Hiding the Bail Money

One endless summer day in 1972, as fifteen-year-olds do, I was futzing around in the dining room. My mother was lecturing me on the virtues of not hanging out at the Pizza Shop in the shopping center, a local treasured teenage congregating point.

I recall her words were, “Boys don’t ask girls out on dates who hang around at the Pizza Shop, they know you are always available. You’ll never get a Saturday night date doing that.”

I pondered for a teenage second if that meant I could start dating.

As she was telling me this, my mind started wandering along with my feet. I circled and paced about the dining room, trying to avoid eye contact and trying to keep my mind off the lecture so I could go to the Pizza Shop.

I passed by the soup tureen. The soup tureen, that big honkin’ piece of silver status that never held an ounce of soup in all my days, ever.

I casually lifted the lid up off that big silver baby and Holy Sonny and Cher, inside it was a roll of cash. I later counted it, 500 clams (listen to me, talking like a jaded detective).

I looked at my mom. She was cautiously looking at me. I said, “Wow look at all this money, what is it for?”

Of course my mind was racing. Is she leaving my frumpy step-father? Is she saving for an operation? Is this for me? Are we getting a pool? Can I come back later and peel off a few twenties that she would never ever notice?

Racing I tell you, racing.

She answered with a short finality that meant no more questions, “That’s Uncle Johnny’s bail money, don’t touch it.”

I put the lid back as if it was radioactive and left the room. I had completely forgotten about the Pizza Shop and started walking to the door and outside to sit under the trees in the yard.

Uncle Johnny was a name that evoked danger and darkness. He drove a ’63 Corvette and wrecked it almost every Saturday night. He was wild and reckless and he made stealth trips to—wait for it—Florida.

Go ahead, laugh. Florida was exotic to kids like me in Western Pennsylvania. And what the heck is bail money?

Curious, I rode my Schwinn to the shopping center, past the coveted Pizza Shop and to the library where I looked up in a large dictionary the words “bail money” and “bail.”

A-ha! That wad of cash was there to secure a quick release from jail for reckless Uncle Johnny.

Since this was the 1970s, automatic teller machines hadn’t been invented. Folks always kept cash stashed away in their homes for such, um, emergencies.

Bail money usually is needed at 2:30 a.m. and never during banking hours. Incidentally, the other definition for bail was “a container used to remove water from a boat”– something to save a sinking ship, perhaps? Hmmm.

So I was right! Uncle Johnny was not only scary but somehow illegal! There was something not-quite-right about his trips to Florida. I knew it. He had already seen the inside of a jail, touched criminals. He walked the perp walk, or not, because of bail money.

Was it the very bail money that my mother stowed away in a place nobody ever touches? When did my mother become a bailsman? Talk about your doomsday preppers, she was way ahead of that curve.

The point is, here I am, decades later, sitting on my sunporch writing this while two plumbers dig a massive trench from our house to the gas line. The very gas line that decided to seep and leak gas into the air which I smelled last night and which caused me to make the phone call that started a very expensive chain of events.

My husband was frantic as he walked into the room. The plumbers were smiling too broadly for comfort when they handed him the invoice for the gas line job. I saw his face fall. Big numbers will do that.

I told him not to worry, it’s all under control. He had a quizzical look on his face as I headed towards my mom’s old soup tureen in our dining room, the one I insisted on having after she passed away five years ago.

I had a grin on my face, because I learned early on from my mother to be prepared. I learned to save a little cash in the soup tureen just in case reckless Uncle Johnny gets thrown in jail, or a gas line needs to be repaired.

Bail money is bail money, and this ship won’t sink today.