I grew up in Mill Valley, California. This is by far one of the best places on earth for raising kids — or at least it was in 1954. I went back there on the fourth of July to take a hike on Mt. Tamalpais with one of my daughters. With each crunch of sun-baked pine needles underfoot, my heart began to soften and childhood memories brought a smile to my face.
Dad’s voice came to me: “Your allowance is 25 cents a week. Susan, if you want more money, you need to go out and earn it!” Well, being only about 8 years old, my options were somewhat limited — but there was one golden opportunity for those who owned a bicycle and weren’t afraid of a little dirt. Glass bottle deposits!!
The first challenge was the “hunt”. My sister and I would hop on our faithful horses (bikes) and ride off into the sunset searching for stray soda bottles. They were there. You just had to look real hard, mainly, because we searched these parts just about every day. But we would find them, letting out hoots of joy with each find. We always washed them out so that the man at the store would accept them. He never said he wouldn’t, but we didn’t want to take any chances.
Ah! Record day! Three bottles!! Next, we would wrap the clean bottles in a rag and one of us would carry them in our horse’s basket (bike). The ride down to the grocery store was probably a mile. In those days, in Mill Valley, this was OK. It was all downhill going to the store, so this part of our job was glorious. Coming home, not so much!
I remember as if it were yesterday, going up to the counter in the Old Mill Supermarket. There was a giant wooden barrel, filled with penny candy: Tootsie Rolls, Jaw Breakers, Bubblegum. Ah, treasure, glorious treasure! Because I was the older sister, I always got the job of presenting the bottles to the “man”. That’s what we used to call him. The man. This was serious stuff. There was always the chance he would not take the bottles — who knew? He may not like root beer bottles. He may only want Coca Cola bottles. So, with my best John Wayne swagger, and Dale Rogers smile, I would saunter up to the man and place the bottles, one by one, on the counter. My sister would stand slightly behind me and stare at the man from around my waist, her big brown eyes liquid with excitement.
With both of us staring at the man in the most absolute anticipation, he would pick up each bottle and inspect it carefully and then place it in a box under the counter. With each bottle, he would look at us and wink, a smile curving at the corner of his mouth. My sister would huddle in a little closer against my back. Finally, he would push the buttons of the old cash register and with a ringing sound, the drawer would fly open. Six pennies, counted one by one, were placed on the counter in front of us. Glimmering, coppery treasure! Ours! We were RICH!!
I handed my sister her three pennies and she stuffed them into her pocket. I did the same. The man didn’t matter any more. His job was done. All that mattered now — the barrel!! Oh happy day! What should I choose? One Tootsie Roll, and two pieces of bubblegum? Two Tootsie Rolls and one piece of bubblegum. The jaw breakers weren’t good. Knew that going into this decision. About thirty minutes later, and having touched just about every piece in the barrel, we had made our decisions and handed our pennies back over to the man. With gobs of glorious chocolate stuck to the roof of our mouths, we threw ourselves up onto our saddles (bikes) and home we flew, ready for our next adventure!
My phone crashed yesterday, and I lost all my pictures of this week’s hike and about 1,000 others (good lesson in backing up files, learned the hard way). So, I will store the memory of a special hike in the woods in my heart, along with this special childhood memory. Thank you, God, for memories to cherish.