I was earth-year young back then, but now I only feel young. At the time my weekly allowance was 10 cents, and my dad gave it to me every Saturday. That dime years ago had the purchasing power of 81 cents today so I could have bought candy or a can of soup. I was a kid and no soup would ever be worth my dime, I thought, so candy it was.
[I am, [[was, cuz now it is days later and I am finally getting this done]] at this moment, finishing off a bowl of lentil soup for which I paid $4.50. Yea! I’m a grownup!]
I was quite good with money as a kid and was always able to buy whatever I wanted that was within my budget. This was extraordinarily simple math, as I barely had any cents. Oh, that remains true at any age, ha. And having limited funds along with very few choices made it easy. My choice was always candy, and for a dime I could buy one or two of any kind of candy bar. Even a Chick-O-Stick was within range, so simple math was quite sufficient. And bubble gum was only a penny so I could get enough for the week. How much better could life be if a guy could get some once every day and double up on the weekend? So, something sweet every week was what I wanted and what I got back then. Well, that was all just fine until I decided I wanted . . . a pea shooter.
There is a hole being burned in my pocket by a single small piece of silver (not thirty pieces!), and I am walking into the small local grocery store. Ancient even back in the day, this building is already older than anyone who is still alive in the town. It is a single space lined with shelves that are filled to overflowing. A place of wonder! It is hot outside and barely cooler inside this store, but any cooler is better than none. First, it is the scent that strikes me. It is the unctuous smell of very ripe fruit, heady and thick. There is a touch of something no longer alive from the back where the meat counter is. Throughout the air is a hint of some things that are each distinct, like ammonia, chlorine, borax. There is a thin overlay of something metallic, tin cans themselves covered by paper and ink. Beyond all of this there is a separate sweetness, not fruity, but sugary, and it is coming from near the center of the store. Its placement is such that it can be sensed everywhere here. I may be looking at a sack of wheat flour and I smell the sweetness. Here is a hammer and there are some nails that smell like a flower. There is the cleaner that Mom uses at home, and I can smell that other thing that is at the center. It is here. somewhere near me, the sweetness, and that is the aisle I seek.
As I walk, I hear the creaking of the uneven, worn wood floor and the sound of a large ceiling fan moving all of the atmosphere, creating a gentle stirring, and faintly I hear a hushed voice and an object being moved laterally, like something solid sliding. I hear, barely, my own shoes shuffling across the wood, and now I am there.
Half of an entire shelf, here where I stand now, is filled with nothing that I cannot have. Most of the items are made of the same basic compounds, primarily corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, and artificial colors and flavors. They are all the same thing, but they look entirely different and every one of them has its own appeal. I can have any of it, any single one of these can be mine, and the dime is now in my hand clutched firmly.
But there, beside all of the now-classic sweets, is a large plastic straw attached to a bag of peas. I haven’t noticed this here before and I am doubting that it has been here. Hundreds of peas are in that bag, I know, and I now hold it in my hand. A pea shooter. It is a tubular weapon complete with ammunition, and it can be mine! It is 10 cents too, and is not sweet, but oh the glory of holding a weapon. I am now a fierce fighter, and immediately I imagine firing pea pellets, killing a bird (or killing two birds with one pea:), or taking a large breath and propelling a pea against a sheet of metal somewhere and putting a dent in it. This is easily worth a dime and for my weekly sweet I’ll find a sugar packet, maybe in the car, and suck on it all day. Or I can find where Mom keeps the brown sugar, or if I can collect honeysuckle stamens as I wander around, instead of picking the flower and pinching the end to pull out that one drop, I can pull many and save them for a slurp of sweet. That could do. It’ll be fine, and I’ll take my peas and go hunting. OOOH, I can shoot something furry, killing it with a pea, and then skin it and sell the pelt to someone in a shop and he will thank me and give me—do I dare dream that he will give me—25 cents? I am already rich here in my imagination standing in this aisle in this space in this town, dreaming.
Minutes later and a dime shorter, I walked out with my pea shooter. I never was able to actually injure anything by pea force alone, but I tried.
I soon found out that if I put several peas in my mouth I could shoot them in multiples. Yes, a mouthful of peas being blown through a plastic tube, like a machine-gun blaze of bullets was a nice kick.
But then it was over.
I was out of peas and left holding the straw.
We still get an allowance from Father. It’ll never be spent, and it’s more than enough for the sweetest of all the sweets . . .