Walking Down Broadway with Dad

An early lesson in high finance

Barbara Rose Rust is a Cape Girardeau native writing vignettes about her childhood for her children and grandchildren, considering her growing up was very different from theirs. This is the first in a three-part series in which she shares these anecdotes with TBY readers, too.

My parents were very organized. They made plans for the future, and they were very frugal as most people were in the 1930s to 1940s. My sister and I were given school wardrobes in late August in time for the beginning of school, the first week in September. Our mother, Ruth Rose, was an expert seamstress and made most of our clothes. We had five or six everyday dresses for school and one or two extra nice ones for Sunday. “Sunday best” was just that, for church and also birthday parties, when we needed to dress up.

I also got a new pair of sturdy school shoes; “Buster Brown” comes to mind. They were expected to last from September until May when school was out. After that, we went barefoot most of the time, except for Sunday, of course. It was hoped that neither my sister nor I would have a big growth spurt that would require a second pair of shoes for the school year. I don’t remember that ever happening.

I can only guess, but I am pretty sure it was the early 1940s because an internet search told me Mary Jane style shoes were “in” during the late 1930s, early 1940s. It was likely first or second grade when I got a rude awakening on the first day of school. All the girls seemed to be wearing a cute shoe called a Mary Jane, and I was not one of them. My sense of being “with it” — because I had such cute dresses handmade by my mother — took a nosedive, and I had to have a pair of Mary Janes.

After receiving the news that I had to have a new pair of shoes, my parents very firmly said no. I used all my girlish ways to reason, charm and generally make a pest of myself, to no avail. No new shoes until I couldn’t fit into the ones I already had. They had spoken! The oddest reason of all was that they said they couldn’t afford it! Really? My dad, Forrest Rose, worked at that magnificent, huge building on the college campus called Academic Hall. They couldn’t afford to buy me Mary Janes? Really?

Thus began my lesson in Economics 101.

One evening, Dad came home and cleared the lace tablecloth off the shiny mahogany Duncan Phyfe dining room table and placed a bunch of papers on it. Along with those papers was a stack of blank envelopes. He also brought cash money in all denominations along, with an assortment of coins.

Dad instructed me to sit down beside him and pick up the first piece of paper, which was a bill for gasoline at Schwarts Gas Station — Shorty’s as I knew it — on Broadway. He instructed me to look at the total and retrieve that amount from the pile of dollar bills and coins, put it into an envelope and write “Shorty’s” on the outside. This process continued until all the pieces of paper were matched with money and sealed up tight and tidy. There was Vandeven’s Mercantile, which was a combination of groceries and dry goods, Finney’s Drug Store, Dr. O.L. Seabaugh — his office was above Finney’s Drug Store — Seehausen’s Meat Market, Hartung’s Locksmiths, Bartel’s Dry Goods, Missouri Utilities and others. All these businesses were on Broadway with Bucker-Ragsdale last, on the corner of Broadway and Main.

I understood that money in these envelopes was payment for items my parents had purchased and put on charge accounts. When completed, there was still quite a bit of money on the table, until my dad told me to look at the house payment and car payment — all loan payments to the bank. The bill for insurance (whatever that was), his tithe to Centenary Methodist Church, cash for my mother for incidentals (whatever that was), and some money to put into his own pocket. The 25-cent weekly allowances my sister and I received were put into envelopes, as well. When the task was completed, I was surprised to see how little cash was left on the mahogany table and how many white envelopes there were ready to be dispersed.

When we finished this lesson in high finance, Dad announced that tomorrow we were going, just the two of us, to pay all these bills in person for the goods and services the Rose family had used that month. Off to bed I went, still trying to comprehend why there was only a little bit of cash remaining on the dining room table. I figured perhaps that big building on the campus called “Academic Hall” didn’t pay as much as I thought. It was still a puzzler, however, because there was, after all, some money on the table — enough and more for the Mary Janes I coveted.

The next morning, we gathered up all the envelopes. Dad took the remaining money on the table and put it in an envelope and had me mark it with the word “Savings.” Savings? What was that?

It was a lovely day, and I was going to spend it with my dad. Things were looking up; perhaps Mary Janes were possible! We were going to walk down Broadway to Main Street from our home at 383 North Park and pay bills as we went. As we walked, Dad talked about saving money. The leftover money on the table was going to the bank to be put in a savings account, which would “grow money” and become the Rose Family “rainy day fund.”

“Everyone,” he said, “Should save some money out of each paycheck, put it in a savings account and leave it there. This money will grow. It will be there in case the roof leaks, the washing machine breaks or some other unexpected expense comes up.”

He explained it would be a foolish use of this emergency money to buy Mary Janes just because everyone had them. I already had perfectly good, sturdy shoes, which I had chosen myself, that would probably last the entire school year.

“Sooner or later, everyone has a rainy day,” my dad said. “Those who are not prepared will get wet, and some will even drown if the water gets deep enough. Do not spend everything you earn. Always have a rainy day fund. ‘Waste not, want not’ are good words to live by.”

My lesson in Econ 101 is special in my memory, as hand in hand, down Broadway we walked. I even got a lollipop from Shorty, and pretty soon, Mary Janes didn’t matter anymore.