I’ll Come Right Back With A Quarter

I finished my Christmas shopping last night.  More accurately, I DID my Christmas shopping last night.  It took me two hours and probably would’ve taken less if I didn’t have help.  Every year that I go Christmas shopping, I think it gets  more and more absurd.  I’m at the age, where if I want something during the year, I buy it, if I can afford it.  And since the person buying me the Christmas gifts is on the same budget I am, I can’t have everything I want.  I’ve known about Santa Claus for some time now.  He doesn’t have the money either.

I don’t enjoy Christmas shopping.  I don’t want to do it, which is why I wait until the last-minute.  Often, and almost every prior year, I shopped on Christmas Eve.  You get some good sales at the last-minute.  Stores are starting to panic that they bought too many of this or that Chinese import for their holiday merchandising.  Even last night I saved over $100!  Which tells me the stuff I bought was extremely over-priced.  We’re getting so gullible with coupons and “Khol’s Cash” and discount cards, that we’ve really stopped caring how much the thing costs.  If it’s “4 for $10” we gotta buy four.  I bought something last night that was 70% off, which means it’s now priced at the average 100% retail markup.  There’s no way the original price on this item (I can’t tell you what it is because it’s a Christmas present for someone who might read this post…but I doubt it.) was $100.  No one in their right mind would have paid $100 for this.

Christmas presents are for kids.  Little kids.  Not kids that are 18 and want Wii games that cost $60 each.  Get a job.  That sounds a bit harsh, but I really believe it.

I unpacked another box yesterday from our move, looking for something I didn’t find.  But what was in the box was all our baseball mitts, and softballs and baseballs.  In that collection is my first baseball mitt.  I bought it to play baseball in the school yard in the summer.  It’s a “Wards Hawthorne, Professional Model” outfielder’s glove.  It still works, although it looks like an antique, and probably is since it’s now 47 years old.  I have to say that permanent marker is really permanent, because my last name is still easily readable inside the base of the glove.

Montgomery Ward was probably on every main street in America in the 1960s, but the fact that they didn’t want to move off main street into the malls like their competitors, J.C. Penney, Sears, and the like, led to their loss of market share and demise.  It was their catalog, particularly their Christmas catalog, that was highly anticipated every year.  We called it “Monkey Wards” and we shopped there a lot.  One Saturday, tired of having to borrow a baseball glove, while my Mom was shopping, I went to the sports section and checked them out.  I found one I just had to have, a light tan outfielder’s glove, and I buried it in the bin with the other gloves all the way to the back.  Over the next several weeks, I checked whenever we were in Monkey Wards to make sure it was still there.

I didn’t ask my parents for the glove, I didn’t put it on my Christmas list, I went to the gas station down the street, bought a gallon of gas for 35 cents from my allowance, my whole allowance, and gassed up the lawnmower.  I went door to door in the neighborhood asking if anyone needed their lawn mowed.  The usual price for this service was about 75 cents or $1.50 depending on the size of the lawn, but you always negotiated.  It took me three weeks to earn the $9.95 I needed for that mitt.  I overcharged the last lady for her small yard by that now familiar 100% markup, and I felt guilty about it, but I wanted that mitt before the summer was over.

I went down to the store on main street with my across-the-street-friend, Jimmy Schutte. (Pronounced Shoo-tee, like it matters.)  Jimmy ended every sentence with the words “and shit.”  Every sentence.  For example, “Let’s go get that mitt, and shit.”  He was the youngest of three brothers and was what my mother had called a “menopause baby.”  I didn’t know what that meant, but his mom was real old, and his dad even older.  I had $10 in cold hard cash, so we headed off, without permission, to get my mitt, and figured I’d have a nickel left for some penny candy for the walk home.  Yeah, they really had penny candy back then.  Jawbreakers, or gumballs, or cinnamon bears, or licorice sticks.

What I hadn’t figured on was the tax.  We walked into the Montgomery Ward on the corner of Main and Brundage, and dug in the bin for the treasured mitt.  It was still there.  I walked up to the check-out counter, they were scattered around the store, and a woman asked me if she could help.

“I wanna buy this mitt,”  I said.  “I have the money. I earned it myself.”  I didn’t want her to think I had come there without parental supervision with the intent of stealing it, which is what, I’m sure, had crossed the mind of the woman who was offering to help.

She smiled a big smile, told me it was a fine glove, and rang up the purchase.  “That will be $10.25,” she said.

I still get that gut-check at cash registers when I realize I don’t have enough money for the final tally.  I got it then, but I was 11 and I could feel tears welling up over this miscalculation.  I had been so excited to finally get that mitt before someone else bought it, and I didn’t know what to do.

“I don’t have enough,” I said.  “Only ten dollars.”

Jimmy chimed in, “I don’t have any money, and shit.”

The woman looked at me and, I guess, could see how disappointed I was.

“I’ll make up the difference,” she said, and reached under the counter for her purse.

“I’ll pay you back, I promise,” I said.  “I’ll come right back with a quarter.”

I never came right back.  I forgot all about the loan and headed to the school yard to get into a pick-up game of baseball.  After all, baseball mitts have to be broken in.  Jimmy and I played until dark.

I never paid the 25 cents back to the woman in the Monkey Wards, but every time I used that baseball mitt, I remembered that I still owed her for it and I felt bad.  Looking at it now, I still do.  




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9 responses to “I’ll Come Right Back With A Quarter

  1. I really enjoyed this post – such wonderful memories (and great writing!)

  2. Me

    I dig this story Len-O… it was like watching an episode of the Wonder Years 🙂 Merry Christmas to you and Barb!!!

  3. Me

    Would you like me to send you a quarter… your follow up story should be you sent a quarter to the chamber of commerce or something where ever that Montgomery Wards was with a letter explaining… send them this story 🙂 Maybe they’ll put you in the local paper 🙂

  4. I remember those days. A quarter seemed significant and so did trust, Everything had more value. I love your stories, not only because they are so well-written, but because they harken back to days that make more sense to me.

  5. Hilary

    I LOVE THIS STORY! You make me involved from the first sentence to the last. Plus, I get to hear parts of your childhood I had no idea about. You are an amazing writer and should figure out a way to make money doing it!

  6. Thanks, Hilary. I’m really glad you liked it. I have thousands more waiting to come out. I should consider e-publishing I guess.

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