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Winter’s Secret Treasure
Winter’s Secret Treasure

Winter’s Secret Treasure

1 Review

When a dime was a big deal…

It was a typical winter Sunday for Charlie Miller. After walking to and from Mass with his mother to the sound of church bells, the pair had an early light lunch. His father worked on weekends and his older brother vanished to spend the day with friends playing board games at one of their houses. After lunch, Charlie was enjoying Picture for a Sunday Afternoon on television more than usual.

Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and her devious dog who played Asta in The Thin Man movies together with their pet leopard, had been, unknown to Cary and Kate, joined by a killer leopard escaped from the circus. Charlie idly wondered whether women back then owned pet leopards instead of dogs, cats or rabbits in order to turn them into their clothes. Whatever they did, he was loudly laughing the entire time that seemed to make his mother more irritable.

She shouted from the kitchen,

‘It’s a beautiful day that won’t last forever! Why don’t you get out and enjoy it?’

‘I will as soon as Picture for a Sunday Afternoon is over.’

Every few minutes she would continue her shouting,

‘When is it over?’


One-thirty came and passed and Charlie and his Hollywood friends, and there were so many other familiar faces from their black-and-white world, were still having a wonderful time. Cary’s dinosaur skeleton made a return.

Get out of the house!

‘I will as soon as it’s over.’

‘It’s a sin to waste a beautiful day!’

Though he couldn’t see himself being denied entrance into Heaven for something like that, Charlie could well understand what she meant. A warm sunny afternoon when snow was on the ground was a rare thing. He recalled the last time they had a Sunday like this when the pair walked a few blocks in the warm sunshine to the bus stop to journey downtown at one o’clock. The only thing open was the Walgreen’s drugstore where they had lunch followed by Charlie looking at the small toy section and Mom looking at the large drug selection.

Dad left work at three p.m. to pick them up. As they waited for him on Washington Street, the weather suddenly turned freezing as the winds of Lake Michigan that gave Chicago the nickname of ‘the Windy City’ blew an invisible ice-storm. Dad was later than expected, and it was truly miserable.

Mom came storming in.

‘It’s past one-thirty!’

‘It’s almost over!’

Her bad mood increased as she looked at the stars having the time of their lives.

‘Oh…her…’, Mom was not a fan of Katharine Hepburn, ‘She carries on with Spencer Tracy…I wonder what his wife thinks about that!’

It was rare when Charlie could say what he was really thinking to his parents, but today he finally did; perhaps because he wasn’t really thinking,

‘Mom…why do Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn have so much fun and none of the other grown-ups do?’

‘That’s because they don’t have children!’

Charlie took that on board…

‘When is your stupid movie over? The warm weather will be gone soon!’

‘Very soon…it’s just about finished…’

The dinosaur skeleton crashed to the floor; Charlie loudly laughed, Mom didn’t,

‘Who’s going to clean up that mess? Not those two!’

Mom produced his winter jacket and hat. He dressed in front of the television whilst she determinedly pointed at the front door. The film ended before two and Charlie was soon outside.

In his silent deserted neighbourhood, the sun was going…silver clouds were replacing the brilliant blue sky, but the temperature was still bearable. None of his gang were around on Sunday, so Charlie imagined himself as Great Scott of the Antarctic accompanied by his fearless pet snow leopard.

Crossing Chestnut Street to the South Telephone Pole, something on the ground caught his eye…it was a silver fifty-cent piece frozen in the ice! Ben Franklin himself seemed to call his name, and the Liberty Bell was ringing! A fifty-cent piece was a King’s ransom!

Charlie certainly earned his treasure as he kicked and scratched and stomped and scratched again until his fingernails were a mess, but he had it!!!

Fifty cents! What would he do with it?

He certainly wouldn’t tell his mother.

