Benjamin and the paper trail.
Benjamin licked his lips as dinner roasted in the oven. Tonight he and Oma were having chicken and string beans, with apple streusel for dessert. A feast! He wished Oma would hurry home.
As he stirred the beans, a knock rattled the front door. "I need to talk to you, Mrs. Levine," a voice called out.
Ben opened the door, and there stood Sheriff Leon.
"Where's your grandmother?" the sheriff asked, peering inside.
"She walked across town to the Grady house, sir."
"Hmm, that's strange. I talked to Mrs. Grady less than an hour ago." Sheriff Leon squinted at the candles on the table. "Looks like you're having a fancy meal. Like it's a special occasion." He took off his hat. "You're just a boy, Ben. But if I ask you something straight out, will you give me an honest answer?"
The sheriff cleared his throat. "Did your grandmother pay off the mortgage today?"
"Yes," Ben answered proudly. The Depression had made times tough, but he and Oma worked hard. They had reason to hold their heads high.
"Well, here's the situation. Mrs. Grady's fur coat is missing. Your grandmother does laundry and cleaning at the Grady house, and today she paid off her mortgage." He twisted the brim of his hat. "Mrs. Grady suspects your grandmother took the coat and sold it."
The accusation hurt Ben more than a slap would. "That's not true! She paid off the mortgage with money we saved."
Sheriff Leon sighed. "Where's the paper trail?"
"What do you mean?"
"Papers, receipts, passbooks," the sheriff said. "Documents proving where the money was saved. Look, I know many people distrust banks these days. If your grandmother saved her money somewhere else, I need to see proof."
Benjamin stared at the floor, chewing his lip and thinking of the evenings Oma carefully wrote the numbers on tablet paper. He'd drawn the map on the back of that paper. This was their paper trail, but it didn't prove she hadn't stolen the coat.
He thought of their hard work and remembered Oma saying, "All we can do is the best we can do."
Ben sighed. "The best I can do, Sheriff, is to show you the records we keep."
He hurried into Oma's room and returned with a book on gardening.
When he opened it, a piece of tablet paper fluttered out.
On one side of the paper was a long list of words and numbers. Ben read some aloud. "June 5, sold four dozen eggs to the diner. 80 cents. June 7, cleaned Miss Smith's attic and cellar. $1.60." Ben handed the paper to the sheriff. "It's all there. The produce from our garden. Errands I ran and chores I did. Laundry and cleaning Oma did."
Sheriff Leon turned over the paper. "What's this?"
"My map." Ben led him to the worktable on the back porch and picked up a canning jar still covered with dirt. "This jar is our outside bank. We buried the money in it, out in the garden at the end of the third row of carrots. See the rabbit I drew holding a carrot and the number 3?"
The sheriff was surprised. "Every day you dug up the jar, then buried it again?"
Ben shook his head. "Once a week we dug up the outside bank. Until then, we kept the money in the inside bank, the bean jar in the pantry."
"But what about Mrs. Grady's fur coat?"
"You should ask Mr. Grady," answered Oma from the doorway. "He hired me to mend the lining and clean up the fur. I promised to keep it a secret for his wife's birthday, and I delivered it just now. Mrs. Grady was very pleased. Embarrassed, but pleased." Oma smiled politely at the sheriff. "Thanks for stopping by to straighten this out."
As they waved good-bye, Ben said, "I showed him the map and the jar."
Oma patted his shoulder. "Sheriff Leon was only doing his job, and you were right to help him."
She withdrew coins from her pocket: four nickels, two dimes, and three quarters. "This is what I earned fixing the coat. After dinner, let's update the map."
"What for, Oma?"
Her eyes twinkled. "I think we need to add another outside bank. One for school supplies. A smart boy like you will need a lot of tablets and books."
What Was the Great Depression?
The Great Depression, which lasted for much of the 1930s, was a time of severe economic hardship. Many people couldn't find jobs, and many banks closed. People looked for new ways--and places--to save money.
Every penny counted! Read "Waste Not, Want Not" on HighlightsKids.com.
Art by Logan S. Kline