Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Nickels for Dimes

Nickels for Dimes

By Linda Goodma

© Linda Goodman 2007

 If you are familiar with my stories, you have already met Brother Lee. I am sad to say that Lee left this world on September 20, 2019. Alzheimer's Disease showed him no mercy. Lee is a big part of my story Nickels for Dimes. I am posting it in his honor. You can watch the video of this story on my website on the "Hear Linda Tell tab."

            In August 1961, on an oppressively hot and humid day (made even more oppressive by my having just played four innings of kickball), my nine-year old body lay stretched across the bed in the room that I shared with my five-year old sister Evelyn.  I was trying to get cool.  But there was no air conditioning, and the fan just circulated hot air. 
            In my hand I held a nickel, my allowance for the week.  Believe it or not, in those days a nickel would buy an eight ounce fountain Coca Cola with chipped ice or a one-scoop ice cream cone.   What it would not buy was both.  Therein lay my problem.  I could not decide which one I wanted.  Would it be the cold energy of the Coca Cola, or the cool comfort of the ice cream? 

            I was just about to let a flip of my nickel make the decision for me, when I noticed my baby sister Evelyn’s money jar on her side of our dresser.  It was really just a pickle jar that Momma had washed out.  Daddy cut a slit in the lid so that she could use it as a bank. That bank was filled almost to the top with nickels, dimes, and quarters.   Unlike my brothers and me, who spent our nickels as soon as we got them, Evelyn put all of her nickels in that bank.  And when relatives came to visit, they would put dimes and quarters in there because she was so cute.

            As I stared at that money jar, I thought to myself, if I take just one nickel from that jar, Evelyn will never know.  Heck, I wouldn’t even know if there was a nickel missing from that jar, and I was the smartest person I knew!

            If I took a nickel from that jar, however, that would be stealing, and the Bible said that stealing is a sin. 

            Of course, the Bible also said, “Thou shalt not store up treasures on this earth,” and Evelyn had quite a treasure stored up in that jar.  That meant she was sinning, too.  I figured her sin cancelled mine out.

            And the Bible said over and over again that we should always help those in need.  There I was in dire need of a Coca Cola and an ice cream cone, and my baby sister had not even offered to help me out.  That meant she had two sins to my one, and I figured that entitled me to a free one.

            I got off the bed and walked over to the dresser, but just as I started to reach for that jar, my baby sister Evelyn walked into the room!

            “Hi, Sissy!” she greeted me.

            “Hi, Ev…Evelyn,” I stammered.  “I was just admiring your money jar. Why, it’s almost full!”

            “I know,” she squealed.  “I can’t wait for it to get all the way full.  Then I can start a new one.”
            Suddenly, I was possessed by an idea.

            “You know, Evelyn, I can help you with that.  See this nickel I have here?  It’s about twice the size of a dime.  If you give me a dime out of your jar, I’ll give you this nickel and your jar will be that much fuller!”

            “Really?” she innocently asked.  “You would do that for me?"

            I nodded my head and said, “Uh huh.”

            She walked over to the dresser, opened the jar and took out a dime. And as we traded my nickel for her dime, she put arms around me in a big hug and said, “Oh, Sissy!   You’re the best sissy in the whole wide world!”

            Ten minutes later, I was sitting at the counter of the Highway Pharmacy, ordering myself a vanilla ice cream cone and a fountain Coca Cola with chipped ice.  And as I walked home licking that ice cream and sipping that Coke, I thought to myself, boy am I smart!  What other nine-year-old would even think of trading nickels for dimes?

            Soon I passed the ball field, where my brother Lee (who claimed to be in training to be a major league pitcher) was playing catch with his friend Roy Allen.  I decided to mess with him.

            “Hey, Lee!” I hollered.  “Your glove is on the wrong hand!”

            That startled him and he dropped the ball. “Get outta here, goon face! You’re messin’ with my concentration!” he sneered.

            I just laughed and kept on licking that ice cream and sipping that Coke.

            The next morning our neighbor, Mrs. Oliver, asked me to go to the little store around the corner and get some bread and milk for her, because she didn’t want to leave her new baby.  I did as she asked, and she rewarded me with a shiny new nickel.

            Immediately I went to find my baby sister Evelyn, who was in the back yard under a tree, having a tea party with her imaginary friends.

            “Look, Evelyn,” I purred, “I have another nickel.  Want to trade for another dime?”

            She ran into the house, lickety split, and came back with a dime. And as we traded my nickel for her dime, she put arms around me in a big hug and said, “Oh, Sissy!   You’re the best sissy in the whole wide world!”

            Ten minutes later, I was sitting at the counter of the Highway Pharmacy, ordering myself a chocolate ice cream cone and a fountain Coca Cola with chipped ice. And as I walked home licking that ice cream and sipping that Coke, I thought to myself, I must be pretty close to being a genius.  If I keep this up, I’ll be a millionaire by the time I’m ten!

            About that time I passed the ball field where, once again, my brother Lee and his friend Roy Allen were playing catch. 

            “Hey, Lee!” I hollered, “Where’s that stick?”

            Lee turned with his hands on his hips to look at me.  “What stick?” he questioned.

            “That ugly stick you got beat with!” I laughed spitefully.
            He just shrugged.  “You got no room to talk,” he said.  “You’re so skinny, if you turn sideways and stick out your tongue, you look like a zipper.”

            That hurt!  I had been sensitive about my weight ever since I had passed out in school, and the principal had sent me home with a note saying that I could not return until I had seen a doctor.  He thought I was starving, the note said.

