If you know me, you knew my grandmother whether or not you had the opportunity to meet her in person.
That’s because there’s hardly a day goes by that I fail to quote her on some tidbit of wisdom, things I call “Grannyisms.” My father’s mother, who we all called “Granny,” had a tremendous influence on my life. Hattie Lois Aldridge not only contributed a great deal to my values and beliefs, but she did likewise for anyone she came in contact with. She appeared hard on the outside about “what the world was coming to,” but generous to a fault on the inside.
She never drew a paycheck in her life that I know of, but managed the meager earnings of my grandfather to run a household and raise a child. Funny thing is, she always had more money than those who thought they were rich.
She only worried about two things. “Sit down, I’ll put on some coffee and fix something to eat,” was always her first concern. She wanted to be sure you weren’t going to leave her house hungry.
The other thing she made sure of was that you left her house with money in your pocket. “Here,” she would tell me when I was a youngster, extending her hand with a dollar bill in it. Then she would look around and touching her finger to her lips, she would say, “Shhh, don’t tell anybody.”
As I grew older, she continued to ask, “You need any money? I don’t want you to run out of money.”
Maybe that came from living through the depression, or maybe she was simply generous to a fault. “Neither a borrower nor a lender be,” was the advice offered by Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I doubt Granny knew who Polonius was, or what Shakespeare had to do with anything important to her. However, she subscribed to the same principle. I’m betting that not one financial institution ever earned the first cent’s worth of interest from her. More often than not, if someone really needed something, she simply gave it to them. However, these little donations were not free. With them came a lecture on the value of a hard-earned dollar.
“Money doesn’t grow on trees,” she would say as she offered money to anyone in genuine need. “You need to save some for a rainy day.”
She was a giver, but when she knew genuine need wasn’t at stake, she leaned toward the lending side. The first time I learned applicable lessons from her on financing was when she loaned me the money to buy my first car, a ’51 Chevrolet purchased for the princely sum of $250.
After digging through her many purses she called “pocketbooks” stuffed here and there, she pulled a roll of money out of one and counted out $250. The next thing that came out of the black purse was a little black book. She turned the pages until she found a blank one and carefully wrote the date and the amount of money.
“You can pay me twenty-five dollars a month,” she said. “Can you do that?”
“Sure,” I said. “’I can do that.” And make payments I did as Granny meticulously recorded every single payment and the date in the little book until the balance was down to zero. She charged no interest, but made a point of noting how much the interest would have cost me had I borrowed the purchase price of the old car from the bank. “Take care of the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.” That scene and similar admonitions were repeated a few more times when I was younger, each time with a lecture about the value of hard work and “taking care of your money.”
Every time, she searched pocketbooks, dresser drawers and coat pockets to find a roll of bills—places money should not have been stashed.
“Granny,” I asked once, “Why don’t you put some of that in the bank?”
“Don’t need ‘em,” she quipped “Besides,” she said one afternoon while searching a dresser drawer, “After I’m gone, I’m going to sit up there, look down and laugh because y’all won’t throw away one scrap of paper until you’ve looked through it.”
Truth is, it did take several days following her funeral to search everything. Hat boxes, shoe boxes, greeting card boxes, envelopes, purses, pocketbooks, photo albums, letters, books. Nothing escaped the search, but you know what? Not one red cent was found. Not a single penny.
We all chuckled about the thought of her laughing at us all right, because she knew she wasn’t leaving anything behind. There was no money in the house when she died in October of 1993. All she left behind were the lessons she tried to teach us about how to manage money.
I miss my Granny, but am never without an opportunity to recall one of her “Grannyisms.” Don’t know that she ever said this for sure, but I credit her with it because she lived it every day. “If you really want to feel rich, just count all the things you have that money can’t buy.”
Adapted from a column published in the Naples Monitor September 8, 1999