Sans White Horse
If I have heard one person say it, then I have heard twenty: Pauline must have been a remarkable woman to have raised so many fine children. What kind of personality does it require to be able to instill in her children, alongside of Robert, ideals and values which combine and reflect pragmatism, humor and perseverance? It takes a remarkable one.
Pauline learned from an early age, that what you had in the hand, was worth more than whatever it was that could found in the bush. She knew how to get her money’s worth out of a dollar. When we still lived on Fellowship Street, down in the San Gabriel Valley, she would sit down in Papa’s place, at the head of the sky-blue kitchen table, KPOL softly wafting out of the little portable radio above her head, a permanent fixture in the kitchen, from the early years we lived there onward.
On the table she would have gathered the ads respectively for Sunrize (sic) Market, Market Basket, Lucky’s, Alpha Beta, and Vons and Shopping Bag, and with red marker in hand, she would methodically-and rapidly, scan and mark, flip the page, and repeat, until she had gone through the bunch.
Then, with one or more kids in tow, to help with groceries, she would make the circuit of local grocery stores, “cherry-picking” as it was known in the industry, thereby stretching her budget to be able to make it through until payday, whichever one came first: Papa’s, Eric’s, Brian’s or mine. Working at the post office in Eric’s case, or Sunrize in Brian and mine, Mama raked in a significant cut.
There was no palaver: Just hand over the money and know that you got to eat dinner for the next week. Well, there may have been some minor fireworks between Mama and me, when I got to Cal Poly, in September of 1970, and deemed that 25% of my weekly income, was just not enough for a college lad. After much weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, I managed to shift the paradigms, and settled for half. I would have settled for less, so I figured I got the better end of the deal.
This was the same period of time, when grocery stores fought for business through incentive programs, featuring such novelties as the premium stamp exchange, where stamps were issued when you bought groceries, corresponding with how much you spent. The rate was something like ten stamps for every dollar, so that if you spent $20.00, you ended up with 200 stamps, enough to fill two pages in the redemption booklet.
So JT or I, or whichever other kid was handy, would be recruited into pasting the stamps into the booklets. There were Blue Chip stamps, Green stamps, and I seem to remember an orange-colored one, probably from shopping at one specific store, slightly off the beaten track, like maybe Gemco, or even Stassi’s, down by St. Joseph’s Church, in downtown La Puente itself.
Then when the momentous occasion arrived, and Mama would go to the store to redeem her stamps for valuable merchandise, it was Bonanza Day. To put both the redemption store, and possibly our own general degree of poverty into perspective, I remember being invited to a wedding in SoCal, after having moved to San Jose, and being desperate for a wedding present.
We had no money. We filled the little white VW Bug with two dollars and fifty cents worth of gas, exactly ten gallons, which was the size of the little beetle’s gas tank, and made it all the way to the San Fernando Valley, before filling it again. When I asked Mama, what she thought I could do about a wedding gift, she went through her stash of stamps, and we went to the redemption store.
In case you think we scored big-time, maybe a mixer or an iron, think again. How about a nifty selection of wooden spoons for stirring the soup, of varying sizes, obtained for the equivalent of about three dollars. It wasn’t pretty, but it got us into the wedding, with a gift in our hands.
She was a lifesaver, again, producing a beautifully wrapped wedding gift, for the cost of the gas it took us to drive to West Covina, and get it.
Practical Pauline, sans white horse, scores again.