My foster mother, Lida “E” Hughes, used to give me dimes, which she encouraged me to stack inside a silver cylinder. It held $5 worth. It was a treasure to hold and conserve. A foundation.
But I discovered how to push out the bottom cap, and one day I asked E if she thought it would be all right for me to use a dime to spend one Saturday afternoon at the local movie theater.
She didn’t bother to go to movies or travel on any other such misplaced adventures, but she gave me one of those “I suppose I understand” looks of approval, and I set to work taking out as many dimes as she put in.
That was 65 years ago.
It would be more gentle on my mind if I’d used the tube of thin-as-a-wafer dimes to buy E a gift. Maybe a necklace. Birthday card. Flower for her garden. No, I was too eager to see another episode of Red Rider or Gene Autry.
Now that I’ve passed my three-score-and-ten, plus five, I’m religiously dropping dimes inside a glass pig. Each time I do, I say, “Thank you, E,” and if I put in two dimes, I say, “Thank you, Bob.” (He was my long-suffering foster father.)
As far as I know, Bob never set foot inside a movie theater. The closest he came to entertainment was hearing the dishes and other debris falling out of the Fibber McGee and Mollie closet (on radio). Bob barely tolerated Jack Benny and Rochester, but E didn’t give them the time of day. She thought they were not nearly as important as her African violets, lemon meringue pies, and making sure her kitchen floor was spotless.
Those were the simpler days of our lives. No television. No computers. No iPods. Were we better off without them? (I ask as I touch my Microsoft keyboard, look at my Samsung monitor, and add more paper to my Hewlett-Packard LaserJet printer.)
Bob and E and I had more time to sit quietly in the winter eventide and be truthful to one another. In the dusk of our summers, we’d sit with our neighbors in the side yard and watch the cars go by. In the spring of our gardening, we’d nurture plants as if they were adopted children. And in the autumn of the descending years, we’d welcome the warmth of a sweater as leaves shook loose and fell to a grateful soil.
The site of the old, tired movie theater is bare as concrete can cover it, sealing it for eternity. Each time I look at the vacant spot, which has become a parking lot, it’s as if a giant eraser has swept clean the corner of 8th and Main. A tornado couldn’t do a more complete job of it—buttered popcorn gone with the wind along with the candy wrappers. Red Rider and Gene Autry have galloped through for the last time—no known campaign to bring them back.
Blocks away, the home sheltering the first years of my life still stands, and each time I drive by it, I never fail to say, “I love you, Bob and E,” they who always gave much more than they ever gained. I shamelessly took them for granted, didn’t I?
In this my birthday month, I’m asking for forgiveness, recommitting myself to the simple proposition that it’s better to draw strength from within than from any never-never land of make-believe.
The slowly accumulating dimes? They’ve brought me to a richer understanding of the power of 10, reconnecting me with two of the finest people I’ve ever known, or ever will know.
I pass this along to new generations: let flimflammers be as shallow as they please, become your truest self, and never forget those who took you in and gave you a stack of dimes when times were toughest.