My father despite his enormous wealth, extravagance and generosity to his only son, always wanted me to be aware of the value of money. It was always about money, how much or how little, what it bought, what you needed, but perhaps most importantly, it’s value. I do not mean to disparage him for this in any way, for to this day; I feel he taught me how to handle money, success, and even failure. These are the lessons he taught me well.
He was always joking about money, and like some deep invisible pocket, always had great sums of cash on his person, neatly clasped by a silver money clip. I can remember the sound of crisp bills he’d pull out of the clip to pay for this and that. These were the days before the much heralded use of credit cards and debt, and my father loved to pay for everything in cash. He loved to stay current and wads of cash were extracted to pay painters, carpenters, deliverymen, etc. There was always the smell of money, wafting around the house, and I must admit it smelled really good.
As in most stories, there is more than meets the eye, and on another day I will recount where the endless supply of cash materialized from, but that is another story, not the one I wish to tell today.
Even as very young boy, he was always spending money, yet, watching very closely the accounts of his family. I can remember once going to our neighborhood general store and charging to my father’s account some small item that I had not asked permission to have. I was sure I could slip this insignificant charge by him, but at months end he called me to the library and severely reprimanded me for charging anything without his permission. Nothing slipped by his moneyed eye.
I have never forgotten that day; his voice is still with me, which is why many years later to my surprise, in my senior year at boarding school, I received a curt short letter from my father’s attorney with a key to a safe deposit box.
This letter simply said that my father wanted me to have this, and provided me with the name and address of the bank and the number of the safe deposit box.
It seems quite funny today that I never mentioned this to my father, for the six years he was alive after I received this letter. I am not sure why, but as might be expected, my communication skills with him were not the best. I was always looking for a way in or out, but never seemed to have the time to linger in any comfortable place with him. Oh, there were many times we were alone together on walks, in the garden, on the golf course, etc., but I never could get past being beside him. I was never, never simply with him.
Anyway, years went by and on that fateful day in the late summer of 1972, my father died and as I described earlier, my life and the life of my mother went haywire.
Everyone was beside themselves. Especially when they learned that almost all of his fortune was lost. How could this man who taught me so wisely of the use and value of money, have been so foolish and so unwise, but all this is coming in the next weeks. Today it is all about the box.
At this point no one except me knew anything about this box. Oh, there was enormous speculation that he must have a Swiss unnumbered account (which people still believe today) or there had to be money somewhere. The will and the records couldn’t be true, there had to be some other spring where money could flow.
So here I am with my private thoughts and private knowledge. You must understand that I am broke, my wife is pregnant, and our first child is due in two weeks. I am still about to start my last year of graduate school, now with absolutely no money and a very uncertain future.
I think it would have been possible to conclude that whatever was in that box, was a gift from my father to me and only me. I was the only one he provided a letter and a key to and as I was unable to ever ask him his wishes, I was only left with my terrible fears of being left alone, a new child being born and having no money myself.
With all my fears and mistrust in tow, I am completely unable to trust myself to do the right thing, whatever that was. I did what every good son would do; I went to my sister and her husband and told them about the box and the key. Steve, my brother-in-law, immediately advised me not to tell my mother, which I agreed to, as up to this point I had no idea what was in the box.
The next week he and I went to the bank and to the vault with my key. We received the box, closed the curtain, and took a long breath. On this early September morning of 1972, we slowly opened the box, and in it lays bundles of cash. When we were through counting it, it came to 145,000 dollars, which to me at that time was a fortune. Steve was disappointed that there wasn’t more, and immediately encouraged me to split the money there and never tell my mother.
Despite my wants and needs, I could not do this. I went to see my mother and I told her about the key and the letter I received years ago, and about the money we had found in the box.
Immediately without a second’s hesitation, she said, “It’s mine, give it to me.” With that I handed over all of the 145,000 dollars. In my head I remembered the sound of these crisp bills that at some point must have been in my father’s money clip, being passed from him to me to my mother. With that transaction, not another word was spoken about that money ever again. My mother would hear none of it, not even for a second. The fine smell of crisp money that lingered in the background and often even in the foreground of my life at that time was lost for good.