The sixty-cents lesson that has lasted a lifetime
By Sid Pierce, Reed Springs, Special to the Times
Editor's note: This is one of the stories to be included in the personal memoir now being assembled by Ozark County native Sid Pierce, a Navy veteran, retired teacher and Branson sound technician who for many years traveled the world with country music recording artist Roy Clark. His dad, the late Herman Pierce (1922-1994), served as Ozark County Sheriff for 20 years.
My folks introduced the concept of saving money to me at the early age of eight. On our weekly trips to the feed store, I would normally receive a dime to spend on a bottle of "pop" and a candy bar or a bag of chips. (Yes, you could get both for a dime. Add a penny for the tax, and a kid’s next meal was ruined.)
About a month before the annual Steel Bridge Picnic, also known as the Tecumseh Picnic, my folks would encourage me to not spend the entire dime but to save a portion so I’d have some money to spend at the picnic.
Now, the picnic wasn’t really a picnic; in reality, it was a carnival: rides, games and concession stands with popcorn, candy apples and my favorite, cotton candy!
Just the smell of cotton candy today takes me back to that era.
Going anywhere was exciting in those days. Country folks just didn’t run to town as they do now. We went to the Luna Schoolhouse, a one-room school that also served as a community building on Saturday nights for square dances and pie suppers as well as church on Sunday mornings.
Occasionally we would visit neighbors in the evenings – and always had cake and coffee before returning home. Back then, it seemed like folks always had desserts at the ready in case of "company," but if you paid a visit to someone unexpectedly, of course the visitor would bring a cake as well. Music parties hosted at people’s homes were another form of Saturday entertainment.
However, the annual picnic was a big event each year, and people who didn't travel much would come from all over the area to enjoy the gathering.
Leaving the house and arriving during daylight hours allowed our family to survey the attractions. The adults spent time catching up with neighbors they hadn’t seen in a while. As a young lad, I had never heard of fast food, so a corn dog was a unique treat. As the sun set, the picnic took on a mystical feeling. The music from the rides seemed to get louder, and the lights on the rides and concession stands cast an eerie glow.
My dad asked me how much money I had saved, and I told him I had a quarter in my pocket and it sure needed spending. Mom had given me a dime to go with my quarter that afternoon before dad had quit working for the day.
Dad surprised me by giving me another quarter to match the one I already had. I didn’t mention that Mom had given me the dime, and neither did she. Gosh! Sixty cents! That’s the most money I’d ever had at one time. I was rich! And I had no intention of taking any of it home, either.
First I got me some cotton candy. It tasted so good! But I had as much of it on my hands and face as I consumed. Mom came to the rescue, bringing out a Kleenex and promptly dabbing it with her tongue for the spit bath I was accustomed to.
Then Dad told me I could go by myself and spend the rest of my fifty cents on whatever I wanted. I’d never been by myself in a strange place before. Nonetheless I eagerly took off on my adventure, all by myself.
After looking at everything offered, I decided on a game with some awesome prizes. I really thought I would just play the game and take home that larger-than-life teddy bear on the top shelf – easy as one, two, three.
The man working the game explained it to me and reassured me that the teddy bear was as good as mine. A dime for a teddy bear! It just didn’t seem fair, but oh well…
After the game, the man had my dime, and I had nothing to show for it. He encouraged me to try again, promising, "You’re bound to win it this time.”
Another dime was spent with the same results. This went on until he had all my money, and all I had was empty pockets and a broken heart. The man encouraged me to find my parents and get some more money, musing that the teddy bear really should go home with me.
In our conversation, I mentioned to him that my dad was the new sheriff and he wasn’t about to give me more money and would probably be mad at me for losing my money on his game.
The man got very serious. “You dad is the sheriff?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied solemnly.
“You know your dad has put some good people in jail, don’t you?” he continued. Then he added, “Your dad isn’t really one of the good guys like you might think.”
I got quiet. He told me I had lost the game fair and square, but because he was a nice guy he would let me choose a prize off the bottom shelf. I picked a little toy that was obviously junk.
When I found Dad, I recounted what had happened and told him what the man had said about him.
He got very serious and asked, “Where is this game?”
I led the way back to the game, where the man was busy with other kids who were trying to win the big teddy bear. Dad stepped into the shadows, hidden from view, and motioned for me to get behind him. He watched awhile before he emerged and walked up to the man and introduced himself.
“I’m shutting this game down,” Dad announced boldly.
“I guess you might be the sheriff?” the man said. “But you’re not wearing a badge or a gun.”
“Everyone here knows me except those from out of town like yourself,” Dad replied.
“What gives you the authority to shut me down?” the man asked.
“First of all, this is a game of chance, and games of chance are illegal in Missouri. Second, there are three laws I go by: federal law, state law and Ozark County law. I find Ozark County law is the most efficient of the three," explained the sheriff.
“You got to be kidding me!" the man argued. "What gives you the right to make up your own laws?”
“That would be the voters, and if they don’t agree, they'll let me know in the next election. Until then, you’re out of business, understand? Or do we have to continue this conversation in town?” Dad said, becoming even sterner.
“No, sheriff. I understand," the man said as he turned off his lights and dropped a curtain, closing the game.
“One more thing," Dad said. "Give my boy his money back.”
“Sure thing, sheriff.” The man seemed almost happy to comply.
Then Dad walked over to the picnic announcer and asked for the microphone. He told the crowd that anyone who had lost money at the game he had just closed down should go get their money back.
We walked back over to the man and watched as he gave people their money back. He wasn’t very happy about it, but lots of kids were thrilled to have their pockets full again.
On the way home, Dad asked me what I had learned that night. After thinking awhile I said, “You can’t win when you play another man’s game.”
Dad gave a little nod and said, “I think that lesson was worth 50 cents.”
“Sixty cents," I corrected him. "Mom gave me an extra dime.”