Brown County philosopher Abe Martin once said, “When a fellow says it hain’t the money but the principle o’ the thing, it’s the money.”
Old Abe was right, as he usually was. It’s hard for most of us not to think in terms of dollars and cents, although we try not to make money the center of our lives. We know the Bible says the love of money is the root of all evil. We try not to love it, but it’s hard not to like it a little.
People have always been interested in money, but our relationship with it has changed since I got my first paying job. I was hired to pick up litter in the parking lot of a dairy store each day before I walked to school. I had to supply my own tools for the job. My dad cut off the business end of a broomstick and put a big sharp nail in its place. That was my pick-up stick. The Standard Grocery on the corner donated an empty box for me to use as my receptacle.
Thus fully equipped, I scoured that parking lot every morning, jabbing up torn napkins, gooey popsickle sticks, discarded candy wrappers, crushed cigarette butts, and five different sizes of drippy “Hum-Dinger” cups. It was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it. Each week I received an envelope with a few dollar bills and some change inside. It seems to me that I made 75 cents a day.
Hard cash like that made the world go around in those days. Credit cards and bank machines were unheard of. You had to have plenty of coin on hand to pay your way. Before you went to the store, you had to check your purse or billfold to be sure there were adequate greenbacks in supply. A vacation trip demanded a good deal of ready cash to keep the gas tank filled throughout the journey.
I remember when I received my first gasoline credit card. It was with a certain amount of awe and trepidation that I drove into a Phillips 66 station to use it for the first time. I felt very guilty as the attendant came to my window and I did not have cash in hand. I was relieved when he amiably took the card and quickly returned with a receipt to sign. I drove away feeling as if I had really gotten away with something. I glanced in my rear view mirror to be sure that the attendant wasn’t waving his arms at me to return.
That card soon evolved into a “Shopper’s Charge” card which could be used in a limited number of retail stores. How sophisticated I felt, pulling out the plastic when I wanted to purchase a pair of shoes or dine out in a fancy restaurant.
You know the rest of the story. It’s probably your story, too. The Shopper’s Card became a Visa, Master Card, or American Express. Pretty soon every place was accepting credit cards and as far as cash was concerned, it was OK to leave home without it.
Banks and money have always gone together, but we no longer deal with banks the way we used to. Time was when the town bank was a massive stone building with tall pillars. You trod the marble floor each time you wanted to make a deposit or withdrawal. Nowadays, I hardly go inside the branch bank in our neighborhood. The bulk of my banking is done from the car window at a computerized teller machine.
I adopted the ATM very quickly, but I held out for a long time against something else: automatic paycheck deposit. I was from the old school. I wanted my salary to pass through my hands, just as it did when I picked up malt cups in the parking lot. I guess I had that “show me the money” attitude. I eventually bowed to progress, though, and today my bank account magically surges every two weeks with no deposit slips needed from me.
Yes, we handle it differently these days, but money is still money, whether it’s cash, checks, credit cards, or just flickering digits on a computer screen. There’s one thing that hasn’t changed: for most of us, the outgo is always going to be precariously close to the income.
It’s still true, too, that money talks. It usually says, “Goodbye.”
Guess I'll throw my own two cents in.....