaaah.”  I was having labor troubles.  The two bucks a week he was getting he didn’t think was enough.  After a lot of arguing and yelling, I raised his pay to three-fifty a week, which really made me mad and I began to get very intolerant.  The minute your workers start coming around kvetching, you know, you start getting mad.

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