            But I was not about to let Lee know that he had gotten to me.  I got right in his face and starting taunting him, “COKE AND ICE CREAM! COKE AND ICE CREAM! COKE AND ICE CREAM!”

            Then with a big gulp, I swallowed the rest of my coke, and with a gigantic bite, I devoured the rest of that ice cream. 

            Then I started to run, but I tripped over my shoe lace, which made Lee and Roy Allen start laughing.  I wasn’t laughing, but I wasn’t crying either, because there, right on the ground in front of my face was ANOTHER NICKEL!  I scooped it up and ran home as fast as I could

            Of course, the first thing I did was to go looking for my baby sister Evelyn.  I found her in our bedroom, changing the diaper on her Betsy Wetsy doll.

            “Look, Evelyn!”  I announced.  “I have another nickel!  Want to trade for another dime?”

            She couldn’t get to her money jar quickly enough.  And as we traded my nickel for her dime, she put arms around me in a big hug and said, “Oh, Sissy!   You’re the best sissy in the whole wide world!”

            The next afternoon, I was sitting at the lunch counter of the Highway Pharmacy, ordering myself a vanilla ice cream cone (there were only two flavors in those days) and a fountain Coca Cola with chipped ice.  And as I walked home licking that ice cream and sipping that Coke, I thought to myself, “God is behind me on this!  He wants me to trade nickels for dimes!  After all, nickels are appearing miraculously everywhere!”

            As I approached the ball field, I noticed that Lee and Roy Allen were not playing catch this time.  They were sitting on the curb.  And as I approached, Lee stood up and walked over to meet me.

            “You know, Sis,” he began, “I’ve just been sittin’ here, wonderin’ about somethin’.  For three days now I’ve been seeing you walk past here with an ice cream cone in one hand and a Coca Cola in the other.  And what I want to know is, how can you get ice cream AND Coca Cola three days in a row, when you get a nickel a week for allowance, just like me?”

            “Lee,” I retorted, “you might be five years older than me, but I’m WAY smarter than you.”

            “You’re not as smart as you think you are,” he informed me, “if you think that I’m gonna believe that you all that ice cream and all that Coca Cola on just a nickel as week allowance.”

            I bristled.  “I got my ways.”

            “I know that,” he nonchalantly replied. “And I know exactly what your ways are, too.  See, the way I have it figgered, Mr. Gilliam, the man behind the lunch counter at the Highway Pharmacy, feels real sorry for you because you’re so ugly.  So he gives you ice cream and Coca Cola for free.”

            “That not true!”  I insisted.  “I paid for all my ice cream and Coca Cola!”

            Ignoring my agitation, Lee continued, “I figger that Mr. Gilliam gives you that  ice cream and Coca Cola as soon as you walk in the door, ‘cause he wants to get you of his store quick, before you scare the other customers away.”

            Now I was really mad.  “That’s not true!  I paid for every bit of ice cream and Coca Cola I got!”
            He didn’t believe me.  “Ain’t no way you could have bought all that ice cream and all that Coca Cola when you’re only gettin’ a nickel a week.”

            “That’s what you think!” I exploded.  “I’ve been trading our baby sister Evelyn, nickels for di…..” suddenly I realized what I was telling him.  “…uh oh… and…and you could, too, if you wanted,” I whined.

            “I can’t believe it!” Lee exclaimed.  “I can’t believe you’ve been cheatin’ our baby sister! I would never do that for any amount of money!

            “I named a trade,” I reasoned frantically.  “She agreed to it.  You can’t name that cheatin’”

            “It’s cheatin’, all right,” he sneered.  “And I’m gonna make sure that Momma knows about it, too!”

            “If you tell on me, I’ll tell on you!” I threatened.

            He was indignant.  “What are you gonna tell on me?”

            I pointed at Roy Allen.  “I’m gonna tell that you’ve been makin’ fun of me in front of you friend yonder!”

            Lee shook his head. “I don’t care what you tell.  I ain’t lettin’ you cheat my baby sister no more.”

            As I walked home after that confrontation, I savored every last lick of that ice cream and every last sip of that Coke.  I knew it would be a long time before I got either one again.

            Sure enough, as soon as Lee got home, he pulled Momma aside and whispered in her ear.  Her eyes widened and her nostrils flared as she turned towards me.  “Linda!” she ordered, “I want you to go to your room and think about what you’ve done!

            I went to my room, but I did not think about what I had done.  I was too busy thinking about what my momma was going to do.

            She let me stew for a couple of hours.  Then she came into my bedroom.  Hands on her hips, she cocked her head and said, “Linda, you sure are a smart young’un.  Wonder how it is that a woman like me, with just a sixth grade education, mind you, gave birth to a young’un smart as you?”

            I smiled sweetly.  “God blessed you, Momma.”

            “He surely did,” she responded.  “He blessed me with a maid for the rest of the summer.”

            My baby sister got my nickel allowance for the next three weeks.  They were just enough to fill her jar so that she could start a new one. 

I spent the last 3 weeks of summer vacation dusting, sweeping, mopping, scrubbing, washing, and polishing. Momma passed that time lying on the devinette, eating bonbons and watching her stories.  Every once in a while, she would look at me, point, and say, “You missed a spot.

            It wasn’t too hard a punishment. I could take it.  What I couldn’t take was my baby sister Evelyn’s reaction.  She came up to me and said, almost apologetically, “Momma won’t let me trade you nickels for dimes anymore, Sissy.”  Then she whispered in my ear, “She didn’t say anything about quarters, though.

            I couldn’t help myself.  I put my arms around her and gave her a big hug, and with tears in my eyes, I declared, “Oh, Sissy, you’re the best sissy in the whole wide world!”