Recollections of a Small Town
WHEN THE GOLD WAS SOLD
On a warm Spring afternoon a car stopped in front of the house. A
man alit and asked to see my parents. Mama came out to see who was stopping
at our house. The polite gentleman introduced himself and told her he bought
old gold. Next he asked her if we had any items of gold that we were willing
to sell for a fair market price.
This led to some discussion which I did not understand exactly. I
did see that Mama seemed to become thoughtful and serious, as if she was
thinking of something sorta sad. To be truthful, I did not understand those
expressions until much later. They were just puzzling and different at
She went into the house, and the man went to his car and returned
with a small black box which had a snap-closed cover. He sat and talked
to me while he waited–for what I did not know. The gold business was curious.
If there was gold in our house, it didn’t make much sense to trade eggs
for a pound of round steak. In 1932 even I knew that much.
Soon Mama came out with a little tin box, sat down with us and took
a ring from it. It was a wide gold band which I vaguely remembered seeing
on her finger one time. Obviously, such a thing was not practical to wear
while cooking, scrubbing floors and clothes, feeding chickens and stoking
a cook stove.
The visitor murmured something pleasant sounding, opened his case
and took out a small bottle with a stopper that had a glass rod through
it. He touched the wet stopper to the ring, then quickly wiped off the
liquid. Next he weighed the ring on a miniature balance scale and wrote
a note on a pad.
The process was repeated with another ring of lesser width. Then
a small stick pin, a locket and finally a pocket watch. The buyer of old
gold checked his notes and set a price. As I recall, Mama frowned a bit
and asked if that was all he would pay. If he upped the price a bit I don’t
know, but a deal was struck and the man said his goodbyes. When Dad came
in for supper, there was a quiet discussion and a shared but brief moment
when I sensed some regret. I thought it was about what the gold price was.
Now I’m sure it was not about gold.
Admittedly, my recollections are blurry and the import of those minutes
barely realized by a seven year old dullard. A warm afternoon was prized
more highly after winter and cases of influenza.
That was easy to grasp. The memory of that small drama refused to
be lost forever. Long after, some pieces made sense, a few others were
found by a bit of probing, but an entire picture never.
Some conclusions are of my own knowledge, others intuitive, some
confirmed by others. The wide gold band was my mother’s by her first husband.
The slenderer was from my father. The stick pin’s history is blank; the
small locket once belonged to my dad’s first wife and held a faded photo
which was not there when sold. The watch was Dad’s Hamilton railroad pocket
time piece from his days in railroad construction. He was not carrying
it because it needed cleaning and adjustment he could not afford. But it
was a wonder to me with its hinged face cover and back cover, both elaborate
with chased engravings.
I once asked Mama why she sold those things–after I was grown. All
she said was, “We needed the money.” Case closed. It was useless to speculate
about what item was more painful to sell. Memories of the father of four
of her children were now buried as deeply as was Donald Septimus Castillo?
I don’t think so. One thing seemed to stay with her, rather curiously I
thought. Mama secretly squirreled away nickels and dimes for twenty years
or more, then bought a new pocket watch for Dad.
We Needed the Money. What a familiar sound that was to millions who
lived then and wondered if it was really living. Children needed shoes
and coats for winter. Hand-me-downs were accepted gratefully, taken up
or let out to fit. Pride was in wearing clean, neatly ironed shirts and
pressed trousers. Darning socks was a regular after dinner activity.
What does all that matter now? Not much, except to me.
16 Nov. 2004
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