In 1943 it seems everything was being rationed from butter, coffee, sugar, clothing, gas even tires. There was a war going on; anything that existed that could be used in the war effort was rationed if not eliminated from general availability altogether. Americans were also asked to save and recycle all metal items which might also be used in the war effort. It was the first year that the penny was made of zinc-coated steel. Copper was a much needed commodity.
All of this was before my time. I only know about it because they taught it in American history class and I’ve heard some stories from my parents and other older folks about how difficult things were here in the States during the war. Rationing stamps, bread delivery cards, war bonds and victory gardens all seem like a romanticized story about a very black time in our history for me.
In 1954 I was going on six years old and lived in Missouri on a very small farm with my grandparents. The town was maybe 200 people total; all god-fearing people struggling to make ends meet. It was a time of wonderment for me; I was too young to know about poverty or a lot of the other real problems that grown-ups had to deal with. My grandparents made sure they did not burst that bubble for me either. I did know that money was a hard thing to come by and if you earned any, you would spend it very wisely.
It didn’t take very long for me to get to know everybody in my immediate neighborhood. My grandmother would take me on walks to the corner store about a half-mile away and everyone who lived along the way became another friend for me. Of course I would help carry the stuff back from the store and that endeared me to a lot of folks. The lady who lived right next door, Mrs. Haight, was one of those people. She thought it was just soooo wonderful that I helped my grandmother as much as I did. I thought it was the least I could do.
One day Mrs. Haight called me over and asked me if I would walk to the spring which was near to the corner store and bring her back two gallons of spring water. She really preferred the spring water to the well water from the pump in the back yard. She said she would pay me a dime if I would do that for her. She was quite old and I thought it would be a neighborly thing to do. The dime…well, my mind danced with anticipation of the stuff I could buy with all that money.
Yes, I’ll be happy to do that for you I said beaming as I grabbed the two empty glass gallon jugs. Off I went, in my own reverie on my half mile hike to the spring one jug in each hand. Going was pretty easy, filling the jugs was a snap, but carrying them back was another story. I started walking and got about a block away and realized that these jugs were pretty heavy when they were full.
I stopped several times before I made it back to Mrs. Haigts’ place. I realized that the trip was worth the dime; this is really hard work. But I promised and I was going to deliver the goods no matter what. I rested in the last bit of shade just before her house so I wouldn't look so tired when I got to her door. I guess it worked. She looked delighted to see me and took one jug at a time and brought it into the house and came back for the other one. I waited by the door for the dime.
She came to the door with a little black change purse that snapped open and closed. She stood there fingering the change; looking for the dime. Finally, she found it and held it out for me with a big smile on her face; thank you she said. I really appreciate it, dropping the steel penny in my hand.
I looked at it and immediately knew it was not a dime. I instinctively knew she was as poor as us. I hoped she didn’t know it was a penny. Thanks, I said let me know whenever you need me to get you any more water.