THE DIME LADY by Chuck Simms
There were at least five of us over a fifteen to twenty year period drawn into her service by the lure of a dime.
The Dime Lady was from the Midwest, Ohio, I think. I was nine when I first met her. She was thin, frail, and just slightly taller than I was. My thirteen-year-old neighbor, Brent, had introduced us. Although quite independent and self reliant, she needed help running little errands, or fixing a stubborn cabinet, or moving a piece of furniture. Brent had been providing such services. However, he was moving on to a much better paying job (newspaper boy). She had asked him to recruit a new helper. He recommended me.
I called her the Dime Lady because, at the end of every errand or visit, she handed me a brand new dime and told me it had been Rockefeller’s custom to hand out dimes to children who visited him. She also pointed out, with an impish smile, “Edison gave out quarters.”
I checked in with her after school and every day during the summer, except for Sunday. My main job was to walk three blocks north on Normal Avenue to The Corner Store and get everything on her shopping list. It was light work and a healthy diversion. I needed no money because, as the manager explained, a sort of credit system had been set up years before.
Sometimes she would tell me stories about how things were back in Ohio. Proper behaviors seemed to be her favorite themes. She had interesting ideas about finances. In her day there was little cash in circulation. She understood that as services or homemade items were sold, some of the profits were saved in the bank. Then through some magical process she called the money multiplier, more money was made available for people to spend on raw materials, goods, and services. At the age of nine, I was learning about economics.
Then came the day I was fired. I was shocked! When I was about thirteen she told me I needed to recruit someone new to help her. “You are now strong enough to move on to a better paying job. Besides,” she said, “maybe the baseball team needs you more.” My sporting passions had not been hidden from her. We had become friends just as, I suppose, the other boys had. “The new recruit had to be to be nine or ten years old and reliable. The boy should also be honest, clean-cut, and well-mannered.” She actually said stuff like that. Was that a kindly brush-off?
My friend Billy came to mind. He was all those things. I had coached him in Pee Wee baseball. He was also a good sport and a “good egg.” Billy took over my role. I rarely saw her again, except in church. She would smile at me, nod slightly and then disappear after the service. There were no more stories, no more errands, no more funny expressions.
Billy was most likely the last one to see her alive. He ran her errands for three years and, like the rest of us, loved every minute of it. She passed away peacefully. I never asked Billy for details.
At her funeral I found myself the lead acolyte during the service. Billy was seated in the front row, and I could see he was deep in thought. He was joined by Brent. Their presence lent some comfort and continuity to the day. The service was short. Only the minister spoke. There were many empty seats. I saw no family.
Afterwards, I approached Billy and Brent. Two other boys joined us. The first boy, Joey, had recruited Brent. The other boy, Frank, was pretty much a grown man. We had all been the Dime Lady’s errand boys. Each of us shared our stories, and laughed a little.
We wondered why the Dime Lady had developed this idea of continuously managing her household through the use of young “clean-cut” errand boys. The work was not hard, and the pay was quite appreciated in those days. The oldest boy, Frank, was her first errand boy. His theory was, “When the Dime Lady was a little girl in Ohio, someone she knew introduced her to helping out a person in need, and she carried on the tradition in her life.”
Brent built on that idea. “It’s a good way for a lonely older person to have a nice young visitor every day. You see, I think she intended to pass on wisdom to us in the stories from her past.”
We looked at each other. Frank nodded his head “Yes.” You may not know it yet, but it worked. You know, like Rockefeller, she was the master of her own domain.”
We walked out together.
Through the years, I have often reflected upon Frank’s notion. When faced with a difficult choice, a thought crosses my mind, “What would the Dime Lady say?”