December 2010
Through the Fence

Getting Sidetracked

"Back in my day" is a phrase young folks hate to hear because they know its going to be followed by a story they’d just soon not hear. That’s especially true when applied to the historical value of a dollar. It wasn’t too many years ago when small town discount stores sold everything from sewing needles to snacks were referred to five and ten cent stores. Nowadays we call them "dollar" stores, since a nickel or a dime will scarcely buy a piece of bubble gum.

Back in the 1930s, long before those geniuses in Washington took the dollar off the gold standard, a dollar would buy quite a lot of groceries or other necessities, like shotgun shells. That’s when little eight-year-old Elmer got to go dove hunting with his daddy and his Uncle Bob behind his uncle’s mill. After a couple of hours of shooting, they noticed their ammo supply was low, so the boy was sent to town carrying a 50 cent piece to buy some more shells. He felt proud he’d even been allowed to go on the hunt and also been entrusted with such an important responsibility.

However, like most kids his age, little Elmer was easily distracted. When he got to town, he struck up a conversation with a man selling chickens. The man was flustered because one of his chickens had escaped from its homemade coop and had run under a large building. The space between the floor of the building and the ground was too big for the man to fit into. The desperate man convinced the boy to go after the escapee and offered him a whopping 25 cent reward. It was an offer too good to turn down.

Elmer slid under the edge of the building and scrabbled around in the dust for several long minutes trying to catch the rogue bird. Every time he got close enough to nab it by the feet, it would skitter away to the opposite corner. The thought of the generous reward kept urging him on. But, after a while, he finally conceded defeat. He hated to inform the chicken peddler he had failed and hated even worse he hadn’t come home with extra money. He just knew his daddy and uncle would have been so proud of his enterprising ways.

He brushed off his clothes and turned toward the local hardware store to buy the shells. That’s when he stuck his hand down deep in his overalls only to find the 50 cent piece missing. It had somehow gotten dislodged as he was scrambling to catch the chicken. He left the shells on the counter and went back under the building to try and retrieve the lost coin. He felt around in the dirt for a long time but realized to his dismay the money had vanished in an ocean of powdery dust.

As he plodded back toward the mill empty-handed, he tried in vain not to cry. He wiped his cheeks with the back of his grimy hands. He dreaded telling his father, not because he was afraid of his wrath, but because he hated to disappoint the man he admired most. Even though his mistake foiled the hunt, his dad forgave him. He continued to guide the boy throughout the next few years and shaped him into a man of high integrity.

Although 50 cents seemed like a high price to pay at the time, it bought Elmer some invaluable life lessons that served him well for the next 70 years. One of those lessons was the importance of staying focused on critical priorities—something he did during in the difficult years he served in World War II and the Korean war. Another lesson was the importance of family love and loyalty which has kept him bound to his wife for 60 years. Even considering the effect of inflation, I bet Elmer thought the 50 cents he paid for those lessons was a real bargain.

Lisa Hamblen Hood lives near Priddy, Texas, where she teaches English, Art and Spanish. E-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..