Monday, August 11, 2008

Rainy days....

I don’t know if I believe in saving for a rainy day, because here’s the thing: people I know who do that? Never figure out it’s raining. And I’m not saying it’s bad for them. I’m saying it doesn’t work for me.

I’ve been thinking about this for the last couple of days while we’re hanging out on a cruise ship in Alaska. There’s all this gorgeous wilderness lining the inlets of places like Glacier Bay and I look at and think about how my mother would have loved it. She always wanted to see the fall foliage in New England and to come to Alaska and look at the untouched landscape.

She never did. She died young, but that’s not why. The thing is, we grew up poor because my parents’ teachers salaries were often stretched past breaking by medical expenses. My dad had cancer. A few times. And a few other crazy medical emergencies as well. Even when his health straightened out, something always went wrong. They’d get a little ahead, sock away some cash in the bank and then the oven would break or the toilet would flood and we’d be back in the red again. So we lived in hand-me-downs and had more than our share of D.I. cheese and granola. I kinda miss the granola.

That habit of squirreling away the cash lasted even when things finally stabilized and insurance covered all the health disasters. My siblings and I were all out of the house and paying our own way for stuff. The mortgage was low, the cars paid off, and their years in the school system finally earned them comfortable salaries. Very comfortable. They still lived really modestly, which was great. I learned a great deal from that.

But then in November 2006 I had to wake my mom up one morning to tell her that my sixty year old father had died of flu in the hospital the night before. She couldn’t be there because she was undergoing chemo and hospitals are bad, bad places for sick people. And a month later, she had to shop for our Christmas presents in her bedroom, using the Sunday circulars and send my sister and I out to get the gifts for everyone because she was too sick to go herself. She would fret over this picture and that ad, unable to decide what to get. We encouraged her to do gift certificates for everyone to their favorite stores. She felt relieved by this solution.

She wondered how much she should gift to each person. I suggested she go hog wild and give out a few hundred dollars. Now, mind you, she only had a few people to gift and she had a ton of money to shell out. I know. I was taking care of her accounts. I wanted her to have fun in her last weeks spending the money she’d worked hard to earn and save. The rainy day money. But she blanched at this suggestion. She might need that money.

For what? She knew she was dying. She knew it would be soon. Funeral plans were already paid for and we would have no other expenses to settle for her estate. My brother and sister and I didn’t really want any of the money, anyway. It felt like blood money. It is blood money. All of us have done the same thing with it: gone on a major trip and stuck the rest in retirement funds. I thought my mom should spend the money on something that she would enjoy giving while she was alive.

Because if dying two months after your husband, especially when you know it’s coming, isn’t a rainy day….

Then what is?

She stuck with $50 on the gift certificates. I smiled. I didn’t think she’d really do anything different. But as I look out over the railing at the passing Alaska landscape, I realize that this trip could pay a month of our mortgage.

But then again, I feel the rain. On my face. In the place my mom only dreamed of going. I’m here for her. And it’s worth every penny.

I say, save away for a rainy day. Just be sure you know when it’s raining


Sue said...

This is beautiful.

Alison Wonderland said...

Sue stole exactly what I was going to say.

It's so hard to know. I tend to be a saver but as my kids are getting older I think maybe instead of making an extra house payment or saving it so I can make a house payment if something goes wrong, I ought to take them to Disneyland or something. But that's extraordinarily hard for me to do. Just like your mom and the gift certificates.

Annette Lyon said...

Beautiful AND sad. I love this.

Kimberly said...

So much sweet you've found mixed in with the bitter. Beautiful post.

Don't forget to submit it at the annex, okay? I think more people need to read this.

Jen R. said...

Hi, saw your blog on Mormon Mommy Blogs. This post totally got to was beautiful and touching and very well written! Thanks for sharing it with me, a stranger, I really loved it.

Jami said...

Lovely. Thank you.

The Motherboard said...

Found you over on mormon mommy blogs...

This is beautiful. Thanks for sharing!

Alyson said...

I also found you at mormon mommies. Just have to say, it was so lovely to read. So thoughtful. I agree with you. It's good to be practical, but sometimes the cost of having extraordinary experiences is worth it.

RBS said...

Beautiful thoughts. Thank you for sharing with complete strangers. It has given me a lot to think about.