Sloan, Thank you for sharing the eulogy. I appreciate your thoughts on many levels, but most importantly that you tell the truth as you see it. Truth hurts sometimes, but it never hurts as much as the confusion of lies. Your writing is NOT like a child who wants attention, but like a wise man who has been processing the life you have and are living. “Simplify, simplify, simplify… Give me that poverty that knows true wealth” ~H.D. Thoreau . . . I sense that you have gained more than you have lost. TMAG
This below fell out of me last night before I heard from TMAG. After I finished the second draft, I told the Board of Directors it should not be published. And I told Major maybe I was coming to join him soon, as I’d had quite enough of living on this world. My dreams last night left me feeling I had no alternative but to publish it and to keep on trucking.
After World War II, Leo Bashinsky and his former brother-in-law, Cyrus Case, purchased Magic City Foods in Birmingham from a couple who had run it for years under the Golden Flake Brand. A small company by today’s standards, it manufactured and distributed 5-cents packages of potato chips, peanuts, peanut butter and cheese crackers, and related packaged snack products.
I remember the day my father drove the family out to the plant on Lomb Avenue, not far from the turn over to Rickwood Field, where the Birmingham Barons played baseball in the Class AA league. I remember looking at the brick building and adjacent steel-gray quonset hut. It was a gray, dreary winter day. I did not feel elated, although my parents told me driving out there it was a big moment for our family.
I would work there in the summers after I entered high school, and at the new plant near the City Jail on South 6th Street, after it was built when I attended Ramsay High School situated above Five Points South. During college I worked there in the summers. Mostly I worked in the warehouse, and sometimes I worked in the manufacturing areas, all entry-level jobs, which I roundly did not like and watched the clock, waiting for the work day to be over.
After graduating from law school at the University of Alabama, I clerked for a federal judge. Then, unable to make up my mind what to do, I decided to go to work for Golden Flake. I did a lot of different jobs over the next four years, and learned the company pretty well, inside and outside. Manufacturing, purchasing, sales, marketing and advertising. But it didn’t suit me, nor did I seem to suit it, so I left the company and joined a small Birmingham law firm and started practicing law.
Before I left the company, a number of long-time employees came to me and we wept together. They didn’t want me to leave, I was the future and hope of the company, they told me. But I knew I had to leave, if I wanted to stay alive. My health was destroyed, my marriage in shambles. So I moved on, even though I left a big part of me in the company. A part of me that kept up with the company for decades. Even today, when I go into grocery stores in areas where Golden Flake does business, I find the potato chip section and view the racks, at which company has the best position and the most facings, and what the new products are.
Let’s go back to the beginning of what I wrote to start this story. Let’s go back to why my grandfather and his former brother-in-law purchased Magic City Foods. Former brother-in-law due to the early death of my grandfather’s younger sister, Helen, whose untimely passing caused by galloping tuberculosis or a rapid pneumonia shook the family to the core. So devoted was he to his sister that my grandfather forbade Cyrus to remarry and, because it would dishonor his departed sister’s name. Cyrus remained a bachelor until his death.
My grandfather and Cryus bought Magic City Foods because of me. I was the reason, but I didn’t know this when they bought it, nor when I went with my family that dreary winter day to look at it. I didn’t know it when I worked at Golden Flake in the summers, or later after I had clerked for the federal judge. I only learned of it when the story started coming to me in bits and pieces, mostly through my first and second wives, who heard it from my black mammy and the wife of my father’s brother.
Not long after America entered World War II, my father enlisted in the Army Air Corps. Trained as a pilot, he was so good with mathematics that after he got his wings they converted him to a navigator/bombardier. The family stayed with him during the training period, at the air base in Boca Raton, and then at an air base somewhere in Iowa.
Just before my father was shipped out for Guam, where a B-29 base had been built, my mother went to California to see him off to war. She left me and my beloved black mammy, whom I called “Cha,” because I could not pronounce Charlotte, with my father’s mother and father.
My grandmother did not like the way I ate, that is, what I ate, so she set out to change my diet. When I didn’t eat the food she had her servants prepare for me, she took me to a doctor to get him to make me eat what she wanted me to eat. When the doctor told her she was so much as crazy, she took my dear Cha away from me and banished her to the servants’ quarters in the basement, to force me to eat what she wanted me to eat.
When my mother returned from California, she noticed my ribs sticking out prominently and Cha told her what had happened. My moher was enraged and old her in-laws they would never have a relationship with any of her children. I suppose news of this was in the first letter she wrote to my father after she returned from California to Birmingham. He went off to war to protect his family, and shortly after he arriving on Guam he received a letter describing a war declared in his own family.
