| June 2011
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By Daniel C Murphy
With 122 years under its belt, Drewes Meat Market, now called Drewes Bros. Meats, is one of Church Street’s oldest institutions. 2009 photo by Daniel C Murphy
My mother was serious as she took a leather pouch from a drawer in our flat on Guerrero Street.
“I want you to take this five-dollar bill and go up to Drewes Meat Market on Church Street, and buy two pounds of lamb for a stew,” she said. “Tell Mr. Dietz to give you some nice cuts. It’s only four blocks to Drewes, so it won’t take you long.”
She wrote a note to the butcher which repeated her instructions, folded the note together with the five-dollar bill, unzipped the leather pouch, and carefully placed both inside.
I was 10 years old, the year was 1946, and meat for lamb stew sold for 50 cents a pound.
My mother handed me the pouch. “Put it in your front pants pocket, and don’t take it out until you get to Drewes,” she said.
“Can I have some money for candy?” I asked. My mother reached for her coin purse and shook the contents into my hand: 85 cents. She said, “Get your self some candy, but bring back the change.” I left the house with a miracle in my pockets: $5.85.
A candy bar was a nickel, whether it was a Hershey, a Big Hunk, or an O’Henry. But my mother had given me 85 cents. Walking down the stairs from our kitchen to Guerrero Street, the extra 80 cents seemed to be mine with every step that I took. I told myself, Mom won’t mind if I treat some friends to candy: why else would she have given me the extra change?
A few steps from my house, I ran into my friend Norman. “Look,” I said, “my mom just gave me 85 cents. Let’s go to Daly’s Grocery, and I’ll treat you to a candy bar.”
While we were eating our candy bars, I took the leather pouch out, and showed Norman the five-dollar bill. We split a third candy bar, then walked up Duncan Street. Halfway up the block, another friend, Jackie, was throwing a ball against a garage door.
“Murph’s got a five-dollar bill, and his mother gave him money to treat us all to candy,” Norman explained to Jackie. “Show him the five-dollar bill, Murph.” I took out the pouch once again and showed the money to Jackie.
“How about a treat for me?” said Jackie.
“Let’s go to Hazel’s and I’ll treat you to whatever you want,” I said.
Soon I was at the head of a parade of neighborhood children which moved along Duncan Street to Hazel’s, the corner grocery at Dolores. Billy McGowan had joined us when he heard the good news, and so had his younger sisters, Mary and Joan. Jack Shroeder came down the stairs from his mother’s flat when he saw the other kids. I showed the five-dollar bill to each new arrival, a ceremony which I had learned to do quickly.
We crowded into Hazel’s, ringing the bell above the front door which told Hazel that customers were waiting. But in the very tinkle of that bell, I wondered if my 85 cents was disappearing too quickly.
“Only penny candy,” I tried to tell my friends, but there were groans of complaint at this new limit. Now, I was a salesman trying to convince the McGowan girls, that the penny wax sombreros, chewable like gum, were quite a wonderful treat.
An hour had passed and I had traveled only one block. The excitement of giving away free candy had worn off, and I now felt a pang of worry. I remembered the proverb that my grandmother recited, “Fools make feasts, and wise men eat them.” I counted my change, which was easy to do, because I now had only a dime and the five-dollar bill.
I’d better hurry and get that lamb for the stew, I told myself, as I started off for Drewes.
Up Duncan, then left at Church Street; two blocks to Drewes. I made the sign of the cross at St. Paul’s Church, and now I stood in front of the butcher shop.
I dug into my pocket for the pouch.
But when I opened it, there was only my mother’s note. The five-dollar bill was gone—vanished, as if it had never existed. No magician could have performed a more perplexing trick than this awful leather pouch.
I searched my pockets again, the panic of the loss making it difficult to think what to do. My only hope was that Mr. Dietz, my friend, would be one of the butchers on duty.
“Hi, Danny,” said Mr. Dietz, when I entered Drewes. “What can we do for you today?”
“Hi, Mr. Dietz. My mother sent me to get two pounds of nice lamb for stew,” I said, handing him the note, “but I lost the five-dollar bill that she gave me to pay for it.” Mr. Dietz was a kindly man, and I hoped that he would have a solution to my problem. Maybe he would agree to give me the lamb for the stew, and the change for the missing five-dollar bill, and I would pay him back through the years. It would be like a secret agreement, a loan, between two old friends. But Mr. Dietz only said, “Danny, this is awful. Your mother is going to be very angry. You’d better walk back the same way you came, and look everywhere for that five-dollar bill.”
Another of my grandmother’s sayings was “Jesus lost and found,” which she repeated while hunting for something lost. It usually worked, but this time, although I said the prayer, over and over, with unusual devotion, the five-dollar bill could not be found. I trudged slowly home to meet my mother.
At the sound of the front door, my mother came to the landing of our second-floor flat. “Where is the lamb for the stew?” she called down the stairs, when she saw no parcel in my arms. “You didn’t lose the meat for the lamb stew?” she said, her voice rising, still not fully understanding the extent of my failure.
“I lost the five-dollar bill,” I said. “I was showing it to some kids, and I don’t know what happened, but when I got to Drewes, I didn’t have the five-dollar bill. I looked everywhere, but it was gone.”
“That was my grocery money for the entire week,” my mother said. “Your father will be home from work in a few minutes. What are we going to have for dinner? You go back and search every foot of ground you traveled today.”
“Mom, I’ve done that. That’s what Mr. Dietz told me to do. And I said ‘Jesus lost and found’ every inch of the way, and I looked and I looked, and I couldn’t find the five-dollar bill. It’s really gone.”
My mother relented a little at this, but finally said, “Well. At least, give me the change from your candy money.”
My heart seemed as flat as the thin dime I handed her. All I had left were two mysteries, neither of which I could ever solve: What had happened to the five-dollar bill? And why had my mother given me 85 cents when a candy bar cost only a nickel?
Daniel C Murphy is a San Francisco attorney who was raised in Noe Valley at the corner of Duncan and Guerrero streets. He currently lives on Church Street only a few blocks from where he was born. “Every school day morning, I walked the blocks from Guerrero Street to St. Paul’s Grammar School on Church Street, so things as they were in those golden days are still vivid in my mind,” he says. An avid writer, Murphy is a past winner of the Ina Coolbrith Poetry Prize. His story “My Victory Garden” appeared in the July/August 2009 Noe Valley Voice.
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