My parents, according to the world’s definition of “cool,” were not. Neither drank nor did either ever possess a credit card. Groceries and clothing were paid for in cash, utilities paid by check, and the only monthly payments they ever allowed themselves were a mortgage for a house, a short-term loan for another farm, and a couple of cars bought, over time, and paid for quickly.
They also prayed fervently and believed that the money to make any payment would be provided by the good Lord. They did not care what the world considered was cool. They stood for what they believed and never once in either of their long lives did one of them back down or apologize for their lack of cool.
Once, when I was about 13 or 14, the bank made a mistake and bounced a check that Mama had written. Oh. My. Gosh. From around the corner, I eavesdropped as Mama had an unforgettable come-to-Jesus meeting via a phone call with the institution foolish enough to mistakenly bounce a check on her account.
First, she got someone on the phone. She was not happy for she had been embarrassed. She bought only what she could afford and not one penny more. When it became clear that the bank recognized its error and would quickly fix it, Mama pulled the phone by its long cord from the kitchen wall into her bedroom while she laid down on the bed and, while she twirled the cord with her fingers, she talked.
Seems like it was half an hour that she talked. Once Mama laid down on the bed with the phone in her hand, it was going to be a lengthy conversation. It was a young woman, I suppose, on the other end. I could tell by the things that Mama said.
“You’re young and just starting out, but let me give you this advice: Don’t ever get yourself in debt. It’s a miserable life when you owe more than you can afford to pay.”
Then Mama went into a pronounced story of how Daddy went off to fight in the war and she kept the home fires burning, how Daddy sent home every check he received as a young Navy man, how she took in sewing and such to pay for her upkeep during that time, how Daddy ironed and cooked for officers on his ship and gave haircuts — she never knew that he knew anything about cutting hair, she said; it was a complete surprise to her but then he could always do whatever he set his mind to do. When Daddy returned, she had banked every check he sent home.
Proudly, she declared, “For over 28 months he was gone and I never had to use a dime he sent home. Now, I’m tellin’ you, that’s somethin’ to be proud of. Does that sound like someone who would foolishly bounce a check?”
On the other end of the line, the woman who had innocently taken the call, allowed that, “No ma’am, not at all. I’m so sorry we have put you in this position.”
The young woman was either intrigued or she preferred talking to working so she asked Mama questions about her life and the way she looked at money and Mama happily supplied the answers. When, at last the conversation ended, the bank had promised to send a letter to whoever had received the bounced check and explain — which they did — that they had never had a more upstanding customer than Mama and the returned check was a bank error. They sent Mama a copy of the letter and she kept it for decades.
“I told them off to a fare-thee-well,” she declared.
She took nothing that wasn’t hers, but she didn’t give up anything, either. Kinda cool, don’t you think?