As months passed, my parents, probably at my mother’s urging, as she didn’t care for her parents either, decided not to live in Birmingham after the war ended. Because of his aviation training and high aptitude in mathematics, mechanics and electronics, my father was offered a post-war job by an aircraft manufacturer in Cleveland, Ohio. That was where we would move and live after the war.
I remember shortly after I finished law school, when my grandfather showed me a letter my father had written from Guam, saying as things now stood, he and his family would not be living in Birmingham after the war. I was shown the letter to persuade me not to accept a fabulous association with a well-respected country lawyer I had been offered, but to return to Birmingham from law school. My grandfther did not explain the background for the letter.
The background was what he let his wife do to me, and to try to make up for it, my grandfather wrote back to my father and promised him that if he came back to Birmingham to live, he, my grandfather, would purchase a company and my father would become a junior partner and eventually it would all be his. This was what induced my father and mother, probably mostly my father, not to move to Cleveland and to stay in Birmingham after the war. The company purchased was Magic City Foods — Golden Flake.
I learned just today (Monday) that my grandfather and Cyrus paid $1,000,000 for the company, which was a lot of money in those days. I also learned today that Cyrus was homosexual, although I seriously doubt my grandfather knew it. The person who told me this worked during high school for Magic City Foods when it was sold to my grandfather and Cyrus. He worked for the company until he retired maybe twenty years ago. He knew the company as well as anyone, but he did not know the company was purchased because of me, and I told him I might write about that.
Not only was my father made a junior partner, his brother Leo was also. When my father finally decided to purchase the business from his father and Cyrus, my mother insisted he buy out Leo’s interest, because she knew my father was going to make something of the company and she didn’t like the idea of him making his brother rich if he wasn’t working in the company. Leo was a pediatrician, perhaps as great a baby doctor to ever walk on this world.
So my father bought out his father, Cyrus and Leo, and then he built the plant on South 6th Street, near the city jail. Then, with the help of Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, the company took off, and my father indeed made a lot of money. As did top management make a lot of money through stock ownership, and later via stock options when the company went public. A lot of private investors also made a lot of money off the company stock. And yet no one in the company today, nor any stockholder, knows why my family came to own Golden Flake: my grandfather didn’t want my parents to move to Cleveland over what he had let his wife do to me.
I dunno. Maybe if my family wasn’t so prominent in Birmingham, maybe if Golden Flake wasn’t a household word in Alabama, maybe if Bear Bryant had never advertised Golden Flake potato chips on his Sunday afternoon post-game show, maybe if my father had not given so much money to the University of Alabama, Auburn University and Samford University in Birmingham, there would be neither interest nor point in my explaining anything about my family to the public. Maybe,though, having a high public profile carries a higher standard of openness and disclosure.
Maybe it’s even more simple than that. My father’s business creed was the Golden Rule. There used to be, perhaps still are, gold rulers over doorways in the company headquarters, saying “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And there used to be a hobo clown on all Golden Flake packaging. A mosaic of the clown still welcomes visitors into the South 6th Street offices.
Maybe it’s time the company went back to the Golden Rule in earnest. Maybe it’s time to put the rank-and-file employees first, for a change. But for the rank and file employees, there would be no Golden Flake, now would there?
They still know me as Bash out there. Many people have told me I was the model for the hobo clown, but he was there all along. Even so, that’s how I sign off today, as the hobo clown they knew as Bash.
I sign off saying to my father’s widow, giving money from my father’s estate, over which you are totally in charge from what I hear, to the Golden Flake employees is far more important than giving it to Alabama, Auburn and Samford, and to any church. Far more important. Give it back to the employees and the company, Joann. My father is watching you. As is God.
Many times in my youth, my father told me in a lamenting tone, ”Son, I built this business for you!” Many times he told me that. It always made me feel terrible, for it looked to me that he had built the business for himself. That lament had a lot to do with why I didn’t take that country lawyer’s offer and why I went to work for Golden Flake, even though everything inside and outside of me was screaming at me to practice law.
Only now, the day after I started writing this, do I see the linkage in my father’s lament back to when he agreed to return to Birmingham because his father was going to buy him a company because of me. Major told you to be generous with the company employees, Joann. Now I’m telling you.
But for me, there would be no Golden Fake. But for me, you never would have met my father at the aircraft hanger where you worked in Nashville; where he parked his airplane when he flew up there to see the Golden Flake operation he had purchased from Don’s Foods just before I attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
I was his best man, Joann. I carried the ring he gave to you. I know who and what you are. I know you are a Bashinsky in name only. And I know you are no different from my grandfather. It’s all about you, Joann. It always was. This is your chance to change that.