Twenty Cents Worth of Steak

As a child in a small town, I had the freedom to roam round anywhere in town.  Even at five or six years of age I would run errands to the post office, grocery store and elsewhere.  Often I was sent to the small neighborhood one-man grocery store nearby to buy a few groceries.  Groceries were charged and the bill was paid at the end of the month.

This particular time, I was eight years old.  I was sent to the neighborhood grocery to buy twenty cents worth of steak.  Steak meant round steak.  Upon hearing my request, the gentle mannered storeowner said to me, “I’m sorry son but I can’t let you charge anymore.  Your parents haven’t paid their bill”.

I was stunned.  Mother and Daddy had never discussed finances in my presence.  Everybody listened to President Roosevelt’s fireside chats about the depression but I did not understand what it was all about.  Now, I was aware that something was seriously wrong.

My dad was the elected city clerk.  He was in charge of the office, water department, jail and the fire department.  When there was a fire, he would gather the fire hoses in his car and take them fire location and help fight it.  The town had built a new city hall but there was no money available to pay for it.  There was no money to pay the employees.  Daddy had not been paid for several months.

After school turned out for the summer in 1935, Daddy, Mother, my seven – month old sister, Alice Melinda, and I rode the train 200 miles to Mother’s parents in Snyder, Oklahoma.  Grandmother had sent the money for our trip.  Snyder was Mother’s home town and I still consider it my home town.

The refusal for the twenty cents worth of steak was embarrassing to me and it was my first encounter with a serious problem. It was no doubt the roots of feelings I cannot explain or understand.  Perhaps that incident has something to do with my finding it hard to ask for help or for a favor.

These roots probably were overwhelmed by the changes in my life resulting from the move to my grandparents’ home but that’s another story.

Postscript

This is what I wrote in the memoir writing class.  I had fifteen minutes in which to write about roots of my feelings.

 

Jim Pershall

July 2010

Happier times before the depression set in. My dad's parents, Linnie and Sam, are in the upper left corner. My mother and father are in the upper right. The adults in the center are my father's brother and his wife, Roscoe and Cassie. The children are my father's sisters, Vera, Viola (Vi) and Mildred (who I affectionately called Auntie Go-Go). I'm the little boy in picture and the remaining girl is my first cousin, Bettie Sue, Roscoe and Cassie's daughter.

Happier times before the depression set in. My dad’s parents, Linnie and Sam, are in the upper left corner. My mother and father are in the upper right. The adults in the center are my father’s brother and his wife, Roscoe and Cassie. The children are my father’s sisters, Vera, Viola (Vi) and Mildred (who I affectionately called Auntie Go-Go). I’m the little boy in picture and the remaining girl is my first cousin, Bettie Sue, Roscoe and Cassie’s daughter.