20: Mom’s Macaroni Money

20: Mom’s Macaroni Money

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever!

Mom’s Macaroni Money

Candy is childhood, the best and bright moments you wish could have lasted forever.

~Dylan Lauren

We didn’t have a lot of money while I was growing up, but one would never have guessed. Mom and Dad tended a large garden that yielded wonderful crops of vegetables. They nurtured a flock of chickens that provided us with fresh eggs. Mom learned to sew, and made our clothes. She honed her cooking and baking skills by watching my grandmother, who lived next door, and soon rivaled her teacher in pie baking.

As the four of us — one boy and three girls — got older, Mom yearned to give us an allowance. After reading one of the hand-me-down women’s magazines from Grandma, Mom found a way to do it.

She instituted a unique system of paying an allowance to each of us without actually using money. I was eleven, my brother Terry was nine, and our two little sisters were five and three. Each of us was capable of doing something to help Mom. She couldn’t wait to try this innovative reward system on her children.

Each time we completed our assigned chores, helped her around the house, or gave a hand to a younger sibling, Mom wrote in a notebook she carried in her apron pocket. Four empty canning jars labeled with our names sat on the kitchen counter. Payment came in the form of elbow macaroni, each piece of pasta equivalent to a nickel. Mom recorded the macaroni transactions in her little notebook.

Once a week, Mom called us together and, as we danced around her, she placed the macaroni we had earned in our hands. We had the pleasure of depositing the little noodles in our jars. The younger girls, Judy and Gail, had to be reminded not to eat their allowance, as they both had a fondness for uncooked pasta.

At the end of the week, we got to spend a portion of our allowance by shopping at Mom’s candy store. On our payday, Mom set up her little candy store on top of the clothes dryer in the laundry room. She took pride in displaying little wax bottles of flavored liquid sugar, wax candy lips, Tootsie Rolls, and packs of candy cigarettes. With our macaroni allowance, we could even buy full-sized candy bars. We nearly lost our minds with excitement.

On special occasions, some of our accumulated macaroni allowance could even be redeemed for cash. Mom taught us how to save for something special, and to this day, we value that lesson.

One day, Dad invited Terry and me to run errands with him. It was a big deal to be asked to go to town with our father. When Dad was done, Terry and I thought we’d head for home, but Dad parked in front of the corner drugstore instead. “Come on, let’s get a treat,” he said. We followed him to a bank of cushioned, shiny stools in front of the soda fountain.

Dad motioned for us to climb up on the stools. We twirled back and forth, grinning at our reflections in the mirror across from the long marbled counter.

Dad turned to us and said, “Whaddya want?”

Dumbfounded at having a choice, we stopped twirling and asked him what he was getting.

He said, “My favorite, a root beer float.”

Terry and I ordered the same. If Dad liked it, we’d like it too.

When the frosted mugs were placed on the counter in front of us, we learned about instant gratification. We sipped and slurped the cold root beer until we had to spoon the ice cream out of the glass.

In subsequent days, we got in trouble for arguing over who was going to do chores for Mom. We annoyed her by asking over and over what we could do to earn more macaroni. Every so often, Terry and I asked for some of our elbows to be converted to cash instead of candy. We were then allowed to walk the quarter of a mile to the drugstore and that glitzy soda fountain. We always ordered root beer floats.

A few months after this wonderful allowance system was put in place, all four of us had dentist appointments for cleaning and checkups. The dentist had gone to high school with Dad and felt quite free to express his alarm at the condition of our teeth. We all had cavities.

“What on earth has been going on, Mary?” he asked my mother.

She blushed and, without going into detail, admitted, “I guess I’ve been more lenient in allowing them to eat sweets.”

And that, as I remember, was the end of Mom’s macaroni allowance candy store, but the lessons we learned about earning, saving, and dental hygiene are still with each of us today.

~Nancy Emmick Panko

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