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Maybe that is a good trade off

James Giago Davies

Roll back the clock to East North Street in Rapid City, sometime during the summer of 1970, and there is a bright, shiny quarter lying on the sidewalk at the corner of Spruce Street. The quarter catches the eye of an eleven-year-old boy and he plucks it up and double times it down the sidewalk three blocks to Henthorne’s Grocery.
In those days there was a Mom-and-Pop grocery store in just about every Rapid City neighborhood, and Old Henthorne knew most of the neighborhood kids by name. They were welcome to sit in the back of the store and Old Henthorne would regale them with tales of Old Rapid City, how his father had been a bootlegger back during Prohibition, and he would talk about how the cityscape had changed, what the cars were like, how you could arrive in Rapid by passenger train.
Henthorne had a comic book tree in the store, you spun in a circle, and in those days comic books cost 12 cents, and there was no city sales tax on anything under a dollar, so you could buy two comic books and still have a penny left over for a couple of tootsie rolls. It was a good idea to save that penny, because a penny here and there and pretty soon you could have 12 more pennies and come back for another comic book. Nowadays a penny is practically worthless, but back then a penny had considerably more buying power.
If you are born in an urban Indian ghetto and are raised on welfare and food stamps, it is hard to come by even a penny most days. You have to get enterprising. Along the roadside ditches and back behind bars and restaurants you will find pop bottles. You can turn those pop bottles in at the gas station across the street for three cents a bottle. You might have to walk a mile or two, so you bring a bag at first, but clinking bottles are hard to lug, and sometimes they break. You take the rusty red wagon from the front yard, put in some blankets for cushion, and pull that along behind you. After a mile or so, the pop bottles begin to pile up, and the anticipation of what they will buy gets sweeter and sweeter.
The other day my son and I got out of a car and there was a quarter on the pavement. I felt that long ago visceral reaction, the value the quarter once had, the things it could buy, became real again, for just a second. But to my son it was no big deal. If he wants a comic book he will have to cough up at least five bucks. And I thought of how movies once scared me as a kid but now no movie can scare me. I miss being scared like that. Just like I miss the comic books that quarter could once buy. My boy will never know what it was like to find a nickel, a dime, a quarter, to collect pop bottles, to save 12 pennies for a comic book, he won’t know the excitement, the pleasure of such a simple yet riveting moment. But then, he will never know the poverty, the racism, I faced daily as a kid. Maybe that is a good trade off.

(Contact James Giago Davies at

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