Friday, 26 November 2010

Family Life


So, I grew up in this tiny hamlet, in a huge house that was the village shop and pub. And this is the environments that shaped the lives of my parents, and hence mine. This is the story of my family life which gives the one or the other insight into how I still see certain things today.

First of all we were a rather traditional family with dad not very much involved in my daily upbringing, mum working hard and granny taking care of me when mum was busy – apart from the fact that everything was very different from other families.

The shop opened at 8 in the morning and closed at 6 at night, what was when the pub opened. There was an official closing time but nobody really bothered and it depended if by 10 at night somebody would still sit there or not. Worst case was when just one guy would stick to his single beer for hours on end, telling drunk stories while my parents were in desperate need for sleep and not even making the well deserved income.

During the mid 60s teenagers and housewives got their own cars and started exploring other options of getting their supplies and evening entertainment. In 1966 for the famous FIFA World Cup game  we even got our first TV set (b&w) in the hope to draw in some customers.

Thus money was in short supply, given that the house was old and needed repairs and updating, unexpected expenses were mushrooming all the time, and my parents used rather different strategies to work around these problems. My father, an extremely intelligent man with a photographic memory and huge creative skill, never had the chance to go to school and was a bricky. He could literally build everything and use any tool whether it was for brick, metal or woodwork. My mum was a sales assistant who learned as she went along. Hence my dad was a bit of a dreamer, while my mum kept her feet firmly on the ground.

Dad approached fiscal matters in attempting to earn more money by building an own business, or by saving money by doing all the building work himself. Hence we owned our own ice-cream machine, a scaffolding which he had designed and built, and which could be erected by one man within an hour, and we had a beautiful built-in kitchen with loads of little practical gadgets. However, these projects usually ended in negative equity because it is incredibly hard to build a business from nothing, and the time spent on the building work often didn’t turn out to be the equivalent of a good salary. Some of his rather visionary projects couldn’t even be finished due to lack of resource.

My mum just stopped spending and counted the pennies. And she let me help! A few years ago when we were in holidays she apologised for having too much responsibility loaded on my shoulders at an early age, and I hardly understood what she meant. I loved the times when I was allowed to help her sort through the bank account statements, learning to understand the numbers. We would sit at the huge kitchen table where it was warm and cosy, with all the paperwork in front of us, sorting them by date and piling them nicely. It was like laying a puzzle, just for a real purpose.

All too often money was so short that towards the end of the month she asked me to cash a check, because at the bank they usually wouldn’t send a child away, saving her the embarrassment - bless the times where the cashier was a guy from the upper village, usually having a drink in our pub at the weekends.

End 1973 we had to close down and mum got an office job. Money eventually came flowing more steadily, but dept from the house was still pressing. I was 13 then and I was still kept in the picture. I knew how big the mortgage was, and once in a while towards the end of the month mum would ask if I had a bit of my pocket money left over to add to the household budget. The money saved for my girls-room furniture went into an operation for our dog, and instead of attending a school trip, I prepared my first seminar lecture for my class mates as atonement.

I was a normal girl and my mum and I had our differences about other stuff – like teenagers do - but for me to know that I could help out with the few pennies I owned, forged a strong bond. Whatever happened: I was an important part of this family, and hence I never felt embarrassed to admit that I didn’t have the money for certain things.

Well, and my mum worked hard as she always did, kept counting her pennies, and became a successful business woman together with her new husband. My dad unfortunately didn’t get that lucky. Although he always worked as hard, he never brought it to a moderate wealth and the house is still under debt. And you know me. I’m living quite comfortably together with hubby – still counting my pennies. From my dad I learned that almost everything is possible. I see opportunities everywhere and never run out of ideas, and from my mum I learned to take on the reasonable choices.

Unfortunately their relationship was not to last and their very different approach to solving financial problems had a lot to do with it. However, looking back I realise, that they just didn’t know that they both had very powerful tools at their hands, and hence they were not able to bring them together. Thus I fell blessed that I had the opportunity to learn from the both of them!

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