Whenever I want a reality check on my real age, I reflect on the stories my parents told us about what a nickel would purchase when they were children. Of course, it seemed absolutely ancient to us, a loaf of bread for a nickel? A gallon of gas for 15 cents? Ten tootsie rolls for a penny? Unthinkable! Today, I reflected on finding a quarter under the floorboards of the unfinished space outside of our bedrooms, where our clothes hung on two long poles, before my parents remodeled the ‘upstairs’, built closets, and covered the floor with tile and carpeting.
I remember reaching under the floorboard, scrambling through old coloring books, doll parts, jacks, marbles and, then..a coin. Was it a nickel? No, it was a quarter! That quarter purchased a bag of huge, round, shiny malted milk balls from the neighborhood Woolworth candy counter. Woolworth and Kresge (later Jupiter) were only a block from our home. My parents permitted me to walk there all alone, or with one of my siblings, anytime I felt like it. I remember one day after finding that first quarter, I was home alone searching for another, not really expecting to find anything. It was a sunny, summer afternoon and my siblings were outside playing like most kids in the neighborhood. I recall sun glistening through the window and dust particles dancing in the trail of sunlight. Every time I scooped another handful of trash, another quarter, or two, appeared. I couldn’t believe it…the more I scooped trash, the more quarters I discovered. By the time I had reached as far under the floor as my short little arm would stretch, I had accumulated $4.50!
The first person I told was my sister Claudia. We decided to go to Woolworth where I purchased a bag of malted milk balls, a new book of Cutout Dolls-with seven days worth of outfits (my favorite amusement), the most beautiful outfit for my doll complete with red shiny shoes and purse, and a pair of matching high heel shoes for me and Claudia. I was rich and as happy as a little girl from Joy Road and Grand River could be! Christmas in July!
I remember trying to figure out where all of those quarters could have come from. Were they stashed by the former owners of the house? If they were, then it was after the house was moved from its original site on Joy Road. We learned from Mr. Johnson, our neighbor from across the street (the builder of most of the houses on our block), that our house consisted of only a living, dining and bathroom when it was moved from Joy Road. After it was moved, the kitchen, downstairs bedroom and upstairs bedrooms were added. So, maybe my quarters were stashed in the floorboards on purpose. Or, maybe they were lost over time, after we had moved in, gifts accumulated and lost from our grandfather who made a point to leave one with each of us whenever he came, ‘downtown’, to Detroit from Inkster.
I realize now how ancient this story must sound to my nephews and nieces – as ancient as my parents’ recollections sounded to us. When it is time for their birthdays or graduations, I understand how they feel getting a twenty-dollar bill instead of a hundred. Though, when you consider all of the young people who have birthdays in a month or in a year, doesn’t take much calculating to see how a hundred dollars per occasion wrecks a budget really fast. But, what can a young person do with a twenty-dollar bill these days? Maybe catch a matinee? Surely won’t purchase a new Polo shirt they are so fond of. Or, a pair of Mauri shoes that are all the rave – not even a hundred dollars will purchase the pair of Mauris.
Recently, I have begun to dip into my savings for monthly expenses, something I have not done in over fifteen years. When I think about it, this current state of financial affairs is a culmination of several factors. Ever escalating gas prices have surely begun to take their toll on my budget. The exorbitant food prices and insurance rates for inner-city Detroiters, like me, are just outrageous. Then, add to this deteriorating mix the fact that I have not had an income increase in over seven years. Yep, It Just Occurred to me that inflation has finally overtaken my budget and its way past the time for me to readjust my thinking, my planning, my earnings and my spending.