Did I get your attention? I thought so.
I have given a lot of thought on the subject of wealth redistribution; you could say it has occupied a good bit of my time over the years. All in all, it reminded me of a cold day in 1973 when it began and ended 24 hours later, that’s when I learned the basics on this subject.
The conversation began as I went racing into my parents’ bedroom while my mother was getting ready for one of many Christmas parties that year. I jumped up on the side of the vanity and did one of my favorite things to do, watching my mom applying her make-up.
While engrossed in her actions, I soon would remember why I went in there. “Mom!” I shouted. “I need an allowance!” Startling her with the excitement in my voice, she snapped up a tissue to wipe the eyeliner off where I caused her to overshoot her eye and on to her temple.
“Oh, you do, do you?” She never looked away from the mirror, finished correcting the eyeliner debacle and moved on to her mascara.
“Yea! Cindy get’s five bucks every week!” My heart jumped over the excitement of getting cold hard cash.
“I see. What exactly does Cindy do for this allowance?” She said as she glanced over at me.
Stumped I stammered for an answer “Um, I think she cleans the barn.” Cindy had lived on a farm.
“In case you haven’t noticed we don’t have a barn. So, what are you going to do around here for five dollars?” She chuckled.
I thought a moment. My grandmother lived with us and all the really good high paying chores were done before I got home from school. “I could clean my side of the room.”
“And I should pay you to clean your room?” She was now blotting her lipstick.
“I guess not.” Truthfully I was crushed by the mere tone in her voice.
“Hmmm, now let me get this straight.” There was a long pause (more like 30 seconds, but to a kid..) “I should pay you to be a member of this family? And you only want to pick up after yourself?” She turned looked right at me and suddenly I could feel the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
“Uh, um, I don’t know.” I whined, regretting ever mentioning the subject.
“Oh no-wait a minute,” she said touching my arm to stop me from leaving. “You live here, eat here, we clothe you AND now you want me to pay you?”
“Uhhhhhh, I guess?” I was sinking fast and I couldn’t even find a life jacket let a lone a life boat.
“Also, you get presents, money when you need it, and I am pretty sure we pay for all the sports you join, the piano lessons you wanted, and now you want me to just pay you?” This wasn’t working out how I had envisioned.
“I suppose?” Man, why couldn’t one of the dogs come barging in, a phone call, anything to stop this line of questioning. Yelling for help was not an option. I was drowning fast.
“How old are you again?” She knew the answer this was a warning shot that I now had her full attention.
I hopped off the vanity and quietly answered. “I just turned nine.”
“Well, I see.” She smiled a sort of smile I had seen her use on Dad, when she knew the advantage belonged to her. It was a look that did not inspire the feeling of warm fuzzies. She added a strange chuckle before she spoke. “Can I get back to you in the morning after I have thought about your request?”
“Okay.” Renewed hope abound I kissed her cheek avoiding contact with her sticky lipstick and left completely clueless as to what just happened. That night I would sleep peacefully at the thought she was considering my request.
However, the next morning, I found my mother up bright and early sitting at the breakfast table. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes and thinking of nothing but cold cereal and Saturday morning cartoons, I was surprised to see her there.
I could see in front of her a white piece of paper with a lot of writing and numbers on it. She gently slid the paper to where I had parked myself at the table.
I sat looking at the paper, in a moment my eyes grew in disbelief. I didn’t fully understand what was on the paper, but my mother tapped to the number at the bottom of the page.
It read: For 9 years of services provided including room and board:
Elizabeth Ann Pepoy owes the Pepoy Family…………..$124,162.12
“Hey! But I’m a just kid.” I protested.
“Keep reading sweetheart.” There are moments in your life you live to regret, this would be one of them until I had children of my own.
As I read through the repayment plan– the list covered everything from lawn mowing to doing homework and trying not to fight with my sister. I was to help with the grocery shopping and putting them away until further notice. I also had to help my Dad shovel the drive way when it snowed and feed the dogs. With a special notation that feeding the dogs included giving them water. Something, I would bet had been overlooked in the past.
The note continued:
For the record no family member gets paid to be a part of the family. Love is free. However, the house, the transportation, the lights, the water, the clothes and the food we eat are not. Your father and I work so that you have a home with all of the above.
We give you what we have.
P.S. If you want anything extra get a job. Since you are still too young to have one, it is time to start your repayment plan. I have taken the liberty of having your boots, coat, scarf and mittens waiting in the mudroom so you can dress warmly to start shoveling the drive way. It snowed last night.
I quietly got up from the table and looked at her. She then asked a question that I probably shouldn’t have answered because it sent me to confession later that afternoon.
“Have you learned something this morning?” She smiled her warm motherly smile.
“Yea.” I groaned wondering if the hat she pulled out for me to shovel in would cause great disparity on my part Monday at the bus stop.
“And that would be?” As she leaned up and stroked the back of my head. Knowing I had learned a valuable lesson.
“Never ask a bookkeeper for an allowance.” I shoveled a lot of snow that year.
My parents redistributed their wealth and wisdom to me so that I could grow up and stand on my own. Their wise lesson would prove invaluable as I would go on to use that moment on my own children. Sadly, due to the weather of the geographical location of the deep south my sweet children never had to shovel snow. Mowing the yard and raking leaves works just as well.