An Only Slightly Fictionalized Memory
The Early Years
The first thing I remember about money is not having any. I was in school, so I must have been seven or so. No one in my neighborhood had a lot of money. All of my classmates had some money sometimes. Not me, not never – and that’s only a teeny exaggeration. Penny candy was more than just an appellation. There was such a thing as two-for-a-penny and sometimes three-for-a-penny. A Popsicle, with two sticks, cost two pennies. Didn’t matter; I couldn’t buy any. One exception was when I only pretended to put the nickel my mother had given into the collection basket.
Back in those days, it wasn’t just not having money; I wasn’t allowed to have money. I remember when, Mr Sam, the elderly Negro gentleman who lived across the hall knocked on my door and asked my mother if I could go to the corner store to buy him some butter. Oh boy! Oh boy! Oh boy! I knew that Mr Sam was a generous tipper. None of the kids next door who usually went to the store for Mr Sam were around. He always gave them money for running errands. I was always envious. Finally it was my chance! Of course I could go to the store! Finally a payday for me! I returned with a stick of butter. Mr Sam had actually wanted a pound, but he thanked me gave me a quarter anyway. I was delighted.
My mother made me give back the quarter. Over Mr Sam’s loud protestations, I was not allowed to accept payment. The stick of butter was only 23₵. How could I possibly accept more than the value of what I had delivered! I was always allowed to run errands and do chores. I just was not allowed to be paid for them. It’s funny how those early money lessons stay with me.
I remember the days and days of babysitting. All of my mother’s friends could drop off their kids while they went shopping. I had to watch them. I was responsible for everything that they did and, I was not allowed to get paid! The kids were mostly well behaved, but like most kids, sometimes they strayed. I remember the day that Didan got his big head stuck in an iron fence in Central Park.
We lived across the street from Central Park and went there often. One afternoon my siblings and I walked across the street with mom. Mom joined her friends who were seated on a park bench. There must have been five or six children following closely behind me as I ran off to the playground to catch up with my friends. I heard mom’s voice in the back ground, “Llévelos con tigo, y cuidelos bien.” “Take them with you, and watch them well.”
At some point the ball we played with went out the fence. The playground was surrounded by a tall iron fence of thick bars. Rather than running around the perimeter, some of the kids squeezed through the fence to fetch the ball. It was no big deal. It wasn’t the first time we had done it. Didan ran behind us. All of a sudden I heard crying behind me. … I don’t remember how he got out. There were adults involved, and there was punishment for me afterwards.
There was no upside to being “in charge.” It was all downside. It took me about 25 years of psychotherapy to figure out why I always self-sabotaged my opportunities for promotion to management.