Thursday, April 07, 2005

Value of a dollar

As a child, my family (which was composed of just Mom and me most of the time) was about as poor as we could get. I got free lunch at school, wore hand-me-down clothes from neighbors and ate a steady diet of government cheese... the only thing missing was the van down by the river. (who could afford a van?) Mom was divorcing her husband at the time - he was a Green Beret at Fort Bragg - and we were going through some generally hard times in Fayetteville, NC.

I was 11, and attended Alger B. Wilkins elementary. Oddly enough, my most vivid memory of that school was breakfast. I had never attended a school that served it, (it was free for me of course) and it was always the same thing... a lump of grits, a flat, dry sausage patty and some powdered eggs. I remember how thankful I was because sometimes it was hard for Mom to afford to do breakfast. (I also remember how hard school was in Carolina, they were almost a year ahead of the schools in California and it took me a while to catch up)

Money had always been scarce, so I found ways of scratching together occasional candy funds by doing odd jobs for whomever might pay me. About a block up the street from us was a laundromat, and one day I dropped in to see if the attendant might need some help. She said she didn't have money to pay me, but if I wanted I could sweep the floors every day and keep any money I found. Opportunity had knocked and (since the door didn't have a peephole) I answered!

Most days I'd find 75 cents or a buck, some days a quarter is all I could scrounge, but it was great extra cash for a kid. Eventually the attendant started letting me fold laundry, and in return she'd round my findings up to the nearest dollar. Mom asked one day if I had been hired on full-time, because after school I'd make a beeline straight to the laundromat from the bus stop, and sometimes wouldn't make it home until dark.

And I'd never go straight home - always took a detour across the parking lot to the liquor store for the ritualistic "spending of the cash." Candy bars were 10 or 20 cents (Three Musketeers and Bit O Honey were cheapest) and sometimes I'd even splurge for a soda, which was 20 cents. Then I'd get home and slip the rest into the piggy bank for a rainy day.

That rainy day came when Mom decided to move us to Missouri where my Grandparents lived. We needed gas money for the trip and the extra cash was a godsend. We never would have made it without the laundromat money and I'll never forget how proud it made me feel to contribute.

Life wasn't always easy, but I wouldn't trade the lessons or memories for anything. I wish my kids knew the value of a dollar.

Too bad we don't live anywhere near a Duds in Suds.

***

9 comments:

Sid Dithers said...

You do. It's at Dorsett & McKelvey in Maryland Heights. It's the only place around here to wash duvets, blankets and carpets that I can't wash at home.

Plus, for God's sake, they sell beer! Bring your blankies and we'll get trashed!

Kerouaced said...

I really liked that one. Are you thinking of pulling these childhood pieces together as a book?

gary said...

I found a quarter on the parking lot at the office this morning. That almost made me happy enough to take the day off!!!

Ok, Ok...I need a vacation...or a beer!!! Where did you say that laundry mat was at, Mike???

couchpotato said...

Great posts. Yeah, it's hard to understand the value of money unless we really go through it.

Lightning Bug's Butt said...

Wow. That was a great post. I enjoyed that story.

Captures the American work ethic. Here you were sweeping floors on the chance you might FIND your salary!

NYCbeauty said...

Excellent post. I too grew up poor. That quarter on the floor always perked me right up. Yesterday I even found a dollar! What a coup. I don't think I'll ever stop thinking that way.

Thanks for visiting my site!
-jw

OldHorsetailSnake said...

I go back to when Milky Ways were a nickel, but Uno's were a dime. Creme de la creme, that. Nice post, Dave.

Mags said...

What a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing that with us.

Weary Hag said...

Dave, great story! For a short time in my daughter's life, she got the school breakfast too, free of course. We went through some tough times when she was really young. Years later she told me how embarrassed she was to hand in her free ticket and I cringed. Now she tells me she's grateful she knows how is was to be poor, so she won't judge others.
We were Christmas shopping two years ago and found a hundred dollar bill in the parking lot. We felt like we died and went to heaven. The next day (I swear) at work, a woman told me she spent a hundred dollars on a new purse.
When I told my daughter she said, "I'll bet she never had the free breakfast."
Loved this post!!