I keep thinking about this.
Friday afternoon I cashed a lifetime’s worth of U.S. Savings Bonds. Most of these were birthday and Christmas gifts from my father’s parents, who passed on when I was three and nine. One hundred-dollar bond, issued in 1992, was the first-place prize for winning the Cambridge city spelling bee (first annual).
Total take: $516.83.
This sum represents $450 in face value, plus added interest due to several years of waiting. I have another $50 U.S. bond, and a $500 State of Israel bond from my mother’s parents.
Shortly, then, I will have about a thousand dollars seed money, dowry, estate, etc. It’s going into a sixmonth CD while I figure out some kind of ‘investment strategy.’ Two ideas I’m chewing, whilst holding my shortstack of Benjamins:
1. The child who got these gifts isn’t really here to enjoy them. I grew out of her. I feel like I cheated her: the spelling-bee winner dreamed of buying toys. Now I think of saved money as a housebuying fund. A thousand dollars: ridiculous! Because the child is gone, the enjoyment-value of the sum has diminished. The pleasure to be gotten from serendipitous cash is much lower, especially as I now ‘enjoy’ pricier wants and more pressing needs.
2. This money is pretty much what I have left from my grandparents, besides that child’s hazy impressions of our few visits. My father’s parents died so long ago that I have memories not of my grandmother’s sharp wit but of wearing Mary Helen’s diamond-sapphire set. My mother’s parents existed in a marginally terrifying parallel nursing-home world, with frankly upsetting smells, in poor health, wheelchair-bound, and increasingly addled. I was young enough to be shocked when Grandma would say to my mother, Ruth Ellen, because she was still only ever Mom to me. To finally redeem these little shreds of their separate financial accumulations—it’s quaint, sweet, tragic.
Two further thoughts are prompted:
3. Adult me remembers through the memory-lens of child me. Young Rebecca, who acquired these gifts, also acquired the images and impressions that I inherit. Have the mental deposits doubled in value over the years? Unequivocally, yes. I’m only starting to investigate the lives and personalities of these dear departed, and to mourn how much I miss and have missed them. It’s terribly sad to have just these slim recollections. Cliché (true): I would gladly give up the money if I could know my grandparents. Better: I didn’t realize that in growing up I would lose my (child) chances to enjoy their love and their money. I didn’t know I would grow into someone so utterly different.
4. If money can be traced, like genes, then this money is as interesting in provenance as I am. (Take that as you will.) Allowing for some poetic license, it can be said that the Ennen Five Hundred is the profits from our Pioneer, OH metal-stamping factory. The great midwestern microindustrial family business, where my uncles worked at checking sample sizes and whence my father ‘drove truck’ that long summer of blessed memory, earning a Teamsters card and a nightful of stories. The Goodman Five Hundred was scraped together from the Brooklyn produce stand, the extra five cents skimmed from the shvartsers (cucumbers: one for a dime, two for a quarter), the miles of crinolines that Fanny stitched, immigrant thrift and work-to-the-bone determination. It’s American money, both ways. I’m proud to have it.
The spelling-bee booty is a fitting coda: I, the ultimately privileged grandkid of many noble strivers, makes good, wins big. I inherit and cultivate smarts, savvy, and sheer competitive grit. Meritocracy at last.
I refuse to use any part of this sum to pay any kind of bills.