Bobbie Wayne's Blog
A Helping Hand
My college roommate is retired and on a fixed income. We have remained close since graduation. Recently, she made the mistake most of us have made at one time: overestimated the amount in her checking account. some large medical bills came due and by the time she realized she was bouncing checks, she was already being fined thirty-five dollars per bounce. I sent her some money to tide her over while she straightens things out. She had often helped me out in the past, sharing money and food when things got scarce.
When my roommate and I were in college in the late nineteen sixties, our tuition included bed and board. I found the food inedible and lost twenty pounds my freshman year. It wasn’t that I was a picky eater, although I admit I was. The food was truly appalling. One night, we were served liver soup, a pea-green concoction with pieces of beef liver floating in it. Another time, as I stood on line waiting my turn, the boy ahead of me pointed out that there were little black weevils moving in the noodles he had just been served. After that, the only things I would eat in the cafeteria were fruit, bread and dairy products.
My roommate’s mom had bought us each a colorful enamel mug which held half a quart of liquid. We would fill them with milk to take back to our room unless the cafeteria staff stopped us. Our wealthy friend, M, (whom we affectionately dubbed the Bank of England), would sometimes loan us money to go to the only soda fountain in town; a grubby little dive we called, “The Hole.” There we would buy what passed for a hamburger on a bulky roll onto which we would spoon every condiment available to make it last longer. We always paid M when we got our allowances from our parents. My mother figured that five dollars per week should be adequate, so I was always in M’s debt or starving.
To remedy my financial problems, I spent a great deal of time walking the railroad tracks in search of cans and bottles which I would turn in for their deposit. I came to think of it as a hobby, kind of like playing golf. After all, I got exercise, fresh air and money for my effort. Sometimes I would take my roommate with me, but since her allowance was larger than mine and her mother sent care packages of snacks, her need was not as great. Besides, my roommate and M both went to meals at the cafeteria and ate what they could.
While there weren’t restaurants in the depressed coal-mining town surrounding our college, there were plenty of places to drink. These became a valuable resource for me. I would walk into a bar and announce that I could eat more hot mustard on the free blocks of cheese set out to encourage thirst than anyone there. The men liked being challenged by a college girl, and would stand me beers while I happily filled my belly with cheese and hot mustard.
Once, M’s check from home was delayed. “I’m flat broke!” M told me that morning as she pulled the covers over her head, refusing to go to her classes. Apparently she planned to stay in bed as a form of protest until her money arrived.
“Hey!,” I hollered over the crowd at our student union to my roommate who was across the room. “The Bank of England has gone bust!” I suppose this was how the rumor about Britain’s insolvency got started at my college. I would have to find time to visit the railroad tracks that afternoon.
These days, whenever I go to recycle my cans and bottles at one of the recycling machines and find myself behind a person with several garbage bags full of recycling, I never grow impatient. I just offer them mine. Perhaps whoever provides their allowance has made an error that week. Maybe the check got delayed in the mail. Or maybe there were others walking along the tracks competing for cans and bottles. I hope that their wallets as well as their bellies will be filled.
When you subscribe to the blog, we will send you an e-mail when there are new updates on the site so you wouldn't miss them.