(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on September 23, 2007. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
If you grew up in a frugal household as I did, you might have heard this expression before. I heard it every time I asked for money. It became an expected response from my dad who was beyond frugal. At the time we thought he was just cheap! Stingy, as we used to say. He grew up in a large family in Louisiana and was his father’s only boy child, the last born after six sisters. I don’t know if that had anything to do with it, but maybe it was also living through the depression years that made him hold on to his money. He was not someone who acquired things. In fact, the whole time I was growing up I never saw him purchase anything. A man of habit, he wore the same colors all the time, shades of brown, gray or blue and the same shoes which he spit shined often and had resoled periodically. He never left the house without a hat on his head and never missed a day of work. He would come home at the same time everyday with the New York Daily News under one arm and maybe a bottle of his favorite soda, R.C. Cola. In those days that would have cost him under fifty cents and with the lunch my mother packed for him and the cost of the subway his daily spending might have totaled one dollar, probably less. If you picked his pockets, you would find nothing but lint.
Whenever I asked for money, invariably to buy comic books, I knew there would be a looong conversation about the money. It would start out with him chuckling, as if I had said something funny. Then he would continue “the joke” with a series of teasing questions that were funny to him but less so to me. "Do you think money grows on trees?" " What do you need money for?" "What happened to the last dime I gave you?" And on and on and on. The questions had no satisfactory answers and were designed to make me give up and just go ask mom.
One summer, when school let out, he sat all of us down and in a round about way gave us his take on money. With us having so much free time I guess he didn’t want to play the twenty questions game everyday so he gave each of us a dollar's worth of dimes . We were ecstatic and thought we were rich. Then came the clincher. We were not to spend these dimes. In one month, whoever had the most dimes would get another dollar. He was trying to teach us to save. That was what money was for. Well, initially we thought we would each be getting that extra dollar. We got some jars, put slits in the lids, and made our first deposits. It wasn’t long however before the candy store tempted us to withdraw. Wherein before we had shared most everything we had, this now changed. We would not share our bought goodies with each other thereby forcing each to spend their own dimes to lessen the competition. Once the spending started it was like a slow leak. Summertime, with lots of time on our hands, found us doing a lot of spending. In a month’s time, all the money bank jars had been discarded and we were all broke.
Luckily, mom was the total opposite of dad. She thought money was to be spent, the faster, the better! We didn’t get any tree questions from her, but, we would always get sent to the store for something she wanted, since we were going anyway. Now, we lived in a five story walk up, meaning no elevator, with a large landing and window between each floor and a double courtyard leading into the building with its own set of steps (about 120 stairs total). So the options were, play twenty questions with dad or do cardio for mom. We all ended up on an athletic team in school.
With those options it was easy to wish there really was a money tree. Needless to say, I was charmed when I found there was such a thing. Commonly called Money Plant, Honesty or Silver Dollars, Lunaria annua derives its name from luna or the moon because of the resemblance of its silvery moon shaped seed pods. Its small fragrant flowers bloom in branching clusters in the spring. One of the first European flowers grown in America; it was grown in Monticello in the gardens of Thomas Jefferson where it is still valued for its seedpods and edible root. For decorative purposes, the branches that contain seedpods are hung upside down in a cool room to dry. When dry, the seeds are removed. The seeds can be sown outdoors in the summer to bloom the following spring in zones 4-9. They are held in the translucent pod which has three parts that feel like silky paper. What is left resembles a thin silvery coin or moon shaped paper leaf. The removed outer parts of the pod can be used in paper crafts and scrap booking projects. The branches are then arranged for a decorative effect or combined with other dried flowers.
Lunaria will last for years if kept dry and fit in with most any décor. Can’t hold onto your dimes? A permanent Money Plant arrangement might be the next best thing.
Images courtesy of PlantFiles