50 Cents

I went to Grammar School during the depression. I’m talking about the Soup Kitchen, Bread Line, depression of the 30’s. I don’t think it was that bad in Southern California, because of the warm climate.

I was born in Chicago, in 1929.  Mom left my Dad, probably because of non-support, and we came out here on the train when I was 18 months old. She said that she scrubbed the floors of a Christian Science Church, on her hands and knees, for $18.00 a week.

She got a job as a  milliner. It paid the same, but was a lot nicer. I got a penny a day as an allowance. With a penny, you could go to the little Mom and Pop store, and get two chocolate flavored caramel candies, or one big jawbreaker, or a long strip of white paper, with little colored dots of candy stuck on it, that you could peel off and eat. A big deal. If you saved up, you could get an ABBA-ZABBA BAR. Probably 3 cents.

At least once a week, we would go “looking in Garbage Cans”. That’s what we called it: “Let’s go looking in garbage cans”. We would go down the alleys and check out the cans for anything of value. Always on the lookout for coat hangers to sell back to the dry cleaners. Two wire ones, or one wood one, were worth a penny.

An old tire would bring a penny too, from the Rag Man. This was a guy that still used a horse and wagon, going down the street, yelling; “Rags and Bones!” We would bring out the tire and he would look at it and give us a penny. We would collect tin foil off of old cigarette packages and make a ball. He would buy that, for maybe 5 cents a pound. He cut it open to make sure that there wasn’t a big rock inside.

We lived in Huntington Park,  near Los Angeles. A couple times a week, Mom and I would walk to a market and ask the man if he had any old vegetables. He would go around and pick out limp carrots, string beans, potatoes or squash. I’m sure he felt sorry for us, and put in some good produce along with the old. Anyway, for 10 cents, we came home with a big bag of vegetables and made soup. All this, to explain how much 50 cents meant to us.

One day, some neighbor kids came to me, wanting me to join their church. I knew nothing about religion and couldn’t care less. They finally confessed that if they brought in a new member, they would get 50 cents. That was a LOT of money for a kid. I was willing to help them out, and went to church the next Sunday.

Mom gave me ten cents to put in the collection plate. The Church of the Nazarene (that’s what it was) had a clever deal going. When you joined, you got a card with squares on it. Each Sunday, you got a Blue gummed star to stick on the card. Four blue stars got you a Red star. Four red stars got you a Gold star. When you got your Gold star, they gave you a FREE bible! Anything free, in those days, was a good deal.

The bible turned out to be a  cheap paperback copy of the New Testament. I didn’t bother to read it.

I went to church each Sunday. We sang the usual songs: “The Old Rugged Cross,” “Jesus Loves me, Yes, I know,” “Brighten the Corner Where You Are.” Summer came, and they had a craft workshop in the basement. That was more my style. I made a scrap book, a pair of bookends, and a bird house.

One Sunday I was listening to the minister and he was going on about sin. He said. “We are all sinners. YOU are all sinners.”

I looked around  and saw little kids like me. I knew that I wasn’t a sinner. I wasn’t old enough to have done any sinning. I thought: “This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

I quit going. About a month later, the minister actually came to our house and told my Mom: “We haven’t seen Ronald lately.” I went back for a month, then quit for good.

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