What Does a Quarter Buy?
By Susan Dollyhigh
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40 (NIV)
What can you buy with a quarter? Not even a pack of gum today, but in 1963 a quarter would buy my lunch at school. With this bit of trivia I’m telling my age but it’s worth it to tell the rest of the story.
A painfully shy little girl in my first grade class whose name I don’t even remember seemed to always stand off by herself at playtime. Her clothes were not as nice as the other little girls. Somehow I found out this little girl didn’t have a quarter to buy her lunch. I’m not sure if they had the free lunch program back then and if so why she didn’t participate, but I do remember being upset that the little girl didn’t have lunch money. I told my grandmother about this little girl one evening and for the remainder of my first grade year, she sent a quarter for me to give to that little girl to buy her lunch. A dollar and twenty five cents a week. Doesn’t sound like much of a big deal does it? But over the years I realized that it was.
My grandmother worked in a factory – a factory where she sewed for eight hours a day in a large warehouse full of women and with the deafening roar of the sewing machines echoing all around. The lint from the garments they sewed was flying throughout the warehouse like dandelion seeds on a windy spring day. When my grandmother emerged from that windowless building, her hair would be filled with that lint.
Little socializing took place in this factory. A loud whistle blared to mark the beginning of the work day and the women scampered hurriedly to their seats. The sound of the whistle blasted throughout the day decreeing a ten minute break in the morning, a lunch break, a ten minute break in the afternoon and finally one last time as the workday came to a close.
My grandmother’s wages were based on her performance. But she remembered the days of the Great Depression and was happy to have her job. She was proud to meet her quota and to occasionally exceed it which meant a small bonus for her to take home.
In 1963, I know a dollar and twenty five cents was more than pocket change to my grandmother. I also know that her generosity made an impression on my mind and heart that has stayed with me for five decades now. Alice Elinor Adkins Shelton, my grandmother, was Jesus to that little girl. At the same time she was showing another little girl how to be Jesus to others. All for the price of one quarter a day.