Well, there was that one day that my mom announced there would be allowances, and for a week or two she tried to swing it. I remember walking a few blocks with my sisters to the side door of the bakery where she worked, and us watching her dig thru her purse to give us each $1.50 or $2.00 or something like that. We felt so sorry taking the hard-earned money and leaving her in the hot kitchen that there was nothing satisfying about then walking up the street to spend it. She really wanted for us to have the money, and we did chores in exchange, but we knew we were a team that needed to get by on a small bit. Allowances seemed frivolous, and when they were phased out the next week, it wasn't so bad. I know my sisters just ended up buying my mom a gift with the money anyways. I don't know if I chipped in or bought something completely stupid---I'd guess the latter, as I didn't learn to be very thoughtful with money until much later.
Speaking of my lack of sense with money... Although we were pretty hard up, each of us kids could really rack up the dollars at a birthday. The extended family was huge, so between each $1 contributor I can remember ending up with about $35 once when I was around 9 or 10 years old. I'd say that's a fortune for a kid in 1978. Aside from 50 cents to a dollar now and then for trips to the candy store, I had no money experience, so I remember heading out to the new mall with my best friend Christy and that $35 with plans to spend every cent immediately. And in 1978 two little girls of single moms did not ask permission to go to the mall, nor were they told the best way to handle the money, so this was totally acceptable.
Christy and I hit the toy store first, of course, where I got her a little purse and I can't remember what else. Then we looked at the doll aisle. Long torturous decision. I didn't care much for baby dolls, but she insisted that it was THE thing to buy. The idea was not to select the cutest doll or the one with most fun accessories---no, we were looking to buy the one enclosed in the BIGGEST BOX on the entire aisle. This baby came in a box the size of a mini-fridge, and we toted that stupid doll up and down the mall buying candy and playing video games. We even forgot the box a couple times and had nice folks run up behind us to return it.
After the mall we stopped at Earl's Drugstore, which still had a soda fountain/bar area in it. We had Cokes and milkshakes and big plates of french fries, which we hardly ate because we had eaten so much candy. There was even another kid there that we didn't know, and I bought him french fries too. The money seemed to NEVER END! At the drugstore we bought fruit lipgloss in little tins with clever sliding lids, and boxes of RedHots, then we headed out of there.
The library (my favorite place) was on the way home, so we always had to stop and throw pennies into the fountain for wishes. Unfortunately we sometimes followed that tradition by lining our pockets with the silver change left by other wishing folks---but we'd been too rich to have the need on this particular day. We had to go IN the library next and look around, sit on the giant paper mache dinosaur, and then visit the restroom where Christy would do her toilet paper trick. She'd tuck the end of the roll in the back of her shorts, then I'd prop the bathroom and front doors an inch so that she could walk out onto the sidewalk trailing an intact stream of toilet paper. We'd see how far up the street we could get before it ran out or someone shut the door on it. For shame.
The end of that day found my pockets heavy with lots and lots of coins, which I took out at the end of my bed and counted. At each register I had handed over bills to break and forgotten to use the coins, and I realized as I counted that I should have been using them all along. Oh well, I'd remember that next year. There was also a giant torn-apart doll box by my bed, and the doll had been removed and undressed and redressed, and every accessory had been examined thoroughly. The doll was then useless, as I didn't care about playing with them. I took her to bed with me for at least a night or two, though, so that she wouldn't feel unwanted, and thus beginning to feed my lifelong sickness of feeling sorry for inanimate objects.
I still think of this birthday spending spree whenever my purse gets too heavy with coins. And I think of the doll whenever I buy something that I realize later I won't use.
Children With Cash, Part II: How Dorothy Hammill crushed my spirit:
Well, like I said, we didn't get allowances, so the only cash I could expect was around a birthday. The rest of the year sometimes there was some dumb thing that I kept my eye on and craved. During one summer it was the Dorothy Hammill doll:
My only explanation here is that I liked to watch ice-skating on television sometimes, and I always kinda wished to be able to ice-skate, and I really liked to roller skate. And for some reason Dorothy Hammill was enjoying a popularity that spun-off a hair-do and even a variety show, I believe... This was a doll that looked just like her, and it came with a stand that would hold one leg so that she might be spun around to do her famous "Hammill Camel" move, altho it didn't allow her to squat down actually finish the maneuver. [You can see on the box that this tiny plastic spinner is actually referred to as "her skating rink!"] I pictured having this doll in my hands and posing her, spinning her around on the magically spinning thingy---I would have the very Olympics in my hands.
Now there was no point in just asking for the doll, as there was no occasion for it. So I approached my mom for the $6 in exchange for any services she might ask of me. Just name the errand/chore---keep me busy for a week or however long you think it will take. By golly, she agreed. It was very exciting. I can't remember what any of the chores were, but I remember asking a couple times a day what I could do next. At some point I asked if that was enough, and she handed me the money. I ran to the toy store and got the doll, which of course glowed in its shopping bag all of the way home. I felt VERY satisfied.
I tore her open on the kitchen table and pulled out all accessories. Again, it's very important to examine EVERY accessory and savor them before putting them aside. She had a medal around her neck, and I believe a comb, and then there was the quick assembly of the magical stand. Dorothy herself was lovely, of course, and I smelled her plastic hair and repeatedly took her tiny rubber ice-skates off and put them back on again.
It was not until I had touched everything that I could allow myself to put her on the stand, which was just a matter of snapping her leg into a C-shape at the top of a pole. There she stood on her own for only a couple seconds before her torso just flopped over. I stood her up and saw this happen again. Hey.... But she was so NEW and wonderful that I would forgive!
I lifted up her other leg, turned her head, spread her arms (leaned over her torso before it fell again on its own), and then spun her around. Hey, she was practically skating! Then I reposed her and turned her around again. Posed her and spun again.
And then, just like a light going off, I didn't care anymore.
My mom happened to walk by just seconds after this realization. I was still staring at the doll, no longer spinning it. My mom had this sly smile and she said, "Just not all that exciting once you finally get it in your hands, is it?" Then she just kept walking.
She had summed me up---she had summed up my week of work and my whole Dorothy Hammill experience, and I felt angry. I spun the doll several more times and carried her around with me the rest of the night to seem interested in it, both to make the doll feel loved and to prove my mom wrong. But holy cow, she was totally right.
The lesson, though, for the week of the Dorothy Hammill doll was how very fun and exciting it is to plan and work and wait to attain a very specific treasure. Oh, and what a huge disheartening blow it is to a kid when they realize they picked a stupid treasure. I'll also always remember the wise-ass look on my mom's face that night as she saw this occur to me.