I entered my earning years as a ten year-old babysitter, racking up the hours at 25 cents per. Lucky for me, there were some newly built three story apartment buildings erected behind my older red brick one, just brimming with little kids. Did I know enough to take care of infants? Toddlers? Dogs? No, but we all knew that my mom was nearby if needed. The benefit to me: the chance to peer into other people’s family lives, always more complicated and interesting than my two-person household.
I started saving immediately, hoarding my earnings in my ceramic piggy bank that looked like a frog. $24.98 (or 100 hours) later, I emptied it to purchase an ivory-colored plastic transistor radio in a leatherette case, with ear plugs, that I employed in the next few years to listen to White Sox games and WLS radio, even after I was supposed to be asleep. To supplement to the latter, I went to the record store weekly to pick up my WLS Silver Dollar Survey, a list of the tops 40 songs of the week.
I later branched out to purchasing the occasional 45 record like “Purple People Eater” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” but mainly I stuck with my radio. It was the best purchase I ever made.
Money was never an issue growing up, for me at least; my mother might have a different tale to tell. After my father died young without a will she had to undergo the insult of having to seek court permission to spend much of it on something like a set of World Books. We were snug in the apartment and enjoyed round steak on Sunday nights while watching “Maverick” on TV. Then the TV broke down and it was years until we had a new one, which might have been an economic decision, but I suspect more of an aesthetic one.
Our big nights out were going to Gately’s People’s Store in Roseland, the inspiration for discounters like Zayre’s and the rest who followed. We would cap off the night with dinner at the White Castle on 111th including lemon meringue pie in a little pie-shaped cardboard box. Sometimes we’d even upgrade to a coffee shop on Western in Blue Island. We’d drive right past The Beverly Woods Restaurant with its big fancy neon sign to get there and never once thought to go in.
Because of my early careful relationship with money, I have a spending threshold to this day that I cannot comfortably exceed, even though I now have way more in the bank than we did then. I prefer a consignment shop to Lord & Taylor, and pretty much wear what I have anyway – it’s a gift not to demand more. On the home front, I don’t hanker for turrets and grandeur, though I admit that having plenty of space is a luxury I don’t mind after the 3 1/2 room apartment I grew up in. And guess what I keep in a trunk in the basement – my radio, carefully preserved in its case.
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