Friday, April 9, 2010

Easter by the penny and Duke's Mayonnaise Jars

I grew up in a time of -NOT- plenty. We had enough, I guess, but we never had more than what we needed to pay bills, eat, and keep gas in the car. Not that I knew about all of that but you know how it is. We had the necessities...usually.  We lived in the housing that belonged to the Mill, Garco- or Raybestos-Manhattan. Asbestos, regardless of what you call it. Anyway, the "village" we lived in was called the "Little Village", Dewey Hill. Closer to North Charleston, and the Mill, was "the "Big Village" where most of the higher paid workers lived. I guess some of the supervisors and plant managers, etc, lived there. We always went Trick or Treating there... They had the BEST candy. Anyway, the houses in our village were little wooden clapboard houses. There were three bedrooms, one bath, one living room and one kitchen. The front porch was a tiny little thing and the backporch ran the length of the house, save for a storage closet at one end of it and the other end gave way to the back door, which exited through the bathroom. Rent for the house was $7.00 a month. $1.00 per room and a $1.00 for something else. That doesn't seem like much; we lose $7.00 a month in the sofa cushions sometimes. But in 1963, it was almost a fortune. Daddy was making $1.60 an hour. The company took the rent out of his check. I remember going grocery shopping with Mama on Thursdays after she went to get his check. We went to Piggly Wiggly to get some things because they had better prices. And we went to Doscher's Red And White for other things because they had sales on other things. Mama would usually go to Doscher's first because she wanted to get the meats last, at Piggly Wiggly. So we'd go through the store, and she would buy dry beans, bread, detergent, canned goods like pork and beans, and fresh vegetables like collards, cabbage, onions and potatoes.  She'd cash Daddy's check, and from the $65.00, she would get around $40.00 back. Then we'd go to Piggly Wiggly and she would get fatback, hamburger, round steak (and this was not tenderized meat) maybe a roast, and chicken. She bought 1/2 gallon of milk and a box of powdered milk. She always bought several cans of condensed milk as well and we ate that, thinned with water, in our cornflakes. We didn't get the frosted flakes and the sugar coated cereals. There were 4 of us kids(two teenagers and my baby sister and I) living at home and the money was better spent putting real, decent, filling food on the table. Once in a while, if she had budgeted well and didn't have to buy something she had from the week before, she would buy ice milk, NOT to be confused with ICE CREAM. I don't even know if you can buy Ice Milk anymore... But it tasted like heaven to us and silly kids that we were, we thought it was better than that old homeade ice cream that we spent hours churning on the back porch sometimes. Even then we knew the sweetness of special it was to buy something that we could make ourselves... What I would not give today for one bite of that heavenly homemade peach icecream. Nothing compares. Blue Bell comes close.
Anyway, when holidays rolled around, I know Mama had to worry. Out of 40.00 left from groceries, she had to pay electric bills, phone bills, water bills, car insurance, lunch money for 3 kids, and put aside a couple of dollars if she could for vacation. Daddy always worked extra hours for that, though.However, sometime after Christmas, on the mantle, two Duke's mayonnaise jars would appear. The labels were soaked off but the yellow band was unmistakeable. A hole was cut in the lids and after shopping, the coin change was divided equally, and dropped in the jars. One was mine and the other was Jo Ann's, my little sister. We wanted so badly to count that money! But we couldn't. All we could do was watch as little by little, day by day, it seemed, the jars began to fill up. Now and then we'd see a whole dollar in there! And we would get so excited because we knew that soon we'd take the jars, Mama would count the money, put it in rolls and in her purse, and we would go shopping. The week before Easter was the magic date. We had $5.00 in bills and another $3 or 4 in coins. We never had more than $12.00 or so in them, but it was enough to go out and buy the beatiful white or black patent leather Easter shoes we'd been dreaming of. Mama usually made our dresses but now and then, somehow, we'd get a store bought one if the shoe sale was good enough. I can only guess  how much money she had to put aside to afford the Easter baskets, and all of the candy that went in them. We never had a pre-packed basket. Mama put it all together. We'd dye eggs the night before and on Easter morning we'd pack them up, take our baskets and head over to Hanahan to the Waterworks, where they had a park, and we would hide the eggs in the thick clumps of grass. It was a magical place because it seemed that someone had decorated the trees for Easter. We didn't know that they kept the coat of white paint around the lower portion of the tree trunks to discourange insects... They looked dressed up and "Eastery" to me. We'd have a picnic, eat boiled eggs, gather with family and generally make a day of it. By the end of the day the chocolate was eaten, the candy eggs were safe for another day and the jelly beans were sticking to the green grass in the baskets. It wasn't the plastic grass of today. It was more like a papery straw grass...It dyed the candy eggs green if it was even a little damp... and sweaty hands delving into the basket to find that last grape jelly bean or that squashed chocolate egg made sure that happened.
Those were wonderful days. I'm sure kids today will have their own memories of Easter, but I'm sitting here thinking about how easy it is for parents to spend on just the basket alone what it took us months to save to buy just a pair of shoes.  But it's more fun to think about how that jar filled up and how I could lay in bed at night sometimes and hear coins clinking into the mayonnaise jar... tink, tink... tinkle.  Wonderful memories,absolutely priceless, dropped into a glass jar in the form of pennies, nickels, quarters and dimes.