My father thought first things first, and then he'd get rich, so he married my mother first and they had a few years of the silent pennies before you could truthfully say the dollars set in. My mother was a saving woman, however, and they made out fine.
I remember well her Golden Urn, which yielded in times of need, and which my father called the Widow Cruse's Oil Bottle. It was a family keepsake and had been given to her by her Scottish mother when she left home to cast her lot with my ne'er-do-well dad.
About the time I was born, my Dad jacked his job and went for a position, so the little copper-luster cream jug didn't serve too long as the family bankroll. I remember it mostly because I was precocious and not because I was old enough.
My mother so managed our family funds that the odd pennies and nickels she dropped in the wee jug could be withdrawn in times of dire straits.
When I started school, I needed a new necktie, which cost 35 cents, and it was paid for with 35 individual one-cent coins. My father said to let me wear the old knitted one in his toolbox, but Mother said a hand-me-down cravat was just too absurd to think about.
Brought up on a Maine farm, my dad was frugal at heart, and ambitious in appetite, and he was already doing his utmost to drive want from the threshold. But even after things were easier, which they soon were, my mother kept her faith and her treasure in the wee cream jug, and in it she could always find that little extra needed for gracious moments.
Behind the "rent" where they set up housekeeping, and in which I was born, my Dad worked up city dirt enough for a garden and surprised the neighborhood with vegetables enough so he could sell some - or which my mother sold. Then she'd put the proceeds in her little cream jug and dream about a day to come.
Dad's garden was small, but he spoke proudly of his "spread." When he made a vegetable stand by the sidewalk, his sign on a shingle said, "W. 40 Tomato Range."
But his few customers never made big demands, and nobody in his neighborhood ever wanted more than one tomato. True, we had his veggies to eat, but my mother kept one eye on the orange-crate fruit stand. If anybody paused she was out to wait on him.
For a cucumber she could get 2 cents, and 2 cents for half a Bonnie Best Tomato. An ear of Golden Bantam brought her 4 cents, and a handful of Bountiful green beans came to 2 cents over the counter. Every evening before supper my father carried 10 pails of sillcock water to irrigate his spread.
I reminisce with a light touch, but there were times when the coins in the cream jug were needed for non-frivolous purchases. Once the hot-water kettle sprung a leak that could not be repaired.
I recall, too, that we had "city gas" at that place and a meter that took a 25-cent coin. When the 25 cents ran out, the gas range quit. Dimes and nickels didn't work, so if supper was started and no gas, you needed a quarter. Mother would go to her jug.
And then I remember how my mother would give my father a hard time until he came home from work with the right coins and she could replace the gas money in the jug.
Later, Mother had a heroic encounter with a Mrs. Schaftstone, who moved into the Faldetti rent on the corner.
Mother called on her, which proper ladies did with new neighbors in those days, and returned with mixed feelings. She was all right, but.... My father sought further enlightenment, but got the "well-yes-but-I-guess-not." Faint praise stuff. Mrs. Schaftstone was perhaps a trifle uppity. Thought well of herself. Better than some. "Well, you know what I mean."
My father said, "No, I don't."
That summer when my Dad's garden was ready, my mother looked out and Mrs. Schaftstone was fingering the veggies on the orange crate. Approaching, my mother said, "Greetings, neighbor, may I help you?"
Mrs. Schaftstone said, "I was examining the legumes."
My mother said, "The beans are Colby's Bountiful, and the peas are Knott's Excelsior."
Mrs. Schaftstone decided on half a cuke, 1 cent; half a tomato, 2 cents; a handful of beans, 2 cents; a handful of green peas, 2 cents; and two ears of corn, 8 cents. She opened her pearl reticule and handed my mother a 20-dollar bill.
But my mother waved her hand in a gesture of kindly disregard and said, "Oh, that's all right; I'll catch you next time."
Mrs. Schaftstone said, "I'm frahtfully sorry, that seems to be all I have."
My mother said, "Think nothing of it."
When, a few days later, Mrs. Schaftstone came again to run up an awesome bill of 6 cents, she produced another 20-dollar bill and again apologized because that seemed to be all she had.
My mother reported this to my father, and there was wonderment 'twixt them if a swindle was on the make. My father was a realistic: "Well, if she takes you, it can't be for very much.
So when Mrs. Schaftstone came another day and fingered the produce and took two cents' worth of lettuce, she handed my mother another 20-dollar bill.
My mother reached into the orange crate and brought up her antique copper luster cream jug, and she counted out the right change.
It was $19.64, all in one-cent coins, which she dumped into Mrs. Schaftstone's pearl reticule, lettuce and all, and said "thank you" graciously. Let that suffice for now.