I don't remember how old I was, but it was young enough that a quarter was a lot of money to me. I'm not sure how many times I had seen it before, but on this day, I saw it differently. In many ways, it was like I saw it for the first time. My Ma was walking down her driveway with her walker to get her mail and the paper. I was sitting on my school bus. It was taking her forever. She made so little progress. As we traveled down the hill and up a slighter one to her driveway, her progress could be measured in mere inches. To be sure, this was a daily chore for my grandmother. I don't know if she looked forward to it or dreaded it. Maybe she enjoyed the walk on spring-like days when the sunshine is warm and the breeze is cool. Perhaps dread washed over her on the days when the Kentucky summer heat embraces you like a wool blanket and you can scarcely breathe. Or maybe the days when the bitter cold cuts right through to the bone were most difficult to bear. All I really knew as a youngster was that it was a ridiculous chore for her. The way my young mind calculated it, something that might take her half an hour could be done by me in a matter of minutes. My own driveway was just up the hill from hers. As the doors of the bus opened, I jumped out, ran and threw my stuff in the house and took off for Ma's. I ran to Ma's house and got there in time to hold the door open for her as she made her way back into the house.
"Ma, from now on, I am gonna get off the bus and bring your mail and paper to you." I had already plotted out that this was the way it was gonna be.
"Well, if you want to, that'll be okay with me." Her voice was ripe with old age and shook a little.
I looked around a bit for other things I could do while I was already there. My Pa had helped with those sorts of things when he was still up and about but that all changed when he became bedridden due to 'hardening of the arteries'. I'm still not sure where that term came from or exactly what it meant but it changed all of our lives forevermore.
She said it would be perfectly fine for me to do that. I smiled as I swept all the floors, washed up some dishes and looked for anything else that might need to be done. When I had done all there was to be done, she told me I could get a quarter from the giant coffee can that was filled with quarters on the chest by the living room entrance where she sat. This was a surprise. I was elated. I took a shiny quarter out and then marveled at how many quarters there were. It was almost full to the very top and all of them were quarters. I had not anticipated getting paid for my work, but I was so very happy. I hugged Ma and Pa good-bye and hoped with all of my heart that this gig I had volunteered myself for might earn me a quarter from time to time. Of course, I would have done it for nothing, but earning a quarter was even better.
I studied the quarter in my hand as I walked home. Then I put it in my pocket. I liked the feel of it there as I walked home. It was a treasure and I knew it. Money did not come my way very often but I knew that twenty-five cents would buy a lot of candy at Pedro's, the corner grocery a LONG walk from my house. The grocery was really named Farmer's Supply but everyone just called it Pedro's, at least everyone I knew did. On that day, so many moons ago, I learned to work. I also learned that if you work hard and are happy to be doing it, people will usually pay you. To a poor kid in the middle of the country without a lot of work options, it was a good lesson.
Each day during the school year, I would get off the bus, collect the mail and paper, do some light housekeeping and say my goodbyes. Ma never failed to tell me to get a quarter out of the can on my way out. I never failed to thank her and be thrilled beyond words to collect my pay. I would love to tell you that I took all those quarters and saved them up for something big, but I blew every red cent on candy and cokes as often as I could get to that store. I doubt my very frugal grandparents would have approved. I had no concept of saving money but I knew full well the joys of candy. A coke and a candy bar are still my favorite treats. I'm pretty fond of quarters as well.