Mr. President, George sir, don’t forsake me now.
By Lad Moore
It was tortuous ritual to deal with my twenty-five cent allowance. There was both excitement and great trepidation to part with the coin. As soon as it fell into my hands, I placed it between my index finger and thumb, rubbing it for enough time to give the silver a fresh gleam. The tarnish remained on my fingers. I smelled it. It produced a kaleidoscope of odors—the silver tarnish smelled like, well, coins; but different than copper pennies which stained green if rubbed. It also released a faint remnant of perfume from my grandmother’s purse. I think I smelled cigar smoke too; probably the coin came to her in change from Joe Power’s Market. Mr. Power enjoyed his cigars, although they were unlit much of the time. He just swapped the mushy stub from cheek to cheek, like a battle was being waged with his tongue.
Secondly, my reverence for the coin was amplified because of all the chores suffered to earn it. My duties included toting the horrific slop bucket to the street when the slop man came to pick it up. Sometimes the slop rocked out of the bucket as I carried it. I had to walk sideways like John Wayne to keep it a respectful distance from my tennis shoes.
I also had to mow the thick St. Augustine grass—a task made onerous by the spiral of dull blades on the reel mower. The blades spun like a barber’s pole but without the color. My uncle Archie gave me a file for tuning up the blades, but for some reason I could never get the right angle and pitch no matter how much I filed. The edges of the blades shined like chrome but that didn’t mean they were sharp.
Mowing had its perils. The mower constantly screamed for oil. Archie brought me bottles of used black motor oil from his garage, and I transferred the oil into my squirt can. I loved the popping noise the can bottom made when I pressed it. I could play a nice staccato rhythm, but no one was ever there for the concert.
The most despised reel mower enemies were the spiny little sweetgum balls. Just one of them stopped the blades cold. I had to crouch down and move the blades backward to dislodge the offender. In time, I learned to rake the balls down into the storm sewer before ever starting to mow. So, add raking to my chore list.
Edging and trimming followed mowing. Spring-assisted sideways-scissor-like shears were incredibly slow, and it seemed ten degrees hotter on my knees next to the tin skirt that encircled our frame house. A blister always formed on my middle finger and thumb. I used a safety pin to pop the skin bubble and let the water out. Then I swabbed on some orange Mercurochrome which was preferred to its sharp-stinging brother Methiolate. My blisters usually took until the next mowing to heal, but meanwhile my orange fingers showcased the wounds of a working man.
Archie told me that when edging, I should be especially watchful in the shallow graveled trench created by rain cascading off the roof. He said that the continued wash would unearth arrowheads and shards of pottery from our ancient Caddo Indian ancestors. I never found a single one. Caddo Indians must have carried common old rocks to chunk at their enemies.
Grocer Earl Moos was the beneficiary of my quarters. On Saturday, which was payday, I was at his store when he opened up. He lived right beside the store, and the clap of his screen door was my cue to hop off his ice dock and meet him at the storefront. I was inside even before he turned the lights on.
In the center of the store, across from his sandwich and ice cream bar, were two doublerows of shelves housing the world’s largest array of candy. That area of the store smelled like a cotton candy trailer at the fair. It was intoxicating, like the whiff of fresh whiskey that makes a drinking man crazy and no-account. Before it was over, I would travel those aisles two dozen times before making my purchase. It was a feat to balance the lust of favorite candies-past with the experimentation of new offerings. One wrong guess, like my one-time licorice mistake, and pennies can be wasted. One nickel was always reserved for the Holloway Black Cow, which was a staple. A Black Cow, hard as a paving brick, could last until the next allowance.
Fourteen cents was reserved for the movie which was the next thing in my Saturday cue. The remainder of my quarter went for quantity—handfuls of penny or multiple-for-apenny selections.
It cost nine cents to get into the Lynn Theater, and that left enough for a dill pickle. The pickles were as large as a flashlight and were capable of drawing the mouth into the tightest of contortions. The shriveling twist of my mouth even distorted my voice; making words drag thick, like winter molasses. The procedure goes like this: One sucks on the pickle until it gets wrinkled, then bites of a thin slice to chew and swallow. Repeat the process until you reach the stub of the stem. The stem then joins the other disgusting articles that inhabit theater floors. Once the pickle was gone, the candy from Earl Moos always tasted fresher and more brilliant. Pickles were cleansers of the candy palate.
This day was back to back westerns and double serials. Flash Gordon would battle Ming, a bout that always ended in a draw. The other short subject is the Bowery Boys. One can count on those buffoons for a laugh a minute. I always envied them their beanie caps and overalls. They reminded me of me if I were grown.
Sometimes I sat through the movie twice. It would be dusk when I left. My footsteps clapped my way through the train passenger tunnel. On the other side of the tracks was the hole in the fence that put me on East Avenue. I glanced over at “Moosies” store as I passed by. The light was on in his house and the store was closed.
Me and my quarter had a good day.
* * *
The author’s three collections of short stories, Tailwind, Odie Dodie, and Riders of the Seven Hills are available at all traditional booksellers. Copies signed by the author may be obtained by contacting him directly via firstname.lastname@example.org or at his web page at: http://laddiemoore.blogspot.com/
The story featured here holds © Copyright 2010 by the author, Lad Moore. All rights reserved. Image from the Public Domain
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