In God We Trust

Jean Shepherd
Jean Shepherd

“In God We Trust All, Others Pay Cash” is the amusing and intriguing title to a Jean Shepherd book.  In case you aren’t familiar with Jean Shepherd, he is best known as the writer and narrator of the movie “A Christmas Story.”  The stories used in the movie were based on Jean’s childhood growing up in Hammond, Indiana (which he calls Hohman) and were taken from several of his books.  He told the stories first on the radio, then in a series of stories for Playboy magazine, and finally collected them into the books.

Those of us that love the movie can see ourselves in the stories Shepherd wrote.  “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash” begins with our favorite story of the Official Red Ryder Carbine Action Two-Hundred Shot Range Model Air Rifle!  Ralph desires this gift beyond all others and obsesses about how to get it.  What child hasn’t dreamed of a toy that seems perfect and yet unobtainable for Christmas?  When you read the story, you can see the scenes from the movie because much of the dialogue is taken word for word from the books.

In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash

Other stories that are found both in the book and in the move include a chapter on Grover Dill (the bully), Dad’s war with the furnace, and The Lascivious Special Award (the leg lamp).  Additional stories in the book capture Ralph at older stages of his life – going out on a blind date, playing in the high school marching band, and Fourth of July fireworks.  My favorite chapter is one where Ralph, trying to impress an English teacher on whom he has a crush, finds a book in his parent’s bedroom and writes a book report on it.  He is eager to turn the report in because the book had little print and lots of words he didn’t understand.  After the teacher reads it, she quizzes him about his understanding of the book.  I laughed out loud as I read it.  The title of the chapter is “Miss Bryfogel and the Frightening Case of the Speckle-Throated Cuckold.”

Jean Shepherd writes in a style similar to Garrison Keillor.  He is witty with a dry sense of humor.  The stories are set in the 1930’s and 1940’s and give a nostalgic, but realistic view of what it was like to grow up in a steel-town during the depression.  I enjoyed the book as much as I love the movie and enjoyed reading more of Ralph’s stories.  Pick the book up at the library and add it to your Christmas reading or get it as a gift for someone who loves the movie.