Once his brother said he had found a dollar bill. She questioned him for a quarter of an hour on how he really got the money. Tiring of her unsuccessful interrogation, she then suggested leaving it back where he found it so the someone who lost it and was no doubt worried about it would get it back. His brother said the wind would blow it away, and anyone could pick it up. She replied then it that case he would donate it to the church next Sunday, as he really wasn’t in need, but someone somewhere else was.

No thanks, Mom.

Charlie’s mind was agog. What a lucky day! First a great Picture for a Sunday Afternoon and now this! Life didn’t get any better.

Would he treat the neighbourhood gang to 10¢ sodas at the drugstore? There were six boys and girls in his gang, plus him, so that was out. If he treated just one or two, the others would never forgive him. Well, it was his treasure of silver, and it took effort to dig it out of the South Pole.

Fifty cents!

For once, awful arithmetic was important and made sense.

Four comic books or four Twinkies or Hostess cupcakes and two pieces of Bazooka bubble gum! Five candy bars or boxes of Cracker Jack with its candy-coated popcorn, peanuts and a prize!, dime toys, bottles of soda pop or five goes of being a sportsman with the shooting, bowling, baseball or pinball penny arcade machines! There were things for a nickel too; Pez or Life Savers candy, a pack of five sticks of chewing gum, five trading cards with a piece of bubble gum, Nik-L-Nip, a balsa wood glider, a box of five red paper rolls of 250 gunpowder caps for his pistol…and all that penny candy!!! On the other hand, there was a 50¢ film, or better yet, 35¢ for a double feature of B-movies Mom said were ‘trashy’ with a 15¢ candy bar or drink in a Dixie Cup! No, his parents paid for his and his brother’s visits to the movies and popcorn so there was no sense using it for that.

Would he spend it all in one go for a 49¢ toy? Or would he extend it for a week by buying a candy bar every day after school? Maybe a combination of big and small things; a 35¢ paperback or a 29¢ bag of armymen or a Lindbergh Line model airplane, with some Twinkies or a candy bar and some penny candy or bubble gum…there was sales tax of a penny for things above 25¢ and below 50¢. Anything over 50¢ had 2¢ sales tax, so he would have to make a couple shopping trips…or just bring along extra pennies from Mr. Oink, his piggy bank, for now and then he had found copper pennies.

Mr. Oink spoke to Charlie in Dad’s voice,

‘Put your two cents worth in!’

Ben Franklin would be able to talk with two Abe Lincolns in his pocket!

What would Cary Grant do?

A sophisticated adult would of course, take the bus downtown by himself and…hold the phone! A return trip for an adult, sophisticated or not, would be at least fifty cents, so he wouldn’t have anything to spend the money on. Still, he could walk around town, or even walk home.

Charlie recalled another wonderful Picture for a Sunday Afternoon where Ginger Rogers masqueraded as a child for an affordable train trip. He wondered if Cary would do something like that on the bus to save money. Then he thought of Joe Besser, his least favourite of The Three Stooges in his guise of Stinky from Abbott and Costello’s neighbourhood where everyone openly hated each other except Costello and Hillary Brooke. He never thought of Joe Besser as a real child, just a mentally retarded man like the one who lived with his mother a couple blocks away; everyone in the neighbourhood courteously pretended he was a child because they felt sorry for him. A money-hungry bus driver like Ralph Kramden would never allow that. Cary Grant would never do that anyway; he wouldn’t be Cary Grant if he did. Then he recalled another Cary Grant Picture for a Sunday Afternoon he liked; I Was a Male War Bride.

No, Cary would definitely go over to Katharine Hepburn’s house and walk with her and her leopard to their neighbourhood drugstore for two small pots of tea, because it was too cold for any ice cream treats. He imagined the looks on everyone’s faces fleeing in flight from their leopard. The image amused him until he realised they didn’t have an absent-minded clown Town Constable wearing a giant dimestore badge, instead his city had tough cops who showed off their tommy-guns on the Cub Scout visit to the police station. If they had tommy-guns, they certainly had bazookas and flamethrowers for any commie/Martian/giant ant invasion and wouldn’t hesitate to use them all on a mere leopard.

