My college education was earned one dime at a time.
I was fortunate to be able to attend the university on an academic scholarship supplemented with a government grant. In turn, this was supplemented by my father’s paycheck already stretched to support a family of seven kids. This allowed me to stay at home and use the family car to travel to and from school. Free breakfast and dinner were also part of the package.
Although I never asked, I know things must have been rough for my parents as they raised their many offspring. I am sure, as the days built toward the next paycheck, they were living on their own mere handful of dimes as well.
College was so different in the late seventies and early eighties – certainly nothing like it is today. There were no computers, so all papers had to be constructed on old-school typewriters. These had no “delete” buttons, only messy correction fluid and correction tape. To cut, copy and paste, one literally had to yank out the working draft and start all over. Adding footnotes and page numbers was a nightmare as the typist needed to estimate the amount of space needed at the bottom of the page and continue carefully with the body of the text. Messing up resulted in yanking the paper again from the roller and perhaps saying a few choice words in doing so.
Long nights pounding on my manual typewriter led to bleary-eyed attention to my professors in the morning. Fortunately, coffee could be purchased from a vending machine for a dime. I had no gloves in the winter, so sometimes those ten-cent cups of caffeine doubled as hand-warmers. There were no Starbucks or Dutch Brothers stores in those days. Students today spend far more for their morning wake-up and warming.
Hundreds of hours were spent researching in the university library. There was no Google, and Siri had yet to be born. I was my own search engine. The card catalog assisted me in finding books that could possibly hold at least a nugget of information relevant for the paper I was developing. Another catalog led me to the humongous bound editions of numerous periodicals housed on the building’s fifth floor. Sometimes I would become so entrenched in “surfing” through old magazines from years past that I would forget the time and forget my true purpose for being “in the stacks.”
After I finally found an article that supported my topic, I had to take the heavy volume to one of the copy machines. There was usually a long line of students waiting for access. Some days, the waiting was exacerbated by a printer or two being inoperable. When finally it was my turn at the overheating beast, I began pumping in dimes – one per article page. I’d then take my pile of paper back to a quiet study cubicle and begin highlighting all the ideas I wanted to use within my report. I repeated the process, going through several rolls of dimes, until I was content with the content of my presentation.
A dime could buy a pencil for class. A dime could buy a candy bar between classes. A dime could get another short article copied.
In time, I graduated and became a teacher. I learned to stretch my own meager paycheck. Even as a single man without children initially, I learned that, after bills are paid, very little money remains. Truly, there were days spent scrounging for spare change to help me make it to the next payday.
A dime could buy a package of ramen noodles…
Three decades later, teacher pay has not kept up with inflation. I’ve become an expert at scrounging.
Recently, a student approached my desk holding his hand out. “I found this on the floor,” he began, presenting me with a dime. He laughed and added, “Now you’re rich.”
I laughed as well. Yes, I thought. I am rich.
Copyright, Tim Ramsey, 2017.