Yes, my father was a penny pincher.
There, I’ve said it, not that it isn’t true even if it was hard to put it into words.
Frankly, he didn’t have much of a choice, even though he made a good salary as a research chemist.
These were the days when most women didn’t work outside of their home, and there were six of us in our immediate family. In addition, my father was the only child of a widow, and he always provided financial assistance to her and my spinster great-aunt, who maintained a separate household of their own.
As the lone male responsible for the well-being of seven women, I’m sure responsibility often weighed heavily on his shoulders.
Still, my sisters and I were always provided with music and dance lessons. We belonged to the Blue Birds and Brownies, and we swam in the pool at our town’s country club.
To someone who had been born in 1923 and lived through most of the depression with no father, our lifestyle must have seemed quite extravagant.
Now don’t get me wrong, Dad wasn’t a Scrooge. In fact, in his own way, he could be quite generous. It was the little things that would get to him.
For instance, when we would go on a trip, every penny was carefully accounted for. Gas mileage was figured in a small spiral notebook that resided in the car’s glove compartment. We girls knew for a fact that he routinely drove a hundred miles or more out of his way to avoid a Dairy Queen. Equally, fine restaurants were not on his radar.
In all fairness, we were traveling before credit cards resided in everyone’s wallets, and none of our family had much money to wire us if difficulties should strike, my parents having bettered themselves.
If the car had broken down or someone had become seriously ill, we would’ve been in trouble on the long road trips that we took. Thankfully, the misfortunes that did come along were relatively minor and miraculously happened fairly close to our home.
There was one incident, though, that still stands out in all of our minds.
We were somewhere outside of Boise, Idaho, when my father pulled into a grocery store parking lot. We always ate cheaply on our trips, and the cooler that was wedged in front of the passenger seat between my knees needed to be restocked.
It was August, and even in Boise it was hot. Dad lowered the drivers’ window and left us, promising to hurry right back.
My nearest sister in age, I being the oldest, had her nose in a book next to me in the middle of the front seat. My mother was wedged in between my two youngest sisters in the back with all of their paraphernalia.
The drivers’ door was unlocked, and out of nowhere appeared an unshaven, unsteady man, who was obviously quite drunk.
“See you folks are from Tennessee.” He leaned his head through the open window, his breath robbing us of our air. “Those Black Hills down there are mighty pretty.”
Even I knew there were no Black Hills in Tennessee, but the cooler between my knees made a quick getaway to run and alert my father to our visitor’s presence impossible.
“I was kind of hoping you could help me out a little.” The man’s gaze never left my mother.
Were we in danger?
Looking back on it, I seriously doubt it. I certainly don’t think that the man had a gun. If he had owned one, I’m quite sure he would’ve pawned it.
On the other hand, he was in no hurry to go anywhere.
I could tell that my mother was discomforted by his presence, but I wasn’t sure that she had any money to give him. Our stash of cash, such as it was, always resided with my father.
Mom reached into her purse, and we all held our breath, including the man whose head was still stuck through the window for which we were all grateful.
Out came a single one dollar bill, which she handed to him.
With a grunt, he took it and left – his mind already on the liquid refreshment it would buy him.
A few minutes later, my father returned.
“Mama gave the man a dollar. Mama gave the man a dollar,” my sisters chanted from the back seat as my mother offered her explanation.
Through it all, my father calmly added ice and colas to the cooler, then handed a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter that was meant for our lunch to my mother. Having replenished our stores, he slid behind the steering wheel and took out the notebook within which he was keeping track of our finances.
Recognizing the seriousness of the moment, my sisters stopped chanting, and a hushed silence descended within the confines of our vehicle.
“Groceries – $1.12,” Dad spoke as he wrote, before he paused and looked around at each of us in turn, his face filled with disappointment. “To a drunk in Boise – $1.00,” he solemnly continued, then replaced the tiny notebook into his shirt pocket.
Having let the side down, we dejectedly retained our silence as we regained the highway and drove along for several miles, allowing my father to forego one of the Aspergums that he routinely chewed while driving on long journeys with the car full of our chatter.
Thankfully, we still had enough money to complete the rest of our trip. I’m not sure that any of us, least of all him, could’ve stood it if we hadn’t.
Years later, Dad’s careful spending allowed both of my parents to enter a comfortable retirement.
My oldest son, Patrick, happened to be staying with them when Dad first stopped working and began the next stage of his life’s journey.
One day, my son asked if he could have a stamp with which to mail home a letter.
“Sure,” my father pulled one off the strip and handed it to his eldest grandson. Then Dad pulled a small spiral notebook from his shirt pocket and made a note – one stamp $.27.
Old habits die hard.
Annie Acorn Publishing has now uploaded an ebook titled, How to Survive a 203K Mortgage, onto Amazon written by myself with Patrick’s help.
I’m sure that somewhere in Heaven, Dad is as proud as I am of this grandson’s careful planning and spending that enabled him to purchase an abused and abandoned house and turn it into a home, utilizing an FHA 203K mortgage to facilitate the process that resulted in Patrick’s making a nice profit.
Who knows? Perhaps scientists will soon discover a new gene and name it the Penny Pincher.