Sara Etgen-Baker

© Copyright 2023 by Sara Etgen-Baker

Photo from the author.
 Photos courtesy of the author..
        Photo from the author.    

I walk up the well-worn wooden steps of the little store on the corner of Fifth Street and Armstrong Drive. We call it Landers because that’s the name of the smiling man behind the counter who knows all the neighborhood kids in Chandler Heights by name.

I’m gripping a quarter in my hand and feeling quite flush because I can get a lot of candy with that much money. Inside the tiny convenience store, Mr. Landers stands patiently behind the glass-fronted counter while I glance over the candy section and place my order. “Two cents worth of that please; five cents worth of that please,” and so on until I’ve used up twenty-five cents. The price of Double-Bubble isn’t the same as a Pixy Stix or a caramel or a Bit-O-Honey. Some things are two, three, or more for a penny while special things like Red Hots cost one cent each. Mr. Landers picks my selections from display boxes with his bare hands and drops them into a small paper bag, both of us keeping mental track of the total. Thinking back on it now, the simple act of choosing penny candy must have helped improve the arithmetic skills of us kids in those days.

Occasionally on a Saturday or Sunday, Dad suggests the two of us walk up to Landers to get chocolate bars for the entire family. We take orders from my mother and brothers before we set off. Invariably, Mother asks for a Fifth Avenue, David for Malted Milk Balls; and Eddie for a Three Musketeers. Dad and I, having the opportunity to look at the selection once we got there, can vary our selections. But we don’t, for we both share a love for a bag of plain M&Ms. Five thin dimes. That’s all it takes to buy treats for our entire family.

On hot summer afternoons, Mother sometimes hails me from the backyard where I am playing. I drop what I’m doing and race towards her.

Sweetie, would you walk to Landers and get me a bottle of Coke? I need something cold and refreshing.”

“Sure, Mama,” I reply.

She rummages through her coin purse, retrieves a half-dollar coin, and hands it to me. “You can keep the change to put in your piggy bank.”

I snatch the coin from her hand and head out the door practically running the quarter mile to Landers. I’m excited not only because she’s giving me a taste of freedom and personal responsibility but also because a bottle of Coke costs just a nickel. I will be 45 cents richer!

Once at Landers, I reach into the ice-filled Coca-Cola machine, retrieving a bottle near the bottom of the cooler getting the coldest one I can find for Mother.

That’ll be five cents, little lady,” Mr. Landers says.

I hand him the 50-cent piece; he counts out the change in my hand handing me two nickels, a dime, and one quarter. “Walk home slowly,” he says. “You don’t want the coke to fizz too much.”

Once home, I give Mother her Coke then rush to my bedroom and take my white ceramic piggy bank, Esmeralda, from the top of my dresser. I turn her over and pull out the cork stopper dumping all my saved coins onto my bed. I count and recount them including the 45 cents I have in my pants pocket. $4.73!

I’m rich!’ I say to myself. I drop each coin one-by-one into my piggy bank delighted with the sound of coins clinking against one another as they sink into the bottom of Esmeralda’s belly. Just $3.27 more, and I can buy that doll I saw at the local five and dime store.

The days progress into weeks and at long last I finally have enough money to buy my doll. I empty Esmeralda’s belly, filling a paper bag with my coins. Overjoyed, I walk (with Mother’s permission, of course) to the nearby five and dime balancing the heavy bag in both hands. I push open the door, making a beeline for the toy section. I turn the corner and see her, the doll of my dreams.

What took you so long?” I hear her murmur.

I had to save my money to buy you,” I whisper back. “Now it’s time to go home.” I remove her from the shelf, pay for her, and walk back home, cuddling her in my arms. I name her Suzie. For many years she and I are constant companions, and she becomes my silent confidant and friend.

Much has changed since my childhood days spent with Suzie and Esmerelda. Despite growing older, I remember them fondly, grateful for the adult-like lessons I learned because of them—the value of money and the importance of persistence, patience, and delayed gratification.

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