Family Money

Dear Michael and Caroline,

With my family, so much of life came down to money. The giving and taking of money, promises about it and lies about it.

Money did us all some good, but it also caused plenty of harm. No one in my family ever seemed to have quite enough of the stuff. It seemed to be talked about all the time – worried about, bragged about, reflected over.

Money always felt like a character in the room, a character who begged many questions. How much money do I have? How much should I have? How should I spend it?

Okay, then. Let’s talk turkey now. I never wanted for money as a child growing up. Never felt the twinge of need for anything. Always had money in my pocket – enough for candy or a soda or a comic book and, later on, scotch and marijuana.

My allowance was maybe $5 a week when I was 10 or 12; we’re talking 1962 or 1964, when you could live well on $100 a week. My bar mitzvah in 1965 yielded me $5,000 – no small sum at the time. My grandmother was always slipping me money – a $10 bill here, a $20 bill there.

So I had no complaints.

And I believed everyone in the world lived the same.

Then, as I got older, I noticed certain goings-on, started to piece together the money puzzle. My Uncle Leonard seemed always to talk about money – his money and how much of it he had. At family gatherings, usually Passover and Thanksgiving, he would tell us how he now earned $1,500 a day as a lawyer, how he paid only $100 for a sweater in France.

One time – oh, this is a classic – his wife Monique got into the act. I had just gotten my first full-time job. It was 1977 and it was with a weekly community newspaper called The Eastside Courier. I was quite excited because now I was going to get to be a professional journalist, and looked forward to telling my whole family. And no sooner did I share my news at the dinner table than Monique asked me how much the job paid.

I told her $175 a week.

She looked around the table and said, “Is that even enough to buy toilet paper?”

She deflated my pride in an instant, and I never forgave her for that remark.

Then of course came all the promises about money, most later broken.

P.S. – See part 2 tomorrow.

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