vol. 6, #118,
THE PRESENT VALUE OF ONE
This is an "Observing US" column that originally appeared on Fox News Online in December, 1998. It's mine again, now, and even though there's been a little bit of price inflation since then, it's still largely true.
Looking back at Christmases in my childhood I remember some wonderful presents, but among the most magical was a dollar bill.
That was a long time ago, back when a dollar was serious money. It could buy four paperback books, or enough steak to feed the whole family. And oh, what a kid could do with it!
You had to plan carefully how you were going to spend it, because there were so many things you could get for only a nickel or dime or a quarter: an egg full of silly putty you could shape and throw and bounce off the wall; a slinky; a yoyo, good for hours of serious play as you tried to master the basics and special tricks like walking the dog.
You could buy a Pez dispenser and enough Pez candies to give you a bellyache, and still have enough money left over to buy coloring books or paper dolls. (Anyone who knows me now would not believe how much fun I had putting elegant skirts and blouses and dresses on those perfect cardboard cutout women.)
A dollar bought me miniature looms for weaving pot holders, and little tube devices with pegs; you'd wrap yarn around the pegs and with a crochet hook you could make miles of little knitted wool tubes. And of course for a dollar you could get paints and crayons and chalk and those silly blunt scissors. We'd spend hours drawing and cutting and pasting, making art that might not have looked much like the real world, but that satisfied us immensely.
My brother would use his dollar for bottles of enamel to paint his model planes and cars, or modeling clay to build the landscape for his train set, or little train stations or crossing signs or bits of track. A dollar bought him complete sets of baseball cards, or several issues of Mad Magazine.
You could get a deck of cards for a quarter, good for hours of fun, playing all the different kinds of solitaire, or bloodthirsty games of Slap (for which my sister cultivated sharp pointy fingernails). My mother and I had a deal: after dinner every night we'd play cards, and the loser would do the dishes (unless my mother lost).
I got to wondering if a kid today could have anywhere near as much fun for a dollar, so I spent some time at discount stores looking at price tags. And you know what? Even now, a dollar can be magic.
For 96 cents you can buy glitter yarn, for 20 cents, colorful squares of felt. Fifty cents buys an embroidery hoop, 28 cents a skein of embroidery floss. For 97 cents you can get glue-on glitter, for 97 cents, packs of paint brushes. 33 cents gets you artificial flowers with twisty stems that can twine around your hair or clothing. You can still get a pack of colored pipe cleaners for a buck.
Even now a dollar is good for drawing pads, markers, crayons, paste, coloring books and special, extra wide "sidewalk chalk." You can get packs of stickers, in all designs, from stars and letters to Disney creations and Barbie. A kid could go fishing, dirt cheap, with bulk spinner bait, two for a dollar, or with fishing hooks or sinkers for 97 cents. Of course you can't get a cap gun for a dollar any more, but you can still get a nice supply of caps. A buck can buy you hours of viewing pleasure, from a birdseed ball or bits of scenery for a fish tank. Sometimes, if you're lucky, you can even get a goldfish for a dollar.
What you can't get for a dollar, of course, is pretty much anything advertised on Saturday morning cartoon shows. The cheapest of Barbie dresses is $1.37, and anything with Barney or Disney characters costs more.
But you know what? The things kids can still buy for a buck are things that help minds and hearts and bodies grow. They're things kids can imagine with, master their bodies and their worlds with. What they create will make them feel proud and competent.
By all means, get your kids some of the toys they've asked for. But you might also give them a dollar. Their imaginations will do the rest.
NOTE: My thinking is always a work in progress. You could mentally insert all my columns in between these two sentences: "This is something I've been thinking about," and "Does this make any sense to you?" I welcome your thoughts. Please send your comments about these columns to: marylaine at netexpress.net. Since I've written a lot of these, some of them many years ago, help me out by telling me which column you're referring to.
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