We were very poor during the Great Depression. Although Mother managed so skillfully with what she earned that I never felt oppressed. I knew we were poor, though, because some Fridays when we wanted to go to the movies, as was our custom, we didn't have the two dimes we needed for admission. Once, I remember searching under the cushions on the sofa and finding a stray coin to eke out admission.
Buying school books was a financial crisis in our household. The state did not pay for books then. One year, Mother had thought she had survived the crisis. School was well under way, when I learned I needed another dollar for a music book. Mother had to wait for pay day to give it to me and, when she did, I lost it on the way to school.
Waves of guilt still flow over me when I recall how I felt when I discovered what I had done. I didn't tell anyone. The crime was too great. I just lived with it day and night. I don't know how long this lasted, but it must have been several weeks. It was forever to me. My teacher asked me for the money at intervals, and I always said that my mother didn't have it yet.
Finally, my teacher wrote Mother a note about the money. I knew what was in the note, but I was an obedient child and, although often in trouble, I did what was expected of me when I understood and could.
I left the note on the table and went skating so I would not be home when Mother read it. What a miserable afternoon that was! I kept moving because I felt worse when I was standing still, but moving didn't really help. My weeks of sleepless nights worrying over the lost dollar had taken their toll, and I was in bad shape. I didn't know how I could face my mother when she knew what I had done.
Mother called me home and I had to face whatever punishment she might devise. I could not imagine an adequate punishment for such carelessness and deceit.
"What does this note mean?" Mother asked. "I sent the dollar for this music book a long time ago."
"I know," I replied, "but I lost it on the way to school."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Mother asked.
"I couldn't," I said. "I was too ashamed. I didn't mean to be so careless. It was just gone when I got to school. I couldn't find it, and I didn't know what to do."
"So this is what has been bothering you," Mother said. "It's alright, Debby. Come here!" As she folded her arms around me, I sobbed and sobbed all the tears I couldn't cry through all those weeks of guilt.
She took me downtown to a drugstore and bought me chocolate soda, the first one I ever had. It was delicious, of course, but not nearly as wonderful as the warm, tender feeling I had inside with that burden of guilt erased.