This is the story of three misspent cents and how they were recovered in an artful manner to be useful to me in my philanthropies. Time was that a cent was important. We Yankees often called it a penny, which was incorrect, but we all knew what we meant by the "penny candy" case. When a cent was generously handed over in a charitable cause, we youngsters also knew what was meant if Uncle or Grampy or Daddy said, "Here's a copper, now don't spend it all in one place and bring back the change." At the penny candy case, where smart merchandisers knew enough to linger patiently while their small customers carefully decided in which goods to invest, a cent would get a jaw breaker, a tootsie roll, a stick of licorice, and whatever else might be required right up to a tin frying pan with a fried fondant egg in it -- this complete with a tin spoon that always cut your lip. One for a cent, these were, but the two-fors and three-fors were also on display, and jelly beans came ten for a cent.
One cent would also carry the United States Postal Card or its picture cousin anywhere in the United States, and sending home the "Having fine time wish you were here" was no great burden on the budget. Two cents would take the same message to any foreign land, but Canada and Mexico were considered "domestic." It's hard to believe.
I don't remember as a child spendthrift that I ever had three cents at once, and if I did, I assure you I never spent three cents all at once. Well, with astute manipulation so the teacher didn't notice and make you heave it out, a jaw breaker would last most of the school forenoon, so it was almost like money in the bank and you were living off your income. You didn't need to spend more than a cent at a time.
Now, skip fifty years (says the Baker in tears) and our State o' Maine now has a five per cent sales tax, which means, just about, that the odd penny we used to look upon as prosperity is frittered away at the hands of our governor and does nobody much good. Buy just about anything, and BING! there goes good money down the drain that would keep a boy my age in sweeties for a week. Just about anything that is, except the Holy Bible and the American Flag.
This simple decency was improbably enacted into the original sales tax law by the same legislature that was indecent enough to enact the tax. Kind of hard to believe. Why would anybody so careful about the rule and guide of our faith, and so solicitous for the patriotic symbol of our Republic, so tenderly thoughtful, turn around and vote for a sales tax? Well, it doesn't take much to be a Maine legislator, and if you never buy anything in Maine save Bibles and flags, you'll never pay a Maine Sales Tax.
I buy the flags, two-three-maybe-four a year, for my dooryard flagpole at Crie Hardware, and the four-by-six runs about $17.00 and the sales tax, if any, would be, say, 85 cents. But this time I wanted a small flag, such as children wave on Decoration Day, to make a jack for a small boat, and Crie was fresh out. "Some of the discount stores have flags," said the clerk, and I went to one.
They had the little flag on a stick, just what I wanted, and the tag on it said, "59." I put down two quarters, one nickel, four coppers, and the lady said , "And three cents for the governor."
"There's no sales tax on flags," I said.
"Oh yes there is! There's a sales tax on everything! Three cents!"
Once in a while I'm fierce hard to get along with. The mean in me comes right out. I just let go. So I says, says I, "I guess you don't hear none too good, maybe I should ought to yell real loud when I tell you something."
Well, she responded in kind and we had at it. I paid the three cents "under protest" and said I'd be back in a week or so for the refund. I did go back, and the lady was terrible cool to me, but the manager gave me my three cents, and now I am known all over Knox County as the cheap skate who made a big fuss over three measly cents, for heaven's sake!
But in my fetchin' up, three cents were a bundle.