Last Saturday morning, I took Grandchildren Four and Five to see my father.
They hadn’t seen him in six months, and they were feeling the lack. He completed his Covid vaccination a couple weeks ago, so we got the kids masked and disinfected and went for a visit.
It had been almost a year since they had been in Big Papa’s apartment, so they spent a few minutes stirring around finding familiar toys and activities. Then Number 5 said, “I think it might be time for some ice cream.”
It was 9:00 a.m., so I said, “It might be a little early for ice cream.”
He, from the depths of his six-year-old soul, said, “It’s never too early for ice cream.”
I don’t know what I was thinking.
This happened the same day I read an article about a new TV show called “Marriage or Mortgage.” A wedding planner, a real estate agent, and an assortment of engaged couples decide whether to spend their life savings on a fancy wedding or their first home.
As I was reading, I found myself coming down firmly on the side of mortgage. I’m a little shocked about some weddings - what should be a solemn, joyous occasion becomes little more than an excuse for an expensive party. But then, I had what can only be called a flashback and my hypocrisy kicked in.
Toward the end of 1974, I sat in a grimy apartment in Minneapolis a block off Franklin Avenue looking through the University of Minnesota course catalog. That was long before all that information was online, and the book of course descriptions was roughly the size of a Sears Roebuck catalog. I shut it gently, stared at the wall, and tried to deal with the realization that there were zero classes in the offerings I wanted to take. What I did want to do was get married. So, I quit school, got a job as a janitor and dishwasher at Nino’s Steakhouse in Roseville, and in four months, my girlfriend and I saved $1,800.00.
Do you have any idea of how hard it is to save $1,800.00 when you're making $2.60/hour? My girlfriend made considerably more than that, because she had a much better job, but I’d found that my previous work experience baling hay and cleaning hog barns didn’t translate into what the urban job market considered useable skills. We were paying rent on two apartments, but the good news was that was only about $100/month. Most of our meals were five-for-a-dollar cans of tomato soup and peanut butter sandwiches. Once a week, we’d splurge and go to Red Barn for a hamburger. We didn’t have a fancy wedding - my wife’s mother made her wedding dress, and the reception consisted of cake and punch in the church basement. All in all, frugal.
And then we spent every dime we had in the world, bouncing around Europe for six weeks.
It made sense at the time.
It still does. If I’d invested that money in Apple stock, it would be worth about half a million dollars now. But on an 18-hour train ride from France to Italy, a guy tried to steal my new wife’s seat. Being able to recognize the look in her eye right before she put him in his place has been worth way more than half a million dollars to me. Seeing Michealangelo’s David, waking up in a tent in a cow pasture in Ireland, and tasting what bread is supposed to taste like - all solid investments that have paid significant dividends over the years.
I’m all in favor of frugal living and sound investments, but every now and then, a little ice cream at 9:00 a.m. is okay, too.
Copyright 2021 Brent Olson