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A lesson in finance

Posted: May 29, 2012 9:50 a.m.
Updated: May 30, 2012 5:00 a.m.

The J. P. Morgan fiasco of two billion dollars plus the flagging economy and lack of jobs made me start to think of bank closings of the past. During the Depression, the poor and the elderly did not have multiple organizations to help them such as Food for the Soul, Christian Community Ministries, and the Community Medical Clinic-nor was Social Security in existence. I still fear the possibility of a return to times when no one had much of anything except each other, a chicken yard, and a garden plot. I remember my lesson in finance perhaps too well as do most who lived during and after the Depression-no wonder the word is capitalized.

My Grandmother Latimer seems the most unusual person to give financial advice, especially since I do not remember her at all. The mother of twelve children, she was poor and poorly educated. She died when I was two years old; however, I have seen pictures of her, a typical pioneer type woman. Her hair was pulled straight back, and she constantly wore a serviceable apron to “save her dress.” Her frame was raw boned, illustrating the fact that her children were always fed while she did without. In fact, my mother remarked Grandmother said the rear end of the chicken was her favorite piece, probably because no one else would have consumed it. The question still exists how did she give me, someone who knew her only secondhand, astute advice in finance.

Grandmother Latimer had saved the astronomical sum of one hundred dollars to buy herself something she did not want her seven girls and five boys to have to do. That sum, she thought, kept her secure and safe for a proper burial. At age eighty-five with all her children married with families of their own, her burial was her final responsibility. With the depression, the banks closed, and Grandmother’s fortune was lost. I doubt if anyone had a true idea just how devastating the loss was to her. Before the banks reopened, Grandmother died, and her children assumed the financial obligations occasioned by the death of their mother.

My family was also poor, but not as poor as the other family members, so Grandmother Latimer had come to live with us after the death of my father, leaving Mother with a five-month-old and a three year-old. Years later, Mother called me and said, “Come here, Laura Jean, I want you to see something. I have a check.” Now, even today’s teenagers like the sound of “check” because it means money to spend. I quickly answered her call. She showed me a check to ten cents, the final repayment of Grandmother’s fortune, when divided among her twelve children and “heirs.” That check for ten cents taught me the fickleness of fate and the folly of man who believes he is prepared for the future. It gave me a wonderful financial lesson!

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