When I was nine years old I went through a phase typical for a young girl of the 80’s. I went through a penguin phase.
A whole shelf in my room was dedicated to my collection of tuxedoed birds. I had penguin figurines, art prints, mugs, post cards, I even saved an old styrofoam cup from a penguin-themed frozen yogurt shop. Gross, I know, but I was nine, and obsessed.
It was during this phase that my paternal grandfather, Grandpa Dick, drove down from eastern Washington to visit us for Christmas. Since he hadn’t bought me a Christmas gift yet (being a single guy in his 60’s and not aware of the tastes of a nine-year-old girl), it was decided that he would take me to the mall to pick something out.
Just him, and me.
This sort of outing with Grandpa Dick hadn’t happened before in my nine years of life. Whenever he came to visit, he’d usually spend most of his time out golfing, or closed up in the guest bedroom emerging only for important events, like dinner, or breakfast. Grandfather-granddaughter activities weren’t generally on the agenda during his stays.
I don’t remember much from our shopping excursion that day, except for the part when we were walking through the department store and I spotted it.
It was the item of my nine-year-old dreams: it was a penguin clock.
The whole clock was in the shape of the bird, and the red clock hands were in the middle of his white belly. I think it was even wearing a red bow tie. It was perfect.
I turned to Grandpa Dick and told him that this was it. This was what I wanted for Christmas.
He picked it up, looked it over, and said these words that still ring in my ears:
“I’m not buying this.
This is a piece of crap,”
followed by something that sounded like “grumble grumble grumble.”
The next thing I remember is calling home in tears, requesting that someone come pick me up.
Unfortunately this incident went on to define my relationship with Grandpa Dick. Not because I held a grudge about the penguin, but because our differences were just too great to be breached.
I was a sensitive, shy, creative little girl. He was outgoing, pragmatic, calculating. We didn’t see eye to eye. And neither one of us were willing to try to bridge that gap.
His annual visits continued as normal. We would chat cordially in the kitchen for a few minutes after his arrival, pass each other in the hallways as he was heading back to his guest cave. Never any bonding of any sort, definitely never any shopping trips.
Last fall Grandpa Dick passed away at the age of 89. He had developed throat cancer, and complications from treatments led to his passing. Thankfully my dad was able to fly up to Washington in enough time to see him and be by his side.
I often think of my infamous Grandpa Dick shopping story when I’m out shopping with my own kids. If I find myself shunning something they want, deeming it worthless or cheap, I remember to bite my tongue. It doesn’t mean I’m necessarily going to buy it for them, or not try to teach them about quality. But I’m reminded not to grumble.
A few weeks ago, my dad called me over to tell me something.
“I have some good news for you,” he started, smiling and holding a rectangle piece of paper.
“Grandpa Dick was a pretty good money manager, and he wanted you to have this from his estate.”
My dad then handed me a check. And the amount on it,
Now that I think back on the characteristics of Grandpa Dick’s life, I can see clues to how he was good with his finances. He owned a duplex in his retirement years, living in half of it and renting out the other half for income. We already know that he espoused a belief in only buying quality goods, whether it shattered a little girl’s dreams or not. And for many, many years, he drove the same gold 1973 Mercedes.
He retired at 59, and supported himself from that moment on. He was very independent, never needed any help from any of his kids.
I too, am trying to be a good money manager. Crawling out from debt, building up savings, looking into investments, buying quality goods…being stingy, maybe, at times.
Maybe Grandpa Dick and I shared some common ground after all.
A few weeks ago I transferred his entire gift to our credit card debts, then our recent eBay sales knocked off the last $500. So now, for the first time in our married lives, both of our cards sit at zero.
But don’t think I’ll be packing up the blog and calling it quits with this news. Our credit cards were just the tip of our debt iceberg. And though life’s fortunate twist has pushed us past our first goal a little early, we still have a very long way to go.
We have a car loan, student loans, home equity loan (with a very good explanation), and retirement accounts needing lots of attention. We’re still tallying up the totals of these debts, having pushed them aside until now. But I can tell you, the amount won’t be pretty.
Plus, I still have stuff to sell, and other ideas for making money. This is just the beginning.
So Grandpa Dick didn’t get me that penguin clock when I was nine. I don’t think he gave me anything for Christmas that year. But I think he’s given me the better gift.
And I’m going to make it count.