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Carol Perkins: The quarter for lunch on the kitchen table

She remembers the times when family ate heathily out of necessity . . . money was hard to come by. An extra fifteen cents strained budgets - that's why her request for that amount, in addition to the nickel she saved from her lunch money elicited a strained look from her dad, which wasn't fully interpreted until decades later, when her mother explained, and Carol tells why she asked for a little more than she should have, As a child, my wants were more important than my needs. - CAROL PERKINS
The next earlier Carol Perkins column: Carol Perkins: Of a mice family & The Incident at Susan's

By Carol Perkins

Before leaving for school, I would take my quarter off the kitchen table. This routine continued for five days. My dad laid a quarter, in some form, on the table that was to pay for lunch and a carton of milk in the afternoon. I didn't drink milk, so I used it for a snack or saved it for later when I walked to the square to ride home with my father who worked in town. We lived about a half mile just inside the city limits.

Each afternoon with the saved nickel in my pocket, I climbed the steps at Metcalfe Furniture, where my dad had his TV repair shop, and reluctantly asked for fifteen cents. By putting those three nickels with my saved one, I could buy a Coke and some chips at the soda fountain at the drugstore. For some reason, that fifteen cents seemed to strain my dad, and I could tell by his face that it was not sitting well with him to part with those coins. Some days I didn't have the nerve to ask so I didn't. I should have taken the hint, but as a child, my wants were more important than my needs.

I asked my mother recently about how hard it seemed to be for him to let go of that quarter compared to today when most people won't bend over to pick up a dime. I simply had forgotten the times in which I lived. "There wasn't much money back then. If you remember lots of people picked up Coke bottles and sold them to have extra money." How well I remember my cousins and I doing that but we thought it was for fun rather than necessity because we would load up in one car with the truck full and take them to the bottling plant in Glasgow. That was a good trip when we were little.

When a gallon of gas was nineteen cents, a loaf of bread sixteen cents, a pound of bacon fifty cents and a dozen eggs twenty-four cents, it was no wonder an extra fifteen cents for no particular reason would be considered frivolous. A carton of soft drinks was frivolous. An ice cream cone at the local Dairy Queen (not the chain but a locally owned establishment) was a treat. Sometimes my dad would take us to town to get ice cream. Forking out that money when it was his idea was different! All of us in the area, with the exception of a few, were in the same boat. Times were good, but not times to be wasteful.

Eating out was only an occasional consideration. Typically, mothers cooked supper and on Sunday fixed a dessert. I used to tell my kids that I was skinny growing up because there was no junk food. We ate meat and vegetables, and lots of the vegetables were raw. I thought nothing of chomping down on a radish or a carrot straight from the garden. My mother made ice cream in ice trays for a treat except most of the time it tasted too much like milk, which I would almost pass out if I smelled (dramatic). She baked chocolate pies with a crust that would melt in my mouth. We ate healthily. Then something happened in society and rarely do I talk to anyone who prepares home-cooked meals, which tells me that money is not tight like it once was.

What would my fifteen cents buy today? I looked online for things I might buy but the only items that popped up were pieces of candy at discount stores if sold separately. I am glad people seem to have more money than any of us did in the 50s and 60s, but we didn't complain. We were glad to have lunch money and an extra nickel or two.

When I hear clanging in the dryer, I know I have slid change in my pocket and it has gone through the wash cycles. When I fish out the coins, I put them in a jar and when it is full, I will cash them in for something frivolous. Maybe I'll have a Coke and a bag of chips.

- Carol Perkins is a regular weekly columnist and can be heard regularly on the Susan & Carol Unscripted Show, FM 99.1 radio, Tuesdays at 10amCT.

This story was posted on 2018-03-22 03:14:37
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