We little girls in that town spent many of our warm-weather afternoons sitting on quilts spread out under trees, sewing doll clothes for little eight-inch-tall dolls that were the then-equivalent of Barbies. And we had a thriving economy based on two "currencies": cloth scraps, and little boxes.
I was poor in that economy, because my mother didn't sew. The other girls had wonderful cloth scraps, whole stacks of them, in lovely fabrics, neatly trimmed all the way around by pinking shears and then folded. Not large scraps, ever, because their mothers knew how to lay out patterns on fabric so that almost nothing was left over. But they were beautiful scraps, from sewing school dresses and pinafores and shirts and blouses and nightgowns, and I lusted after them. My scraps tended to be cut by me, raggedly [we didn't have any pinking shears at my house], from worn-out underwear and worn-out pajamas, and the other girls -- entirely justifiably -- made fun of them. I will never forget the afternoon when I was able to bring along a whole plastic raincoat, in a red-and-blue plaid, and I cut it into pieces and gave a share to everybody and we were all able to make raincoats for our dolls; in all my life, I have rarely felt as powerful as I did that day.
The other girls did elaborate trades in those scraps. "I'll give you this piece with the little rosebuds, if you'll give me those three pieces with the blue stripes." "I'll trade you this piece that has the lace on it for that piece of blue velveteen you've got." Like that. If you had a scrap that was pleated, and especially if it was accordion-pleated, you had real leverage. I almost never had anything to trade, but I was fanatically interested in the trades all the same.
And then there were the boxes. Boxes for keeping the scraps in. Boxes for keeping bits of lace and ribbon and rickrack in. Boxes for keeping buttons in. Boxes for keeping pins and needles and spools of thread in. They couldn't be just any old kind of boxes. They had to be small white gift boxes -- or, the exact analog of a one-hundred-dollar bill, they had to be cigar boxes. Having cigar boxes was real wealth, and only one or two of the group ever had one.
Every one of us girls knew, down to the last tiny white button, what every one of the other girls had. We could recite aloud the list of each girl's holdings.
At the end of every month, we added begging to our economic activities. We went all together to the drygoods store -- a place where change was made by putting money into mysterious containers that ran around the ceiling on equally mysterious tracks -- and we begged the clerks to give us their empty boxes. This was the one time when I shone, and I suspect it was the reason the girls let me be part of their sewing group in spite of my dismal inventory of dingy scraps; I was a much more skilled beggar than any of the others were. I was a "fancy talker," and I could wangle more boxes than anybody else, so the others stayed out of my way and let me do the wheedling. Often I was able to get us a whole big grocery bag full of beautiful little white boxes. And then we'd go back to the quilts under the trees and negotiate to divide up the loot; that was the one time when I had something worth trading. Although the drygoods store clerks made it very clear -- sternly -- that they were giving the boxes to all of us, I was the one who had them in my possession, and that gave me a certain amount of temporary control of the box market. I'd trade three fine boxes for a scrap of plaid gingham that I'd wanted forever; I'd trade one nice deep box for a foot-long piece of flowered hair ribbon.
As for the boys.... They had an equally active economy. Theirs was based on marbles.