Walking past a liquor store, I spotted a piggy bank made of a beer can in the window. The can was silver and blue, with a bit of red, it said Hamm’s beer and had a slit at the top. I wanted it. It was more exciting to me that a traditional piggy bank. I knew enough English to understand the sign: if I bought a six pack of beer, I could have that bank-can for free.
At home, I talked to my mother about it. My stepfather liked to drink beer and I thought I’d seen him drink Hamms, so I suggested that she give me the money to buy the six pack so I could get that bank. My mother thought nothing of it; in Berlin, she’d sometimes sent me to buy a bottle of beer.
The next day, I set out with a couple of dollars in my pocket. I met my friends on the way and told them I was going to get beer for my dad. They hooted and hollered and tagged along. When we got to the store, they peeked through the screen door while I went inside. I laid my money on the counter and I told the clerk as smoothly as I could that I wanted Hamm’s beer and the ‘piggy’ bank. He must have heard the German accent in my bumbling words because he smiled wide, showing beautiful white teeth. “You have to be 21 years old to buy beer,” he said. That was the moment my friends had been waiting for – they exploded in laughter. It wasn’t mean; I heard a note of admiration.
Later that evening, my stepdad went back to the store with me and bought the six-back. He gave me the bank. And in the next months, I filled it with the unfamiliar coins: pennies, nickels, dimes, even quarters. And sometimes there was what everyone called an “Indian head” nickel.
When we arrived in the United States in 1964, I was almost twelve years old. Everything was different: the coins and bills, the shape and consistency of bread, the size of refrigerators and cars - they were huge! In my next few posts, I am writing about some things that I remember from my first summer in St Paul. This is the second in the series. Read the first here.