I Wuz Just thinking: Nickels and Dimes
February 26, 2023
Betty Mahurin Baker
I can’t help but think about the days back during my childhood when nickels and dimes meant a good time for us all.
I was just cleaning out my purse and shaking out the change, mostly nickels and dimes. My thoughts repeated those words – nickels and dimes.
“Nickels and Dimes” was the song Dolly Parton sang about a little girl who played her guitar and sang songs on the street corner in the evenings while those passing by tossed their coins of nickels and dimes. They enjoyed her music and she sang of her dreams. She was so thankful for their nickels and dimes that she wrote and sang this song for them after she made it “big time”.
I remember in the 1950s, going to the local Griffins grocery store and paying five cents for a Pepsi-cola, five cents for a candy bar, and ten cents for a loaf of bread.
The Texan Theatre, where we watched our favorite cowboy movies, cost nine cents each. We would hand the clerk a dime, and she gave us back a penny, which was used in the gumball machine.
The pay telephones cost a nickel for a local call and ten cents for a long-distance call. Each coin made a different “cling.” so the operator knew the exact coinage that had been dropped into the hanging black box. Customers would wonder how the operator could “see” if it was a nickel or a dime that had been paid.
Ten cents for a game of dominoes was the amount each player gave my daddy to occupy their idle time in his place of business, Herb’s Dominoes.
People worked hard for those nickels and dimes that were used to support their families.
I remember one such man who worked hard to support his wife and six children. As far as I know, he was the only one who worked the ball games and the city streets selling his wares – for nickels and dimes.
This man of German heritage learned the art of hard work, perseverance, trading, or peddling while growing up on the Cherokee Indian reservation in Oklahoma.
He and his wife moved to East Texas, and he sold tamales from his mule-drawn buggy. “Lightning,” the mule, pulled that buggy for miles in the Greggton community.
After “Lightning” the mule passed away, George Sherman Stevenson used a bicycle for transportation when he peddled his products of ice cream and candy for nickels and dimes.
He made a box with a wide leather strap that hung around his neck, holding his products. He divided the box into two units, one with dry ice to keep the ice cream cold and the other portion for holding his roasted peanuts.
George, “Popsicle Pete”, would ring a little bell so the children would hear him coming and have their nickels and dimes ready to make a tasty treat purchase.
After a day of peddling his bicycle and peddling his sweets, he returned home to build a fire in the old wood stove where bricks were placed to maintain the correct temperature for roasting the peanuts. He then bagged the nuts for easy tossing at the ball games for nickels and dimes.
In the evening and after the peanuts were roasted, George washed his white shirt and dress pants in boiling water on the stovetop so they would be clean the next day. He carefully ironed them as he kept his clothes immaculate.
I remember “Popsicle Pete” climbing up and down the stands at the R.E. St. John Memorial stadium selling and tossing his home-roasted peanuts for nickels and dimes.
Popsicle Pete is also remembered for his Cushman scooters. He owned four during his time of driving through the streets of Kilgore.
“Popsicle Pete” or “Lightning” as he was also called, passed away at the age of 80 in 1978, leaving kids and adults with memories of him in his German type flap cap, his little bell, his mule and buggy, his bicycle, his Cushman scooters, the candies, and ice cream as well as his roasted peanuts…all for nickels and dimes…as I wuz just thinking.