Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – May 4, 2004
Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – May 4, 2004 – If there’s anything that is guaranteed to drive my stress level up, it’s sitting down at my desk with my cheque book and a pile of bills. It used to take me a couple of hours to pay my bills every month, but the process is faster now because I make all my payments on-line. A small consolation.
The way I feel about money is directly related to my parent’s history with the “devil’s green”. I grew up in a milieu where money, or a lack thereof, was a constant concern. We were never hungry, cold, without holiday gifts or a home of our own, but money wasn’t wasted and my both parents worked “incredibly” hard.
When I was about five years old I begged my mother to get me a doll’s baby buggy that I’d seen in a downtown store window. I explained to her that my doll, Stephanie wasn’t sleeping well and I knew she’d do much better in that brand new buggy. To put things in perspective, it was 1954, my father earned less that a dollar an hour, his mortgage payment was twenty dollars a month and the baby buggy cost fifty dollars. It was perfectly clear to my parents, but not to me, that Stephanie would have to learn to sleep in a chair. But I’d been with my parents one day when they’d gone to the bank to deposit my father’s pay cheque and I’d seen my mother put money into her wallet. The very real logic of a 5 year old girl on a mission!
We had a sandwich at the lunch counter at Woolworth’s and then my father left to go back to work. My mother and I then walked up the street to Loblaws to go grocery shopping. I was sure if I could drag her past the baby buggy store one more time that I’d be able to convince her to buy it for me. I pulled her by the hand and said I just wanted to “look”. This was patently untrue. We stood outside the store admiring the carriage, while I explained its obvious features, advantages and benefits. Already a little salesperson. My mother nodded and smiled and then suggested that we go on to the grocery store.
I had a five year old total melt-down. I yelled and screamed and kicked the wall of the store and then marched up to a total stranger, tugged on his sleeve and announced at the top of my lungs, “My mother bloody well has money in her purse but she won’t buy me that god damn baby buggy”. (I started to curse when I was three). The man patted my head, smiled at my mother and walked on. Mary strongly suggested that I might like to compose myself and then come with her to the grocery store.
That is my earliest memory of money. There was enough money in our home , but none to spare. My brothers and I got a small allowance in exchange for weekly chores. I was determined to make my own money so I’d have more. I talked my way into my first little neighbourhood summer job when I was eight years old. I weeded the greens of the golf course, at The Bay Motel across the highway from our house, for the princely sum of twenty cents an hour. I worked for eight hours over the week-end, and kept my savings in a little round plastic container my mother had given me. It used to hold dressmakers straight pins. The bottom was blue and top was clear plastic. I could see my fortune mounting inside.
During my teenage years I routinely had a summer job and after university I started to work immediately. I’ve always been extremely responsible with money, able to provide for myself, buy my own home, build a savings account and do some planning for my future. But that doesn’t seem to erase those early associations of money worry. I still have what I call my “Bus Shelter” mentality. In it, Augie, Ziggy and I have lost everything and we’re huddled together in a bus shelter. Even though my logic tells me that will never happen, the “what if” still lurks there in the back of my mind.
My brother Mike used to say that with money the “outgo” was always seemed to be greater than the “income”. So when I sit down at my computer with my fist full of bills, the little voice in my head says, “there may not be enough here”. I was twenty-six when I bought my first house and I had a great system for bills. I just let them pile up in the mailbox. The oil bill in the winter was the worst. It was always high, so sometimes I left it there for days, hoping it would go away. I have revised my bill paying strategy now and I usually sit down about the tenth of the month and do the evil deed.
My income may fluctuate, according to my sales activity, but I’ve grown accustomed to planning in the event of a shortfall. It’s just the way it is in a sales career. I’ve been able to do most things I want to over the years, not necessarily at the exact moment that I would have liked, but in due course. I’m in a position now to support two of my favourite charities and I usually have some loonies in my pocket to give to people on the street.
Today if I wanted to buy that baby buggy for Stephanie, I could so do without a second thought. But in retrospect I’m glad I grew up the way I did. I have a healthy respect for money and what it can do, but my life doesn’t revolve around its accumulation. I tend to be a worrier but that’s part of my personality. I still have “Bus Shelter bill paying” moments, but they are far out-numbered by the days when I feel safe, secure and solvent.