Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Five and Dime

To a kid, it was heaven. A candy counter filled with candy of all kinds, much of it within the budget of a child who relied on cashing in pop bottles for spending money.

Rohr's was about a half a mile from our house, but in the 1950's and early 60's no one thought anything about young children walking that far by themselves. We had a few shortcuts, some that our mother didn't like--through the "colored" neighborhood, and by some low-income apartments. When I type this, I think how odd it sounds today but that was my mother's reality at the time. What is really funny is that we certainly qualified as low income but Mom never saw us that way, and we never felt that way either. Our home was filled with books and records of classical music and popular musicals. The neighborhood was genteel and elderly, with Victorian 4x4 houses lining the street and sporting their gingerbread trim. Everyone had vegetable gardens, fruit trees and flowers, and some had chickens and bees. It was not what you might think of as low income and the neighbors were certainly not. But with 13 children and a lineman's salary, Mom stretched dollars to the breaking point.

Allowances were out of the question. There wasn't enough money for that. So pop bottles it was and we scoured the neighborhood and side streets for gthe precious glass bottles. A bottle was worth 2 cents, and 2 cents could buy 2 pieces of penny candy. Three bottles provided enough for a small bottle of Coke or Pepsi and a piece of candy. Five bottles could buy a pop and a Hershey's bar. Or a pop and a popsicle. Or 10 pieces of penny candy--heaven!

We took our bottles to the local market to cash in. Manassas Market actually delivered groceries back then, in a 1957 Chevy panek truck. The owner, whose name I do not recall, patiently took in or bottles, only objecting to the ones that were muddy or not a brand he could take. Once we had our cash in hand, we walked to Rohr's--it was shopping time.

My favorite kinds of penny candy had to be Kits. Why? Because you got 4 pieces of candy for your penny! Red Licorice whips, jawbreakers and Tootsie Rolls were favorites, too. And of course Double Bubble bubble gum with its comic strip inside. If I was lucky enough to have a dime, the choices were huge. Cracker Jacks and a pop? Twinkies? Candy bars, ice cream, or a little bit of something from the glass cases? A dime could buy a quarter pound of several things--chocolate stars were my favorite.

As I got older I learned that life held something other than candy. For 19 cents I could buy a tiny bottle of perfume called Atom Bomb--and yes, it smelled that strong. I could buy the prettiest hankies for a dime and Tangee lipstick for 39 cents. Pencils, pens, cheap toys, and many other things could be bought for under 20 cents.

I also learned to save at least a little of my precious pennies for Christmas gifts. One year I bought my mother a golden, round glass pitcher for 69 cents. I struggled to buy something for everyone else in the family with the little bit of money I could save. All of my brothers and sisters did the same. The pitcher I bought my mother, I now know, was a pattern called Lido by Anchor Hocking, I believe, and today it sells online for between $10 and $25. Mom was thrilled and astounded that I could afford such a thing. I wonder sometimes if she ever knew how hard we tried to get money and how much we enjoyed buying pretty things for her.

Eventually my sister would work at Rohr's, even behind the candy counter, while she was in school. I was not allowed by my parents to have a job--as the oldest daughter, there were many barriers in my way back in those days. But Judy, only a year and a half younger than me, was able to break some of them down and got her driver's license (another no-no for me) and a job. (Mom, I think, realized that it was helpful to have someone who could drive around--the older brothers were seldom home because they had jobs, and well, they were boys and had a lot more freedom to get out. A each sister reached teen years, the limits softened and they had much more freedom than was allowed to me.)

I do not know if Rohr's Five and Dime still exists, but I kind of doubt it. But the memory of the time I spent walking across its squeaking floors and being amazed at what was within my purchasing power is still strong. I doubt the malls of today provide that same level of excitement as the old five and dimes of my childhood.

9 comments:

Rowan said...

What great memories - I remember taking pop bottles back to get the money on them too. Life was different then - better in many ways too.

Granny Sue said...

It was, Rowan--much simpler and slower. I would bet our parents would say the same about their growing up years, too. And I imagine our children will think their childhood was a more simpe time that what their grandchildren experience. Nostalgia--it can soften the edges :)

Nance said...

oh yes, my children (39 - 32 yrs)think their childhoods were simpler than their childrens'. Sue, you brought back so many memories for me with this post but one special memory was if my Dad ever had extra change in his pocket on Saturday night, grocery shopping night, he bought a pound of chocolate stars that the candy counter lady scooped into a white paper sack. We children were thankful to get to enjoy 2 or 3 chocolate stars before they were all gone.

Country Whispers said...

Lovely story.
We had a small neighborhood grocery when I was little that we were allowed to walk too!
They were one of the very few left that still sold penny candy. I can remember my brother and I walking over and coming home with a small paper bag of goodies. We were always delighted with how much we could buy with just a few coins in our hands.

Hidden Trails Stables said...

I remember the first paycheck I got from that store: $11.62--I thought I had a fortune! Do you remember the perfume "Blue Waltz"? That was my favorite. Such good memories of a simpler life. Thank, Sue, for bringing them back!

Debbie Couture said...

Sue, I wonder how many of us have memories of Rohrs and all the neat things we could buy. I also liked their toy section. They had glass piggy banks and caps that you could put in a toy gun or pop with a rock and many other wonderful items that you could spend your money on. Bernadette and Beatrice and I would also collect pop bottles for 2 cents also. Living in the country we went to Rollins store for penny candy. Before I moved to Bristow sometime Ellen Herr and I would walk to the Drug Fair for a coke flavored with Vanilla or cherry from the soda fountain. I remember your sister Judy telling us that your mom told her not to chew gum and she thought she meant forever so she didn't chew gum for a long time. I had no idea that Judy could do things that you couldn't. That had to be hard. Those were good old times that's for sure and I don't think many of our parents had much extra money but we didn't know it. Thanks for bringing up great memories.

carl fairfax said...

I love reading this im 35 and i remember my mom taking me to rorhs to get a toy if i was good that week and i thought that was the greatest thing ever

Granny Sue said...

That's a good memory, Carl. It was like a paradise for a child, wasn't it?

pamela m said...

I too went in Rohrs five & dime store as a child. I loved it.The wooden floors,all the wooden dividers for everything on sale,on the tables.The very large cash registers.The two front swinging doors,you don't see that anymore.The old soda machine in the back of the store,also where you could find kitchen items ,that were hard to find anywhere else.I loved the toy department,a cool lady worked in there,she would let you look as long as you wanted to,without getting after you.Near Christmas time,Mrs.Rohr would fix up the picture windows the left side was an old fashion Christmas,and the right side window a modern Christmas.I loved that special touch.Rohrs was my all time fav.store to go in.In 1971,I went in there and bought baby shoes for my first baby before she was born,had an entire drawer full,before she was born.Back then you could not fine out ahead of time if you were having a boy or a girl.I lived right across the road from the store.And the choc. candy department helped me on my gravings.My Daughter,Granddaughter and myself drove from Fl. to Conn. in the 90's.We stopped off at Manassas to visit my Sister.The next day went looking around.They turned the store into a pottery store.What a dissapointment,the floor and ceiling was the same.Keep the memories going about our good old day's ! Pam

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