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Five and Dime Memories

Once upon a time, when I was a child, I received an allowance. Each week, I received a little bit of money. It wasn't a lot, probably a dollar by the time I was eight. I don't recall that it had any chores attached to it, so it probably didn't. It did have some stipulations though, which meant that some of it wasn't really mine. Ten percent went into the collection basket Sunday school each Sunday. Another ten percent went into a little metal book shaped bank. That bank had a lock on it and I didn't have the key. The money in that little bank was my college fund. Mom and Dad wanted to get us kids on the right track, financially, bright and early.

Back in the day, eighty cents went further than it does now, but not that much further. I still had to save my money if I wanted something other than candy. Of course, I did want more than candy.

Enter the five and dime store. By the mid-1960s, the stores were no longer actually five and dime stores. Those officially vanished in the mid-1930s, but they were replaced by Woolworths, Woolco, and similar variety stores. They carried a wide collection of products from tools to toiletries to household goods, and all at bargain prices. They were the Walmart or Dollar General of the day.

I remember a couple of those stores. When I was in elementary school, we lived in Cheyenne, Wyoming. We had plenty of stores there, but every once in a while we would go to Denver to shop in the mall. That was a big deal for me because then I could go to the Woolworths store. I liked looking at the toys but the best thing about Woolworths was the lunch counter. Sitting on those red stools and pretending to read the menu made me feel very grown up, and sometimes, we would actually eat lunch there. My favorite sandwich at the lunch counter was grilled cheese with a pickle. Never mind the fact that I could have grilled cheese at home, Woolworth's lunch counter with its stools was the ultimate treat.

Then there was the Ben Franklin's store. It was in Cheyenne, in the same shopping center parking lot as the fabric store, the grocery store, the stationary store, a dress shop, and RadioShack.

Ben Franklin's carried all sorts of things, but the two I remember most were the plastic bridal shower favors — inch and a half plastic dolls in antebellum type skirts —

and little plastic ballerina figures.

All of these figurines reposed in bins in the party favor aisle, and even when I wasn't buying anything, which was most of the time, I would pick through them, choosing a bridesmaid in each dress color or ballerina to dance across the shelf above the other selections in the bins.

Once in a while, I would buy a couple of the little decorations. Of course, what I really wanted was the bridal pair and the plastic carriage, but I suppose it wasn't that important to me — I never saved my money for it, and no one ever got it for for my birthday, either.


I got older and my purchasing choices changed. I discovered books and that's where my allowance began going. Ben Franklin's carried books, but they weren't to my taste. And then, when I was in high school, we moved to Dallas with its plethora of malls and shopping centers and specialty stores. I finished school, got married, had a couple of kids, and moved a few times. I never gave Ben Franklin's, or any of the other small variety stores of my childhood, another thought.

That is, until the afternoon when I woke from a nap, hot, and soaked with sweat. We had no air conditioning. It wasn't that the air conditioning was out: we had no power at all. Here I was, on a hot summer's afternoon, with three small children, one of which was a newborn, and the temperature in the house was pushing 95 degrees. I called the electric company to find out was going on and when I could expect the electricity to come back on.

Oh my, was I embarrassed, and upset, when they told me that they would turn it back on after I paid the bill. Two months worth of unpaid bills plus a reconnection fee. How did I miss that?

"Where do I go to make the payment? I need the power back on as soon as possible."

It turned out that  I had two choices — the main office, which was about 40 miles away, or payment office in the neighboring city, about 20 minutes away in the opposite direction. But I would have to make the payment before 4:30 that afternoon and it was already 3 o'clock. I hustled two sweaty, cranky children into the car, collected the baby and his diaper bag, and we set out for the neighboring city — a place I couldn't recall having ever been to before up to that point.

I found my way to the store with no problem. (The highway almost dead ended right into its front door.) And low and behold, the payment office for the electric company was inside a Ben Franklin store. I was surprised, pleasantly. It brought back fond memories of my childhood. I quickly unloaded the children and we ran into make the payment. I had made it with barely 10 minutes to spare. The clerk reassured me that they would get the power turned back on right away. I was relieved. Now I could relax.

Once my business was completed, we took a few minutes to look around the store. It had changed somewhat from what I remember, but then, childhood memories aren't always accurate. It felt newer, but smaller. They still had craft supplies, kitschy home decor, kitchen gadgets, stationery and greeting cards, cheap toys, and candy. I let each child pick out a piece of candy as a "thank you" for putting up with my need to drag them around in the heat.

Unfortunately, that store did not remain there too much longer. Within a year or two, it closed and its place was taken over by some other store. But I was still delighted to have found a Ben Franklin store that brought back memories of when I was a little girl

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