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Death and Money

March 10th, 2013 at 06:41 pm

Sorry for yet another long post.

I have lived a very charmed life. My parents are in their 70's and are still alive, as are all of my brothers. Very few people who are or were close to me have died. Due to this, death is still very foreign to my experience, and any deaths that have occurred have left a profound impact on me.

In other posts, I've alluded to losing my girlfriend of many years when talking about my retail therapy binge. A recent thread in the forums (actually, I think the word is "fora," but no one uses it, so I won't either) got me to thinking about my outlook when it comes to money, which brought me to write this post.

My father came from a very large family. He had five brothers and two sisters. Most of them are still alive and in their 70's and 80's. When I was about eleven, my father's father (my paternal grandfather) passed away. The family all gathered at his small house and had the near-reunion that always accompanies the death of a family patriarch or matriarch.

With that many children in their 30's and 40's, and all of their children (my cousins), you can imagine the scores of people in my grandparents' house. I would say the house was about 1000 square feet, and two bedrooms with only one bathroom and one common area plus a kitchen. All of us kids were basically left to our own devices. The older teens wandered off to the local hangouts - there was a park nearby where they could go sit on the play ground equipment and smoke cigarettes unbeknownst to the adults back at the house - while us younger kids pretty much just hung around the house and probably made pests of ourselves until we were given something to occupy our time.

My cousin Roger and I were eventually dispatched to my grandfather's bedroom. We were given the task of clearing out his dresser. Roger was about a year younger than I was, and his father and mine were the two sons who had made decent livings for themselves. My father's family was not rich by any means, my grandfather being a retired police officer from the 1950's when pensions were small but sufficient; however, my father had put himself through university to get a BS and eventually an MBA, and my Roger's father had opened his own successful business. The other aunts and uncles, though, were basically living paycheck-to-paycheck like most Americans still are doing today.

While clearing out the drawers, Roger and I came across my grandfather's old service revolver. We were southern boys, so we knew about guns and merely set it safely aside with the other items we were cataloging. We also came across a "blackjack." I asked my father about it when we told him about the revolver (which my father put out of the reach of our younger cousins). A blackjack is a leather device that looks much like a very small dumbbell, and has a small weight made of lead - maybe a fishing lure weight - at either end of the "dumbbell." The wielder holds one piece of leather-covered lead, and swings the blackjack as a small club. The leather and the weight of the lead increasing the force of the subsequent impact. A blackjack is a close cousin of "brass knuckles." My father explained that my grandfather had disarmed the blackjack wielder after being struck by it, and had kept the blackjack as a souvenir. I can tell you no more of the fate of the blackjack wielder.

Roger and I continued to go through my grandfather's things. We came upon a pencil cup full of pens of various types. My cousin ran his fingers across the top of the pencils and pens, and remarked, "Wow! There are enough pens here that all of the grandkids can have one." Now, I immediately realized that Roger was thinking, "What can I get out of Grandpa's death?"

This statement had a very profound effect on me. I was disgusted with Roger. I must admit that to this day, I cannot look at Roger - we're both in our 50's now - without remembering this statement. My grandfather had died, and Roger was wondering "What's in it for me?"

About 15 years later, my maternal grandmother passed away. Although my mother's family was much smaller than my father's extended family, we still had the typical near-reunion gathering.

We dutifully gathered at my grandmother's house - not much larger than my paternal grandparents' house - and talked about my grandmother's life and death. My mother and her three sisters were going through my grandmother's things and I was told "to take something for myself." I demurred, but my mother insisted I take something with me. One of my brothers had taken the color TV, and another of my brothers had taken my grandmother's Buick.

I remembered as a kid, we would sit around listening and basically being bored as the older folks talked, and I would mostly stare at a "century clock" - also called an anniversary clock - that my grandparents had on their mantle. I was always fascinated with that clock and the small weights at the bottom that would spin one direction and then the other apparently forever. This clock was the one item I always equated with my grandparents' house.

So, of course, that's what I asked for. My mother's younger sister immediately chimed in very vehemently, "No! That's mine! I have already packed it away." Now, I had only spoken up because I had been forced to do so, and I had chosen that item because it was what most reminded me of my grandmother. Immediately upon my aunt's tone and statement, I saw images of my cousin Roger and his coveted pencil cup. Instead of the anniversary clock, I asked if I could have the "rag rugs" that my grandmother had made herself.

Rag rugs are made by taking old scraps of material and making them into long, thin tubes. The tubes are then braided, and lastly the braids are sewn in a spiral fashion to make oval throw rugs. After the clock, these rugs, hand-made by my grandmother, most reminded me of my grandmother, so that's what I asked for instead of the clock. Even with a lot more cajoling, I took only the three rag rugs. When asked, I said, "These are what remind me of Grandma, so these are what I want."

I have a few other stories and memories, but these two tidbits illustrate why I've never put much value on things or money. I really don't need much, and I never saw the reason to accumulate wealth. I was born smart and I have always had the ability to make as much money as I wanted to; I just never really wanted to make money.

Now, I'm setting aside cash for my retirement, which is why I came to SA. As I never saw any value to money, but realize rationally that I need to save some for my DW when I eventually pass away, I came here to Dubai. I love my job, but I've had other jobs I love more. When I leave here, I'll go back to training - my true vocation. I doubt I ever "retire," as I actually love being in front of a class and the interaction and challenges of putting across the information so folks can genuinely understand the material. It's just that here in Dubai I make enough money to easily save and that's really all I'm here for.

8 Responses to “Death and Money”

  1. Thrifty Ray Says:

    I can relate with the greediness death sometimes brings out in others..sadly, I have lost all grandparents, most aunts and uncles, both parents and my only sibling- There are always those who focus on the things they will get...which has also been a peeve of mine...and I too, opted to take the item that reminded me most of them. (examples...my grandmother was the talcum drawer freshener that 30+ years later still reminds me daily of her and the belt from the dress she was buried in...my brother, a photo of him that I always loved)...

