Most senior citizens can remember when a $5 bill was a lot of money. When I was 6 years old, I thought 80 cents was a lot of money. The first time I counted the money in my piggy bank, I had exactly 80 cents. They were all pennies except for a couple of nickels that found their way in there, too. 80 cents could buy 16 regular-sized candy bars back then.
The next time I had any money coming in was when I helped my older brother with his paper route on E. Central Ave. in Delaware. He paid me 25 cents a week. All I had to do was deliver the newspapers to the houses on the side streets off of E. Central Ave.
During that same time, I was asked by a neighbor if I would wash a lot of dishes for them. They said they would pay me 5 cents. That seemed good, so I went over. Never had I seen so many dirty dishes! And I was from a family with 7 kids! Piles of dirty dishes were sitting everywhere. Not just in the kitchen, but in the living room, as well. There wasn’t a spot that wasn’t covered with dirty dishes, silverware, pans and skillets.
I have reason to believe the neighbor girl was being paid 10 cents to do the job and got me to do them for her for 5 cents. That’s because I remember hearing laughing all the time I was washing.
When I was 14, I got a real job. It was every Saturday from 7 a.m. until about 11 p.m. that night. I worked for a family with 4 children ranging in ages from 3 to 9. While both their parents were working outside on their farm, I was inside taking care of their kids. I fixed their breakfast when they got up, as well as their lunch and supper.
(As an aside, I want to note that some people call the evening meal Dinner and others call it Supper. I have an 8-year—old friend who uses the word “Dupper”, a combination of both words. She said she can’t have it the other way, or the word would be Sinner and that’s not good .) I also moped the kitchen floor and picked up the house. After the parents were finished in the fields, they got dressed up and went out to dinner and a movie and were home by 11 p.m.
For my whole 16-hour day, I was always paid with one big beautiful $5 bill. That was the richest I had ever felt! With the going rate of babysitting back then being 35 cents an hour, they should have paid me $5.60, but I guess I was too blinded by that big old $5 bill to care about the extra 60 cents.
This lead to other babysitting jobs. The minister of our church asked me to sit with their 3 children on Sunday evenings while he and his wife went out to dinner. They always had the same thing for their Sunday night supper. It was tomato soup with popcorn on top. That ritual lead me to believe that all ministers’ children had tomato soup with popcorn as well. I knew we never ate it at our house, so I thought it must have been some religious thing.
I also babysat for an economics professor’s family and was always paid with a stack of coins that came out exactly to the penny of what I had earned. To this day, I remember all those dimes, nickels and pennies as he handed them to me in a perfect stack (nickels on the bottom, pennies next and dimes on top.)
By the time I was 15, I had a job for every day after school taking care of two children. I took care of the kids from after school until their parents got home from work. I also got their evening meal and had it on the table before I left. There were always instructions as to what to cook, so I learned a lot about cooking. Often they had friends over to eat supper with them. It wasn’t too hard for me to cook enough for 4 more, but I was glad I got to go home before having to do all those dishes!
I am writing about a $5 bill because a friend told me that when she sees a young person in a restaurant with their parents, and they are very well behaved, and do not have a phone in their hand, she goes to their table and gives the young person a $5 bill.
They are always thrilled to have it when she tells them why they were chosen to get the money. Since hearing her story, I have been paying attention to how many young people have phones in their hands while eating out with others. (This past Friday, my husband and I eating out and couldn’t help but notice as a middle-aged couple each had IPads and were on them their entire meal without saying one word to each other.)
Back to my thoughts on a $5 bill. Even if it was a lot of years ago, I think of the work I did for those 16 hours to earn $5. And now it’s possible to have that much money given to you just by being polite to your own parents during a meal.
Kay E. Conklin is a retired Delaware County recorder who served four terms. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a degree in sociology and anthropology.