- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 10, 2005

Lessons I learned from my grandmother have served me well in life; the most important lessons were about money. She was a frugal and modest woman. As a child, I lived with her in the 1960s.

“Don’t buy what you can’t pay for,” she drummed into my head from kindergarten through high school. I recall her wise advice every time I slap my credit card down for the latest electronic gadget.

Instead of charge cards, my grandmother used layaway plans at her local department stores. Actually, she didn’t like layaway plans, either and only rarely used them.

Layaway allowed folks to pay a small amount each week or month toward purchase of a high-priced item. When one had fully paid for the item, the store manager removed it from layaway and the customer owned it.

My grandmother managed her modest household from low-wage jobs in the textile mill in our small Alabama town. Since she never used credit cards, she went without much in her 89 years, but was happy with her standard of living.

When I get my triple-digit credit card statement each month, I wish I could say I was happy with my living standard. Instead, the next month’s statement is ever higher.

“Save as much money as you can,” my grandmother warned. This advice she learned from living through the Great Depression. She had savings accounts with her bank and at the post office, the latter earning 2 percent interest.

In the late 1960s, the post office got out of the savings business. “What is this country coming to,” my grandmother fretted to the postmaster when he closed out her account and handed over her money. She didn’t go on a shopping spree with her savings. She took it straight to her bank and deposited it into her other savings account.

My grandmother believed in monetary restraint to the extreme. For years, she unfailingly made weekly deposits to her savings accounts. “You never know when hard times are coming back,” she would say. I don’t save as much as my grandmother, but I keep faith with her when I do make a savings deposit.

My grandmother’s savings amassed to more than $100,000 by the time she retired from the textile mill. She wisely kept her money in short-term interest-paying instruments that provided her an adequate financial cushion in her retirement years.

“Give the Lord what you can,” she would tell me every Sunday morning on our way to church. After she put some of her hard-earned money in the collection plate, I put as little of my allowance in the plate as I could without raising her temper, not to mention God’s anger. Today, tithing to my local church is important to me, and I try to make my grandmother proud with what I put in the collection plate.

For entertainment, my grandmother had simple tastes. She listened to Lawrence Welk on Saturday nights. At times, she listened to Paul Harvey’s conservative news commentary on the radio. Other times, she listened to country music.

My grandmother usually did housework with the radio on and seldom stopped to listen to a song. When she did, it was a signal for me to stop what I was doing and listen with her, usually to a religious or a patriotic song by a country performer.

In the early 1960s, film and TV star Walter Brennan recorded several country and religious songs. He was not a singer and read lyrics with musical accompaniment from an orchestra and a chorus. His songs were mostly about farming and the joys of being old. (They wouldn’t have much of a market today.) His distinctive, soothing voice and his records were very popular, especially with country folks in their 70s like my grandmother.

Grandparents Day is today. My grandmother is now long deceased. She lived in hard times, but never forgot the simple things like gifts for my birthday and new clothes for the new school year. She made an important and lifelong impression on me. I cherish her memory. I hope you have a grandparent like my grandmother in your life.

JAMES PATTERSON

A Washington area writer.

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