  2. LuckyRobin Says:

    I do not know anything of your cousin Roger's character, but it is possible that what he was thinking and what you were thinking were not the same thing in that moment, and your judgment was clouded by your grief. He might have been thinking that the little kids were low on the totem pole and probably would not be given anything to remember their grandfather by at all. Death is intangible, and sometimes we just need something to touch that is tangible, to help us mourn and remember the good things as well. Something as small as a pen might have been allowed as a token, and meant far more than you may have thought to him. I know this was true with me when my grandfather died. There were so many children and grandchildren. I wanted one tiny thing to remember him by and I didn't care what it was. I would have been delighted with a pen as he was constantly sketching little things for me on pads. Did you ever talk to Roger about it? You may have been justified, but you also may have let your opinion color your entire relationship with a family member when it might not have even been what he was thinking at all.

  3. Wino Says:

    LR, I appreciate that you want to give Roger the benefit of the doubt, but I was not mistaken. In retrospect, I'm only surprised he didn't say, "My precious" as he stroked the pencil cup. As TR said, these things often bring out the worst in some people, and I've seen it several times since the incidents I related.

  4. BuckyBadger Says:

    You of course know Roger better than random people on the forum, but I also agree that what he said didn't necessarily mean what you took it to mean. People deal with grief in many different ways, and unless Roger had a long history of selfish, covetous behaviour I wouldn't have jumped to the Gollum-like conculsion that he wanted to strip the house of valauables and run to the pawn shop.

    When my grandfather passed away and my grandmother was preparing to move to a smaller home, there was a giant "claiming" event where my father and his two sisters went around the house picking and choosing everything that the wanted that grandma didn't want to take with her. The drew straws for who had the first pick and they went around and around selecting their favorite items from the house.

    To you this would apparently seem mercenary, but my family took this as a chace to relive the memories related to the items that they were choosing.

    I mean -- I guess maybe your entire family is full of terrible money grubbing people who wait for relatives to die so that they can swoop in and take all their pretty things -- but maybe you are just misunderstanding the way people deal with death. Those things had to go somewhere, right? Perhaps it should have been more organized as it was with my family, but unles syour Aunt has a history of such terrible behavior, maybe you should give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she had the same fond memories of the clock as you did. And if I'm understanding the family correctly, your aunt was actually the daughter of the deceased, right? So her claim to the clock would have been greater than yours. We grandchildren got nothing from the "great claiming" as my dad called it. At least you got the rugs.

    I guess I just find it sad that you have gone through your life holding onto these ill feelings toward your family. It seems a waste of energy.

  5. mimipaula1 Says:

    We never become adept at "handling" the death of a loved one, especially when the deceased is patriarch/matriarch of the family. Their death changes all of the family dynamics.

  6. LuckyRobin Says:

    I am sorry, then, that you have seen the behavior repeated again and again. It is very sad that the people who should be grieving with you are instead being greedy.

  7. FrugalTexan75 Says:

    When my dad died this summer I think this was the hardest thing I had to come to terms with - there was a lot of his things in my grandmas house, and a lot to deal with in terms of closing out his financial life. So long before I even really wanted to have to think about it or deal with it, I had to start thinking about what I wanted to keep of his. His brothers and sister were very magnanimous in letting my brother and I have the first pick of everything. My brother and I both went out of our way with each other to let the other have something if one of us showed the slightest interest in it. We also made sure that our dad's best friend of 60 years who was more like a brother, also got something to remember our dad by (his GPS.) I took several shirts/ties, and a few other things ... but the one thing I took which meant the most was his Lionel train watch. That to me personified him in so many ways - dependable, loved trains, and *always* wore a watch. I've worn that watch now almost every day since then.

    When my mom's parents died I wasn't able to be there for their funeral or for the parceling of items. There were three things I really wanted - the treadle sewing machine, the Flinch cards, and one of her oil lamps. I was given the first two items, but my mom's sister wanted all the oil lamps.

    I guess my point is when people die their stuff has to go somewhere. If family/friends don't take it, then most of it will probably end up in the dump. That's where a lot of my dad's things ended up - he'd kept a LOT of stuff, memorabilia that meant something to him, but not much to anyone else.

    I really hate to think about what's going to happen when my dad's mom dies. She has a LOT LOT LOT of stuff, even with having moved often over the years. She also has two sets of children/grandchildren (married twice for 25+ years a piece). It could potentially be a really stressful situation - especially if one uncle in particular puts up a stink (the one who hadn't called her in over two years while my dad was there taking care of her, didn't call her when my dad died, but called her *three weeks* later ...not ever saying a word about his brother's death ...)

  8. Wino Says:

    FT, you fully understand what I'm saying, by your response. That's the way I have always felt. Imagine if one of your father's kin had been merely looking at the value of items for resale rather than the value of items for memory's sake.

    Bucky, you seem to see a bunch of words in my post that I don't. I don't harbor ill feelings toward my family or anyone else for that matter. For Roger and my Aunt both, I am more sad than upset. I'd say I more feel pity than anything else. I'm glad you can tell what he meant without seeing the look in his eyes. I saw the look and I am 100% certain what he meant. It is possible that with my aunt she also felt the same about the clock as I did. It is just that I had already become jaded by such events, so could have been "looking for" the greed. I only know that she was almost fierce when I finally relented under pressure to take anything at all and selected the clock. I guess it was the look on her face when I next asked for the "worthless" handmade rugs that made me believe her motives were not sentimental. Like I said, though, I could have been wrong about her.

    I was not mistaken about Roger's intent.

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