My mother never wanted us to worry about our financial position. She protected is from the reality of our economic situation that must have left her lying awake on most nights after my father had died. Somehow she managed to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table at every meal. We always had just enough to feel safe, but her best gift to us was love and the understanding that there was always a way to help those less fortunate than ourselves.
I have always been observant and being so has sometimes cause me to worry about things. It did not take me long to realize that my mother had to be very creative to keep our family afloat. I often wondered how she remained so calm about her responsibility to me and my brothers with so few resources to reassure her. She would notice my concerns and boast that my anxiety was uncalled for because she had a money tree that provided her with funds whenever she needed them.
I would smile when she told me such a tale, understanding that I needed to just take a deep breath and act as though I was not the least bit uneasy about our security. I did not want to add to the challenges that she faced, so I pretended that I believed that there was some magical source of gold at her fingertips. I tried to keep my requests for funds at a minimum because I knew how much she was sacrificing for me and my brothers.
I suppose I grew up watching my sweet mother angling to keep our family fed and housed from one paycheck to another. My goal in life became to create more stability in my own finances as an adult. To that end I suppose that I have never stopped fretting over the thought of living on the edge of monetary doom either for myself, those I love, or the poor people of the world. I viscerally feel the desperation of those who are homeless or starving. If I had one incredible dream that I would want to come true, it would be to be wealthy enough to be able to help people so much more than I presently have the income to do.
I listen to NPR whenever I am driving alone. Right now I am particularly concerned about the people of Haiti who can’t seem to get a break from privation. I have shed tears over what is happening to the people of Ukraine. I hear of starvation in different parts of the world and I wish that there really were some kind of money tree like mother often boasted. I would rush to it with every intention of sending relief all around the world. I’d be investing in shelters for the homeless and food aid for places besieged by famine. As it is my meager donations seem to be too little to even make a dent.
When my mother died I found evidence that even in her own state of poverty she had given five dollars here and ten dollars there to more causes than I was able to count. It was so like her to think of others before treating herself. She went without to provide for people whose situations were even more difficult than hers was. When I think of her sacrifice proportionately with regard to her income she was possibly one of the most generous people on earth.
If every single person were to live and give as Mama did many of the world’s problems would be solved. We often gripe about ten dollars of the taxes we pay being sent to some person or group in need even as we spend that much on coffee drinks or snacks without hesitation. Therein lies the secret of my mother’s money tree. She found what she needed from what she had by changing her own budget. If I needed a new pair of shoes she would cook more beans, turn out lights at night, make fewer trips in the car. She saved a penny here and dollar there and suddenly the money she needed seemed to magically appear. The only sorcery was the generosity in her heart.
I hear so many people worrying and complaining, including myself. We would all do well to take some cues from Mama. She lived an extraordinary life that was filled with joy and optimism. People loved her because they saw her amazing resilience and thoughtfulness. As my mother-in-law once said of my mother, “She was the most extraordinary woman I have ever known.”
Some people judge others by success and accumulation of wealth. If that had been the yardstick my mother would have been a failure. Instead she modeled her life on more important goals like focusing on others more than herself. In that regard she surely should have been on a list of the most outstanding people of her time.
I have so many resources at my fingertips because of my mother’s influence. I know how to survive and most of all how to sacrifice. I place more importance on the service of people than the accumulation of material things. I can be happy with dinner at a five star restaurant or a couple of ninety-nine cent tacos from Jack in the Box. A ride to the nearby beach is good as a European trip. Mama taught me to be happy and grateful for what I have and then to remember to share whatever I can. She taught me how to find the money tree to help those in need. Her gift to me was spectacular.