When I was ten years old, I fell into a small windfall of sorts. I had won a contest at school and was about to walk into a long summer with more cash than I ever had in my life. A whopping twenty dollars. Imagine that. I don’t recall what the contest was for, but I remember working very hard, through long hours each day after school, hoping and striving to win it.
My father, being a wise man for his years, understood more about human nature than I had dreamed possible. He didn’t ask what I was going to do with the money – he told me what I was not going to do with it.
“You are not,” he said, “going to spend that all on comic books and candy.”
With that, he took me to the car and announced that it was time I begin to care for my money. He drove me to Lethbridge’s Department Store and led me to a glass case containing watches, cuff links, tie pins, silk handkerchiefs and assorted finery. The elderly Mr. Lethbridge, smelling of a discreet, fine cologne, stepped behind the counter, wearing a silk tie, gold cuff links and tie pin. He wore new suit, with a silk handkerchief tucked into his breast pocket.
My father pointed to the edge of the case, towards a selection of crisp, gleaning leather.
“My son is here to buy a wallet,” he said.
Mr. Lethbridge began taking wallets from the case, one by one, placing them on the glass before us. I remember clearly how shiny they were, each made of “Genuine Leather,” or calfskin, imported from Italy, from France, or “Made in Canada.” Some had compartments for change with zippers, some had what looked like plastic file folders for carrying pictures, identification and credit cards. None of them had ever been folded. Each felt as stiff as a school textbook in my hands. For a few moments, I felt empowered. I marveled at the thought of owning my own wallet. I wondered if this would be the first of many trips to this same store, to later buy a watch, or cuff links, or tie pins as an adult, and to become a sort of gentleman myself one day.
The wallet I selected was not the most expensive, but it was not the cheapest either. It had a white piece of cardboard tucked inside where a driver’s license would be. The card had a tab on the top right corner, with the price printed in a bold, but elegant font. I purchased it, refused a bag, and folded my wallet carefully in half before pressing it into my back pocket. I remember well how my father nodded, approvingly.
It was a memorable summer, but no memorable than most. I played with my friends, rode my bike, explored the shore of Lake Erie, got sunburned often, and skinned my knees more than once. I never ventured into that department store again until I was 13, when I got a job there sweeping the floors, cleaning the toilets, and taking out the garbage after school.
That wallet stayed in my drawer for more than two years, hated throughout the long summer, and then forgotten. The white card with the price tag was still inside. The wallet cost $18 and, with sales tax, it remained empty through that long summer. My twenty dollars was gone.
Money, in a way, is really time – captured and preserved to be used later at our leisure. Yet how often do we spend our time on things we really don’t need, to temporarily feed our egos. Afterwards, our savings are drained, and the memories left behind are shallow, forgettable, unsatisfying.