* * *

It was Monday, but after school he couldn’t go to his neighbourhood White’s dimestore or even the Little Store where he bought candy as he had his gang to play with. In the snow of the winter, he and his older brother helped their father construct a backyard winter wonderland. They carried snow in the wheelbarrow and built a mountain in their backyard between their house and cherry tree. It was so high that you needed a ladder to get up on it with sleds or fibreglass Sno-discs to slide down it to the bobsled-type banking walls his brother built. Though they weren’t allowed to have a snowball fight, they had Frosty the Snowman who the gang would sentence to death for being a spy and give him a firing squad with snowballs. After the cherry tree and before the maple tree, his father flooded the backyard with the garden hose and made a skating rink; they would sweep off any snow after a blizzard. The gang enjoyed themselves as if it was their own neighbourhood’s answer to Disneyland, and now and then Mom would bring out hot chocolate or Dad would make a fire on the small charcoal grill to toast marshmallows.

When it snowed in his backyard Winter Funderland, Charlie felt he and his friends and family were inside a snow globe.

Meanwhile, with no chance to go to any store, Charlie kept planning the use of his 50-cent piece. He decided he would forget candy bars, Twinkies or bakery cookies. No, it had to be something special…something he’d never forget, for you can never forget treasure. It wasn’t often he went downtown; as he found his treasure in his neighbourhood, so he would spend it in his neighbourhood.

He was surprised when his brother asked him upstairs to the converted attic that he slept in to play a board game together, for that was a rare occurrence. The pair kept warm in sweaters as they played and talked.

‘I guess you were pretty mad when Mom made you put that money in the church collection basket…’

He was surprised that it happened, especially as Dad always ranted during the Huntley-Brinkley News Report of what the poor people in the Congo really did with the money suckers donated to churches and charities, namely buy weapons from the Soviet Union to massacre the nuns and priests or do ‘Yankee Go Home’ protests in Latin America.

‘She gave me another dollar after church.’

Charlie expressed surprise.

‘She said that an unexpected amount of money was a gift from somewhere and had to be shared with someone who really needed it, or someone you really liked. She wanted to see if I really would give the money or keep arguing about it. I bought something for a girl I know, but don’t tell anyone that.’

‘No, I won’t…’

* * *

That Sunday, Charlie and Mom took the long way home from Church to the Rexall drugstore, where he treated his mother to a 35¢ milkshake as she didn’t drink sodas.

As they sat at the counter, a transformation came over Mom; he had never seen her happier.

‘I haven’t had a handsome young man buy me a milkshake at the drugstore since high school!’

Charlie had his first dime silver metal pot of tea with a slice of lemon outside his home that was a big deal. He usually only had coffee with Dad, Mom thinking him too young for caffeine; not today…

‘Why do you want tea instead of your usual cherry phosphate?’

‘Because that’s what Cary Grant drinks’, her besuited son answered.

For the first time he could recall, she made a joke,

‘Cary Grant said that even Cary Grant wanted to be Cary Grant…’

Charlie laughed uproariously; it was something Katharine Hepburn would say!

After they finished, he had a nickel left over for a pack of wintergreen mints they would share. They ran into one of their neighbours at the cash register, Mrs. Del Vecchio, who was filling a prescription; she was dressed in her imitation leopard skin coat.

Charlie laughed as he asked her,

‘May we walk you home?’

Mom smiled and winked…


Author Notes: I am the author of three Extra Dimensional/Ultraterrestial military science fiction novels MERCENARY EXOTIQUE, OPERATION CHUPACABRA and WORK IN OTHER WORLDS FROM YOUR OWN HOME! as well as two travel books THE MAN FROM WAUKEGAN and TWO AUSTRALIANS IN SCOTLAND (all from I live happily ever after with my wife in paradise (coastal Kiama, NSW Australia).

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10 Jan, 2024
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