“One dollar and 87 cents.” Those are the opening lines to O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” the Christmas classic about a couple struggling and each wanting to buy a gift for the other. That was in 1906, when a dollar bought something.
Most people know the story: Jim sells his watch to a jeweler so he can buy Della a set of beautiful brushes. Meanwhile, she’s undergoing the same struggle and agrees to sell her hair to buy Jim a gold watch fob. Christmas Day, they realize that neither can use the gift: His watch is gone, as is her hair, but they console one another with the assurance her hair will grow back.
One dollar and 87 cents. That must have been a lot in those days.
Each month as I examine our bank statement, I feel reassured that we will probably not end up in the poor house, as was the fear for Jim and Della. And of course, I realize that the money the couple had in the “Gift,” by today’s standards, would scarcely buy a cup of coffee.
Remember when it was common for a local street mendicant to stop you as you entered a restaurant, and ask, “Can you spare a dime for a cup of coffee”?
“Please! Don’t recite any recipes. I beg of you.” And with that surprisingly authoritarian tone, I explained that all I had done was compliment the chef over the meal my wife and I had been invited to.
Any comment about the food during the meal often leads to a detailed recipetation of each step, as if we were taking notes.
But first, let me explain that a few readers of Work of Art have detected — and told me about — the cynical tone to a couple of recent columns. For example, I recently wrote about the mysterious fruitcake that fellow columnist Editha Bartley discussed in her weekly column. It’s my contention that no one has ever eaten that fruitcake; instead, each recipient of the fruit-nuts-and-whatever concoction thanks the giver, smiles, and immediately repackages it to send to someone else, chain-letter fashion.
The result is that the same fruitcake has circled the globe many times; it is not due at our house until my retirement or in 2034 — whichever comes first.
This column, which will be about Thanksgiving and Christmas food, will not be a recipe, at least not in the sense of “Stir vigorously for three hours, then fold in ground up walnuts sautéed in vinegar at 650 degrees.” Continue reading
You’ve already heard of the “Better Used Cars” sold by a company my dad used to work for. Werley Auto Company, which sold Ford, Mercury and Lincoln products, also had a used car line.
We didn’t own a car until I was in my teens. On the RARE occasions when we traveled out of town, Dad would borrow one of the B.U.C.’s. Mom had her own descriptions of such cars, one of which is that the Better Used Cars “take you out of town and bring you back.” Another category of cars consisted of the “A-1” fleet, which, Mom swore, “took you out of town and left you there — stranded.
I remember when the seven of us piled into a B.U.C. for a trip to Albuquerque and watching, puzzled, as Dad went gas station shopping. After driving into and out of three sets of stations, Dad explained, “The gas is two cents cheaper here.”
And in those days, when a 15-gallon tank would cost about $3, a few pennies made a big difference. Continue reading
“What time is it? No! I mean, what time is it — really?”
That question I’ve needed to answer twice a year for 48 years. The query from my wife, Bonnie, occurs 1) when Daylight Saving Time begins and 2) when Standard Time begins and DST ends. And it takes her about six months to get used to the new time.
And she asks me the same questions twice a year without any regard to what suffering I endure. After all, it’s not easy resetting some 30 clocks. If you count the number of battery-operated wall clocks and add the dozens of electronic gadgets around the house, such as computers, iPads and cell phones, then reset the car clocks, that becomes a full-time job.
But let me go on the record as favoring the two biennial time changes. I like long summer days, where the sun remains up and out long enough for us to complete our barbecue party. And I like Standard Time too, when it gets dark early, meaning it’s time to get to work on reading, grading papers, writing articles, doing paper work.