TWO BITS (a short story)

Two bits, a quarter, five nickels, two dimes and a nickel, twenty-five pennies. About 1935 I had my first clue what money was about. Two bits in the pocket was a wealthy child. That coin measured value in my corner of the world. When I can first recall what money was all about, two bits was the standard mark of what anything of importance was either worth or cost. When the lawn was mowed(with a reel mower), under great duress and long after the grass was so high I could hardly push the old mower; I was given the princely sum of two bits. When an allowance was the reward for keeping up with chores, toting wood or coal, raking leaves, and feeding dogs, reward was two bits. Birthdays brought two bits from Grandma Sutton and Christmas was eight bits in the form of a silver dollar. At age eleven in 1940, daddy decreed no more hanging out in the neighborhood. Time for a summer job. Choices were slim for many but I was employed as "gopher", as in go for whatever was needed at Sutton's store. Pay was two bits an hour. Quite a few teenage black boys would caddy at the Kinston Country Club to earn spending money. Some decided on self-employment. Put a shoe shine box together, and hawked their services Saturdays on downtown Queen Street and charged ten cents for black or brown shines and two bits for "saddles". Great hours/big money.

Good grooming was two bits, a shave or haircut at the Hotel Kinston Barber Shop. Green's on Gordon Street was cheaper at fifteen cents but Mr. Mills at the Hotel used electric clippers. I opted for his higher overhead to remove what's overhead without the pull of hand clippers.

For a sweet tooth, two bits made great mileage. BB bats, Kits, Mary Janes, and Blony bubble gum were just pennies a piece at Woodard Daughety's, Grocerteria, or one of the dime stores. Carolina Theater was just ten cents for admission, five cents for popcorn, five cents for the drink and change left for a stop at Roses for penny candy after the show. Two bits meant more than twenty-five pieces of penny candy when you bought the "twofers". Bill Jenkins Soda Shop back of Harry Bland's Texaco station would create a mean milk shake for two bits or a double scoop vanilla ice cream cone with a squirt of chocolate syrup for fifteen cents. Big time event to hoist your skinny butt onto one of those red vinyl upholstered polished chrome barstools at Hood's drug store, order a cone, lick just the drips. Make it last -not knowing when the next quarter could burn a hole in the pocket. Just ten cents on Sundays would satisfy the want of a Coke and pack of cheese Nabs at the Hotel Kinston soda shop between Methodist Sunday School and Church.

During the thirties and forties, Paramount Theater played Hollywood's finest seven days a week. For two bits a kid could spend two hours in someone else's life. Realize there was a big world outside of Kinston. 'Course, part of the fun was to sit down front, raise a little hell, get an usher mad enough to threaten stopping the film, but settled for giving us a scolding. Trick was to see how far we could push him, before one or more of us would be headed for the lobby. May be why some of us don't recall some of the old flicks that come up on cable TV.

Another fond "two bit" memory was the hamburgers at Ferris' drive-in on West Vernon. As a lover of great burgers, I've sampled some memorables. Will never forget though Helen at Shady's pulling the stainless container of fresh hamburger from the old refrigerator, hand-forming a patty, and dropping it on the griddle to an eruption of smoke. She'd smack it flat with a spatula while the mouthwatering odor of searing meat filled the air. A squirt of ketchup, a dollop of mustard, and one of relish on a toasted roll with a bottle of orange Crush (remember the brown ribbed bottle and the real orange taste) and that was lunch for two bits and a nickel. Top notch when you didn't have to eat vegetables at home.

When boys got to dating age and realized there was more to do than shooting BB guns, we knew that saving "two bits", "four bits", "six bits", or a dollar would get you scrunched down in a seat at the Paramount theater with your main "squeeze". Probably another reason I can't recall a "flicker flashback" shown on the Hallmark channel. Palmer Sugg stuck to the shooting game though he's packing higher caliber guns these days.

Seems fitting that the U.S. Mint would decide on honoring this remarkable denomination with new coinage and reminding many of us of earlier times, good times.

Two bits was easy to figure...wouldn't it be nice...

-- Mickey Sutton('47), Dec. 2004