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Friday, 07 March 2014

What's a Half Dime

By Clifford Rothband

I guess it was 1956. My dad had a single-bay, Gulf gas station on the corner of Flatlands and Pennsylvania Avenues in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn next to the junk yards and leading to the land fill.

We had a Nedick's hot dog stand, a Carvel Soft Ice Cream and a archery range on the diagonal corner.

After school and on weekends, I manned the two gas pumps. Checked the oil and washed the windshields hoping for a tip or a positive word from my Dad since he couldn't even afford to pay me.

If I sold a quart of oil, usually bulk oil from a 55 gallon drum pumped into a used quart can, we doubled the profit. Say the bulk oil cost 10 cents a quart and sold for 20 cents in a bottle; in a used new can it sold for 40 to 50 cents a quart. Big business for a 12-year-old kid.

One day a customer pulls in and says, "Gimme a bucks worth of hi-test." About five gallons in those days. He hands me 10 dimes as payment.

That evening, closing out the cash register, my Dad finds that one coin is a "half dime" - an old coin made before nickels were struck. My uncle made me feel even more ridiculous for not scrutinizing the money. Hey, I am just a oversized 12-year-old doing a man's job.

Now you might wonder how does this fit into the scheme of things, or what life is all about? Those little things that happen to all of us who think. That co-incidence, unexplained event, that quirk of nature when an incident occurs that we can't explain, or proof that a super natural power might exist.

Well, years later after my father died, I found that pristine "half dime" in a desk drawer. Something to show the grandchildren? Second thought, let's see what it is worth on a internet coin auction.

The company appraises and grades the coin. They auction it and keep a percentage - reasonable try since it can't even buy me a Yoo-hoo or a Lotto ticket.

Well, that coin, considering inflation, considering the embarrassment and storage space brought me back well over $500 cash.

Now the hard part. I obviously couldn't even explain to my dead father about the pay back. In due consideration and much thought, I compared this lesson to my brief military experience in Vietnam when, rather than a Welcome Home, we vets were denied jobs, labeled baby killers or postal Rambos.

We were taught that our value was based on what others thought of us. That my past equals my future. That our destiny is controlled by the supernatural. That my own emotions accurately reflect objective reality. That my goal in life is perfection.

Oh, did I just explain Vietnam Syndrome, or PTSD?

Advice, we have come a long way. Be nice, forgiving and offer only positive hope.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


You taught me a powerful lesson today about yesterday's mistakes being tomorrow's opportunities. i will have a brighter outlook on our sons' errors in the future.

Your moving story had further significance for me because I lived near you, and Carvel is still the 'frozen custard' or soft ice cream as it's known here, the ice cream of my dreams. I even remember when they opened.

Very cool. I've never heard of a half-dime.


I want to tell you that I am sorry for the way you Viet Nam heroes were treated by SOME..Not everyone.

Also, I enjoyed your story about the gas station and the half dime. I had never heard of that coin before and I'm glad you were finally able to sell it and make $500.00!

Great story...

Great reads today..I moved to East Flatbush 1967..I grew up west side, like my parents and their parents..62nd & 10th ave...I never heard of the half dime either...I heard of Brooklyn and had taken subway with other kids, all under 14 years old to go to Coney Island as a youth..everything about Bklyn was new to me in 1967..my husband was from Vt and knew less tha me...I remember riding around to find stores or doctors or snow tires, always an adventure...Cansrsie was a place to me like a punch line, bodies were buried there, etc...life is such an adventure, even in the big city...I still meet people who tell me they grew up out here before the many commuter buses and other modes of transit, except cars...neighbors still ask me if I still "go into the city" to work...funny some never go or think it a trip...ten cent creamsicles, yummy..they probably cost 1.50 if they still exist...they were major treat...the ice cream man we knew had a little push wagon with ices too..my kids heard the Good humor nan from block away...they still laugh when visiting and yell, can we get..their kids get quite a kick out of that, can we get? Memory lane for sure...

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